Monday, 29 April 2013
B has a particular passion for peculiar sensory experiences. He has been diagnosed with a sensory processing disorder; simply put his brain is wired up differently and the way he perceives things through his five senses is fairly topsy turvy in comparison to you or me. Where we can filter and subconsciously decide important objects versus background objects in our immediate environment, B struggles with this. Often this will play out in either sensory seeking or sensory avoidant behaviours, which can in turn result in the most comical situations for us as a family. Most of the time I will try these things out with the purpose of understanding B that little bit more, but even I draw the line at poo-smearing.
I was wandering around Sainsbury’s one day with B when he was a lot younger. He was, as every two year old in Sainsbury’s seems to be, wholly unimpressed by the supermarket scenario, despite my best undignified mum attempts to entertain him. Four wheels on the bus renditions (complete with extra verses and ridiculous actions- the whole zoo had apparently boarded this bus), one fruit juggling fail and one lentil-pack-shaker-launch and explosion later and I was losing. The battle, the will to live, my dignity; you name it, I was losing it. Scooping things off the shelf Supermarket Sweep style I had only one aim- exiting the consumer hellhole with some form of purchase, even if it did mean mayonnaise on toast for the next three weeks. B was performing his trademark ‘cashew’ move- similar to the copyrighted ‘plank’ move pulled by toddlers the world over when they really DON’T want to get in their buggy/car seat/trolley/other transportation device. Here’s a gem of wisdom for all you parents struggling with plank issues-tickle their tummy (they bend in the middle) and then use your knee to hold them in while you do their straps up with your free hands. Works every time, but wise to keep an eye out for any stray social workers scouting the vicinity. Anyway, the cashew. B’s very own version of the plank as executed by a child with crazy hypermobility. Where most kids will stop at the plank, B will extend himself into a backwards banana shape, which does not work well in a trolley seat. Think upside down head dangling into the shopping while body remains contorted in the seat. Comfortable.
Wrestling with my inner Annabel Karmel, I grabbed the nearest packet of crisps of the shelf and committed the ultimate shop taboo; child consumption of unpaid-for items. The fellow Sainsbury shoppers seemed so far unoffended by my actions and peace reigned for a full 30 seconds. That half minute was all it took for B to decide eating the crisps one at a time was far too mainstream; cramming the entire packet into his mouth was clearly the way forward. First I heard gagging and on twirling round raced over just in time to ‘catch’ his upchuck. It baffles me how our first instinct on seeing our child vomit in a public place is to offer our hands as a bowl. Delightful. But wait, dear reader, the best is yet to come. This sensation of overstuffing his mouth and choking on his crisps set in motion a chain of events that still haunts me to this day. For B this was nothing more than an interesting sensory experience. He had no inkling that causing himself to throw up was just not becoming to a toddler. Even now, B goes through phases of self-gagging, whereby he will shove his hand/a long toy/a marble/food/any other given item into his mouth to deliberately cause him to gag and puke. Somewhat awkward when you’re stuck in a supermarket queue or café trying to explain that you don’t in fact have the world’s youngest bulimia sufferer for a child.
B has no appropriateness filter; he doesn’t yet know what is socially acceptable and what is downright bizarre. He is motivated solely by his intense sensory needs, which makes life hilarious at best and lethal at worst. Hanging upside down off tables, licking random people’s cars as he walks by, obsessive spinning of wheels near to his face, being drawn to vibration like an insect to the insect zapper, trying to get INTO any nearby water (water play tables, lakes, the sea), and dropping to his knees to drink out of puddles are all commonplace B manoeuvres. We gave up taking him to farm parks for a while for fear he would contract some grim disease from licking the animals, or get his fingers pecked off from sticking them into the chicken coop (which incidentally he found hysterical). All this with no hint of embarrassment because he simply doesn’t get the social barriers.
I think we all start out like this- filter free. Take my other typical kids. They regularly come out with incredible gems which indicate their social immaturity. Admittedly they are all my kids, which may go some way to explaining their tenacity and bluntness, but I’ve saved the following few pearls for your entertainment.
Public shame for S as BH outs his bottom cleaning skills (or lack of them) in a very loud voice en-route to the park. BH- scratching bottom ‘Dad, you didn’t wipe my bum properly, my bumhole’s still all itchy.’
S’s dark past makes an unwelcome appearance at BH’s birthday party. O- as the giant jelly-baby shaped jelly is served ‘When Daddy was 18 and it was his friend’s birthday, he made him some giant jelly boobs.’ Cue uncontrollable laughter and boob wobbling from kids and uncomfortable conversation-topic-shifting from parents.
The time I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry as we were served in the local charity shop by a particularly hairy lady: BH- staring intently ‘Are you a boy or a girl?’
The guy on the beach who accidentally knocked her off her scooter: BH- getting up with an indignant look, then shouting at the top of her voice ‘WHY DID YOU DO THAT?’ The guy was utterly floored and was subsequently mocked by his mates for being brought down by a toddler.
On a recent in-law visit BH decided to make known her feelings to her beloved grandparents: ‘I don’t like you Grandma, I actually only like Grandad.’
A public toilet trip becomes a very public toilet trip: BH in the loudest voice possible ‘Mum. What’s a pube?’
I’m sure you have your own little nuggets of inappropriateness but it got me thinking. What if in training out the social faux-pas we create a culture of half truths. A world where we’re too worried to speak out what we’re really thinking for fear of inadvertently upsetting etiquette. The rules of society are ever changing and unpredictable; has our supposed ‘selective’ suitability filter actually become a blanket block for anything that might possibly offend. Or swinging the other way can this block stop us speaking out the good stuff? How many times does a compliment run through our head but get swallowed up somewhere en-route to our mouth because we’re afraid of looking stupid or breaking some unwritten social rule? There’s a golden piece of advice for this predicament tucked away in the Bible. Speak the truth in love. Children have no issue speaking the truth, although they may need some help and direction to speak it in love. But we grown-ups get stuck on the first hurdle.
This is one great lesson I can learn from my kids. With the best of intentions, I’d love to be filter-free and follow that great advice. Social rules are overrated. B definitely agrees. J