My toddler started attending daycare three time a week about a month ago. He cried the first three times I dropped him off. On the fourth day, he said good bye and didn’t look back.
That’s the way most “When My Kid Started Daycare” stories go, but it’s something I simply cannot take for granted. It’s not something I expected, and not something I can easily get used to, and that’s only because I know just how badly that same story can go. It’s actually all I’ve known, until now.
In an online forum last week, one mother (who clearly was having a bad day) asked:
“Do you ever envy parents with non-Highly Sensitive Children?”
Without hesitation, I clicked on the comment box and typed: “Never.”
And although that maybe true now that my son is five years old and has metamorphosed into someone much more resilient and flexible and carefree, it wasn’t always the case.
It only hit me the other day how true that was when I was reading my toddler’s teacher’s comments on how his day went at school. The note didn’t stand out from the other notes I’ve been reading three times a week. It wasn’t out of the ordinary in any way. But “ordinary” was something we didn’t get to enjoy very much, once upon a time. The note read:
“Alex had fun playing with a noisy fire engine and digging in the sand. He enjoyed doing his craft and listening to stories.”
What I would’ve given to have had the chance to read such a wonderfully ordinary note about my Highly Sensitive Child three years ago. Not one part of that sentence could’ve been said about our son when he was in daycare. Noisy fire engines were the devil, digging in the sand where other children were digging was out of the question, and crafts are something he’s only just starting to attempt at the age of five. The only part that would’ve been true was the “listening to stories” bit, but the teachers would have no way of knowing it with him sitting in a distant corner of the classroom with his back turned to everyone.
Back then, my answer to that frustrated mom’s question would’ve been a very strong, and very teary “YES!”
Back then, we were literally the only parents who had to take time off of work for a month to be with our son in daycare so he could adjust. It was the first time in that daycare center’s history that a transition period took this long and was ultimately unsuccessful. We felt so painfully alone and yes, we did envy all those other parents who didn’t have to spend the rest of their day heartbroken at the site of their child screaming from genuine distress.
School newsletters and pictures weren’t as cheerful as they are today. We couldn’t just have a quick look to make sure everything was okay and move on. There weren’t many smiles or oohh’s or aahh’s. There was more heartache, and worry, and doubt, and questions like, “Why is he sitting there all by himself” and “Why isn’t he enjoying this like all the other kids?”
And it wasn’t just at school that we envied other parents.
We envied parents who went to restaurants with their kids and happily enjoyed their meal together while we took turns holding a very uneasy child and we gobbled down our cold food, regretting the moment we thought going out for lunch was a good idea.
We envied parents who attended every picnic, wedding, birthday party and BBQ they were invited to with their kids while we turned down every single one because it just wasn’t worth it.
We envied parents who could take their kids to the playground for some fun while we couldn’t even get ours to go down the slide until he was absolutely sure it was safe to do so. This only happened a year ago.
We envied parents who didn’t have to explain why their kids were behaving irrationally over something seemingly trivial. We envied them because they could call some things trivial.
We envied parents who had children like our little Alex, because their days seemed to be so carefree, so easy, so ordinary.
Watching our highly sensitive son today in the same situations that would have caused him a whole lot of anxiety not long ago, it’s hard to believe how far he’s come. It’s the only thing that really justifies me quickly answering “never” to that question, as if for a brief moment I’d forgotten all the pain we’d been through. And I can only imagine how that answer must have made that poor mother feel, that mother who is going through today what we went through a few years ago. It couldn’t have felt good. And I imagine it must have made her feel more alone, and for that I am so terribly sorry.
But to that mother, and other parents who are feeling a lot more envy than they’d like to, I can only say that we all feel this way as parents, regardless of what our children are like, even if we don’t like to admit it. My non-HSC toddler has driven me to the very brink of my sanity, making me look around every now and then and envy all those parents who have calmer, more predictable children than my ticking time-bomb of a son.
We all have bad days, months, years that make us doubt ourselves and yes, our very decision to become parents. And I’ve learned that that’s okay.
Because I am not alone.
If you haven’t checked out the ‘resources’ section of this blog, please do. There are some incredible online support groups for parents of Highly Sensitive Children, filled with moms and dads who offer invaluable support. You are not alone.
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