by Jennifer Dyer
It might sound like this will be about fashion. Not really. Yes, wearing saggy pants leads to perilous moments of ankle waddling, but this is about my daughter with autism and her sensory issues.
Rachel likes to pull her pants down. I don’t know why. I suspect the pressure of a waistband on her tummy while sitting is painful. If any kid has gut issues, it’s my sweet girl. We have most of her tummy troubles under control with diet, but I imagine she still has discomfort.
So…the pants. We buy the softest, most stretchy leggings possible. I buy her long dresses to wear over those. But if it were up to her, she’d skip the leggings.
In the car, on the bus, wherever she goes, Rachel likes to sit on her bare bottom. She pulls down everything under her dress and sits on the seat commando style. I don’t know why. I never pretended to understand her sensory issues. But I know that’s at least a part of where this stems from.
I understand it’s difficult for her. But I also understand that in society, pants are not optional. Maybe in some places…but not in most. School, grocery stores, libraries–pretty much pants-required kinds of places, or at least they are pretty adamant about covering of your hindquarters. The pulling down her leggings to sit has become a big issue at school, especially. It’s keeping her from going to general ed classes and mixing with the other kids. It’s affecting so many areas of her life.
While riding in the backseat with Rach, I asked her to pull her pants up. She did about halfway. A second later she yanked them down. We rinsed and repeated, so to speak, each time with her pulling her pants back down a second later. I know this is beyond a sensory issue–it’s compulsion taking over at this point, but she has to learn. I reached around to keep her pants up behind her back. “You have to keep them up.”
She screamed and said no.
I took a deep breath. I hate confrontation. I hate hearing her cry. I don’t want to make her miserable, and I have compassion for anyone with sensory issues. I had them myself. But she seriously has to keep her pants up! I’m her mother. It’s not my job to keep her happy. It’s my job to develop her character. I have to be strong. All of that ran through my mind as we struggled.
I was doing pretty well to keep my cool, but Rachel grabbed my hand and squeezed the kung and the fu out of one of my bent fingers. I jerked away, but she has a death grip. My brain quit working, adrenaline pounded through my limbs. “Get away!” was the big message in my mind. I smacked her thigh and yelled, “Stop!”
Eldest, sitting in the front seat beside Grandma, whirled around to see what happened. Grandma veered and glanced in the rear-view mirror.
I don’t hit. I occasionally spank, but it’s rare these days because it escalates Rachel’s behavior rather than helps it. When Eldest was little, there was usually a verbal warning of “I will spank you.” And then it was done in a calm manner.
There was no warning here. I didn’t hit hard, but shame washed over me because it felt like I’d acted rashly. I felt liked I’d done something terrible even though in retrospect it wasn’t as bad as I’d imagined it. In fact, it was an immediate response that communicated to her she needed to stop. And I truly didn’t hit her hard enough to even make her thigh red.
Regardless, in that moment, I wanted to curl up and hide because I’d let myself lose control of my emotions. I looked out the window and noticed a meadow full of pink wild flowers. A powerful urge washed over me to jump out of the car and run screaming through the grass and melt into shadows.
But motherhood isn’t about running away. It’s about standing firm, putting my own feelings aside and doing what’s best for my family. Yet I’m not a robot. I have feelings, I feel pain, too, and I get over stressed.
I took a deep breath and apologized to Rachel for losing my temper. I don’t know if she understood me or not, but I told her I should have pulled away. It’s not OK to hit people in anger or in fear. But it’s not OK to hurt people, either, and there are consequences for that.
In retrospect, we shouldn’t have started that battle of the pants on that day because I was too tired to begin with and didn’t feel well. Those big battles have to be started when I’m up to following it through for the long haul. We’re going to try again with her behavior therapist and work our way toward changing her behavior patterns that way.
Furthermore, I need to stop being so hard on myself. I know y’all understand. We have these ideals we hold ourselves to, but fall short. Or people who don’t understand our circumstances criticize and wound our hearts. Sometimes, though, the failure is much greater in our minds. Sometimes we have to offer ourselves grace and move forward.
Grace, it’s often the greatest, but most difficult, gift we can give ourselves.