I remember your 4th birthday party as if it were yesterday. We invited all of your friends to the local gymnastics place and we even had a Curious George cake (your favorite character). When we got to the party you avoided everyone and had a massive meltdown. You cried almost the entire party and you even refused to go into the party room with your Curious George cake. Everyone sang "Happy Birthday" without you. I cried that day, too. I cried because that was the day that I knew something was wrong and I didn't know what it was or how to fix it.
Shortly after your party you had your four year well-check at the doctor's office. Your dad and I both went to the appointment, and we explained our concerns to the doctor. It wasn't just because you cried at your birthday party. It was that we felt like we were always walking on eggshells with your emotions. We never quite knew what would upset you or how intense your reactions would be. Since you were about to start pre-school, your doctor convinced us to give it some time and see how you progressed.
You started preschool shortly after that and I was so nervous. You were very sensitive and often had meltdowns, but the teacher could never pinpoint the trigger. The academics were never the problem, but you didn't always follow directions and you would often shut down for no obvious reason. You did the same things at home. I felt like we never quite knew what may upset you. But once again, it was easy to dismiss your actions as "just being four."
We thought we'd sign you up for soccer to see if that would encourage you to have some fun and interact more with other kids. Most of the time you just stared at the ball and cried, but the most memorable time is the first game where you threw up because you were so nervous. We didn't know that you were nervous, so we first attributed it to a stomach bug. It wasn't until some time later that we realized what had really happened.
We also noticed that you were hypersensitive when you got hurt, which unfortunately happened a lot. We joked about you getting our clumsy genes, but you seemed to trip and fall more than I remember doing as a kid. The only problem was that a simple tiny scratch would send you into hysterics and no amount of rationale from me would help. I have often lost my patience with you because of that and I am so so sorry.
Not only were your emotions volatile, but we noticed you were more picky about foods than your siblings. We tried everything we knew to get you to try new foods. There were nights you would go without eating a thing just to avoid trying anything new. If it were up to you, you'd eat pepperoni pizza every single day. When you avoided food, I got frustrated. There were times I would yell because I didn't know what to do. I made smoothies with hidden ingredients to give you protein and veggies, but you wouldn't try them. I made reward charts so you could have a "date" with me if you tried ten new things. I remember once we forced you to eat a piece of chicken and you gagged and threw up. That is one of my lowest moments in parenting without a doubt. I didn't understand that your pickiness about food had a root cause. You weren't just being defiant for fun.
There were many times you would try to draw something and if it wasn't perfect in your eyes, you would crumble up the paper, throw it on the ground, and have a massive meltdown. My response to your meltdown? I would sometimes yell. I yelled because I didn't understand. I didn't understand how you couldn't recover easily. Why couldn't you just get a new piece of paper and start over?
I would go through phases of, "You're fine, you're just four or five" to "there's something wrong but I don't know what" and sometimes I would go back and forth with these feelings in the same day.
When you started Kindergarten you had just turned 5 years old. I made sure to tell your teacher that you were sensitive, but I didn't know what else to say because I didn't know. How do I say, "I don't know when, but he'll probably have meltdowns or shut down entirely" to the teacher? Your teacher was amazing and we communicated a lot last year about your behaviors. However, just like at home, I could never tell her when to predict the meltdowns or what the causes were because I didn't know. And what's worse is that I couldn't tell her what motivated you, or what would help you recover from a meltdown.
I haven't understood why it has been so hard for you to brush your teeth at night even though we do it every night. I haven't understood why it has been so hard for you to get dressed in the morning even though we do it every day. I know I've yelled at you a lot for these things and I'm sorry.
There have been times that I've kept you from going on playdates because I was afraid you'd have a meltdown or get hurt and then I would be embarrassed. I am so sorry for that.
However, after a rough few years, I feel like we are FINALLY closer to understanding what makes you tick. Thanks to recommendations and referrals from friends, neighbors, teachers and counselors, I think we now have an idea of what is going on and I am so extremely relieved. I am so extremely grateful for having something tangible to work with and a way to move forward and help you. More than anything in the world I just want you to be happy.
I feel like I suddenly have more patience with you as I maybe understand a little bit more about you than I used to. I am doing my best to be your greatest advocate. I am not perfect by any means, but I am trying my hardest. Your smile alone is what keeps me going. I love you more than all of the pepperoni pizza in the entire world. xoxo
This post comes from the TODAY Parenting Team community, where all members are welcome to post and discuss parenting solutions. Learn more and join us! Because we're all in this together.