3/27/2014 3 Comments
Lessons from the Uber-Sensitive Father of a Highly Sensitive Kid
We’ve raised two highly sensitive kids, you already know that. We’ve talked about our journey as their parents, our learning process to better understand them and either to appreciate and/or just acknowledge their points of view. It’s all very easy to do when they are little. When they are small their actions (what Joe Public sees) can often be excused with “too little to know better.” But, what about when they are 15 years old?
Case in point, I took my son to get his haircut yesterday. This “chore” has got to be one of the most uncomfortable settings for him. For one, he doesn’t really care about his hair and how its cut. Secondly, there are just too many questions that hair dressers ask when you sit under their scissors. Thirdly, he hasn’t mastered nor does he care to master the art of small talk.
All hairdresser conversations go the same way anyway….
“What grade are you in?”
“Where do you go to school?”
“Do you like school?”
By now, you would think he would have stock answers and could quickly maintain a conversation flow without even thinking. But, he doesn’t.
He processes each question as if you have asked him, “Does the Universe have an edge, beyond which there is nothing?”
To make matters worse, these seemingly simple to answer questions come at such speed, further emphasizing that the answers don’t really matter to the asker. It’s just a nicety, perhaps a habit infused with ceremony. But, when Noah doesn’t respond with a quick “9th, FHS, not really” and rather looks perplexed, (possibly overwhelmed) and goes deep into the recesses of his mind to answer these questions-- the uber-sensitive dad (that would be me) feels compelled to come in and save him.
I don’t think 15 year olds like that either.
So, yesterday we tried a new hair place. The last chop shop we visited had done a poor job cutting his hair. Perhaps, it was because he hadn’t answered enough of their rapid fire styling questions as they clipper-ed and cut inches of hair from his head.
“What are we going to do today?”
“What number clipper should I use?”
“Should I take another inch?”
“Do you want rounded or straight line on your neck?”
“How do you like your sideburns?”
Upon entering our new shop we were greeted by the shop owner with, “Oh look, the Russian Mafia.”
To which got a chuckle from my son— though a bit awkward for me, but at least one of us was happy so far so good.
She then proceeded to tell us how she was the owner and could basically say silly stuff whenever she wanted to, she didn’t have to answer to anyone.
This then inspired Noah to make the observation out loud to the woman, that he was excited to see how she would describe the next “unsuspecting victim” who entered her shop. This got a chuckle from her and Noah.
Everything was going great and then Noah started coughing or chocking. He wasn’t sick but we had just eaten lunch prior to entering her shop and he was apparently in the process of swallowing his last bite. He had unexpectedly landed in the middle of a comic bit that he was clearly driving.
The shop owner did not take this well, she suddenly looked scared and possibly angry.
“Are you sick?”
Mind you he’s still trying to get his breath, so there was no response.
She then looked at me with a scowl as if I had committed a huge sin by bringing her a sick teenager.
I was no help so she went back to addressing Noah, “What’s the matter with you?”
I finally stepped in, “He’s not sick, just choking a bit.”
She motioned Noah to sit in her salon chair. As he led the way, she looked back at me and mouthed, “What’s wrong with this guy?”
I was now boiling inside, “Nothing” I said.
She then dropped this one on him, “What are you…hung-over or something?”
Where I had planned on not stepping in, now I was riding at her heals and moving into my no-nonsense business mind. Let’s get this over as quickly as possible, get in and out.
With Noah now seated in her chair, the hair dresser behind him and me behind her I started barking how his hair should be cut. All of us were looking into the mirror at our reflection and none of us making direct eye contact. It then appeared to me that Noah was looking bothered, but I wasn’t sure if it was from my stepping in or all of our focus being on his hair.
I guessed it was a combination of both, so once I finished (what I believed to be) a dissertation on his hair and what went wrong the last time, I went back to the waiting area and took my seat. It was in God’s hands now.
What happened next I would not have expected. The two of them started chatting. I even heard laughter coming from them both.
Then she called me back over. I assumed it was to answer another hair question, but I was wrong. She wanted to know that she thought Noah was very funny and that she had declared herself to be his hair savior for now on. Case closed.
And here’s why. She told us she was a brain aneurism survivor. Four years ago, a brain aneurism had exploded and that she shouldn’t be alive today. She didn’t know why she had survived, but only that this horrific experience had given her licensing to speak her mind and say whatever she felt, after all it was her shop and she didn’t have to answer to no body.
She told Noah that she understood his hair and would take care of him. She knew what to do with the rather difficult series of cowlicks, she would make them work. She was the hair expert. She asked no questions of him but just talked about her own rather colorful life. He seemed to like that, no pressure to respond.
At the end, of the haircut she looked at him in the eyes and said, “You are adorable. I like you and you will come back.” She smiled.
Noah said, “Well, I guess I have no choice in the matter then.” He smiled back.
We left her shop and I was exhausted having gone through such a range of fatherly emotions from that experience.
The parenting of a highly sensitive child never really goes away. Just because you and your child have shared experiences in dealing with situations doesn’t dictate that you can somehow check them off the list and these same lessons won’t reappear? They will continue to appear and perhaps these lessons aren’t necessarily for the kid as much as they are for you and me, the parent. It’s hard as a parent not to want to help them, step in and protect them. But, these kids will find a way to live and thrive just like our new hair stylist. She found her own niche in this world and for the last five years has even been voted the best in town, by the Joe Publics of world. Clearly her brain aneurism had affected her lack of processing social communication norms and/or she no longer cared to just play the game. She was now living in a no bullshit world and had found a kindred and caring spirit in Noah.
I look forward to the day when this type of human mindset is the new “normal” and highly sensitive souls inhabit the majority of this planet. And in my own lifetime, I look forward to the day when my uber-sensitive actions as a father don’t just flair up when I feel my child is being threatened for who he is, but rather is continually heighted to all those around me with great empathy and compassion. No bullshit, that’s the way Noah would have it.