Change Can Be Hard

The seasons are changing – daily, it seems, at the moment; I mean: what is up with the weather?! – and for a lot of people that marks a good time to go through their closet to evaluate their clothes. It’s no different for me, and I go through the process with my children as well.

With my teenage daughter, it’s surprisingly easy. She is unflinchingly honest about what she likes and what no longer works for her, and she has no trouble discarding what doesn’t belong in her closet anymore. To be fair, she’s had some practice recently, as she’s going through, like, the third growth spurt in a year and has had to change the contents of her closet accordingly several times throughout the past year.

My youngest, however, is a different creature altogether. He is 6 and has SPD (Sensory Processing Disorder) and because of his particular sensibilities he tends to form quite a strong attachment to things: cuddly toys (as a lots of kids do) but also games, the coffee machine, and yes, his clothes. So while I might be disappointed when something no longer feels as comfortable to wear, or just isn’t in line with my style anymore even though I truly love the item in question, he will be devastated when that happens. As it is, he is not great with change, but this kind of thing is even harder for him when he has to help make the decisions and see things being removed.

Here’s the little dude, watching a Studio Ghibli favorite: Ponyo.

Now, before I continue, I should just note that this is specific to my son and not a defining trait in everyone who has SPD. I should also note that plenty of children who do not have SPD form deep attachments to things. I’m finding the things I’ve learned about my son’s SPD have helped me understand how these sorts of changes impact him. This post is only about my experiences with my son as we updated his closet, and for parents whose kids are similarly sensitive in this respect it may sound very recognizable.

Right, back to the closet. So my son is similarly going through a growth spurt, and has been growing out of things. Knowing how truly sad it can make him to part with things, I have been trying to make the process a little less painful by initially buying new items of underwear and new pairs of socks before filtering out the old ones. It’s one way to make the process a little less difficult for him, and to make it a little less obvious that some things will be going away for good.

But, as I said before, for certain things I will need him to actively participate in the process of taking out the old in order to evaluate what and how much new will be coming in. In order to make this manageable for him, I clearly set the parameters as well as the rules (“If it’s too small, it has to go”, “You never wear this, so let’s let someone else enjoy it.”). And before you ask: no, it does not help him to know that new clothes will be coming in to replace the ones that are going out. He is simply upset that the ones that have to go will be going.

Some of the items that didn’t make the cut were beloved staples. Others were items that he had grown out of before ever having worn them – this does not diminish his attachment to them. To him, it’s just the idea that these items are at home here and he feels awful when they are – in his mind – evicted. To him, each item has a soul, of sorts.

To my great surprise (and relief) the person who has helped me the most in this process is Marie Kondo. Her method of parting with things has actually made it possible for my son to make his peace with this particular change. After we had finished sorting, we put all the clothes that we would not be keeping on a pile and we thought of how to say goodbye to them, and so I found myself holding up about 20 different t-shirts, sweaters and pairs of pants so he could “thank them for their service”. There were genuine tears, which were not accompanied by loud cries and acting out; just five minutes of him silently crying on my shoulder until he felt like he had come to terms.

What also helped him was knowing that the clothes would be passed down to a boy who lives down the street and who will be happy to wear them. It makes the goodbye less definitive, and it gives him the idea that the clothes have found a new home rather than just having been discarded. It’s a little like grieving in stages.

My son’s SPD has actually illuminated certain things about myself as well. His attachment to things, his idea that things somehow have feelings is something I am sometimes guilty of too, and was much more so when I was a kid. Except back when I was growing up, SPD was not a thing. We were supposed to stop being silly and just get on with it. No one would take seriously a sense of loss when you had to part with something because, after all, it was just a thing. While there’s something to be said for that approach – the world is not necessarily going to take our sensitivities into account – I’m glad that we handle these things differently today. Diagnosing and observing my son have given me a way to communicate with him in a more friendly and effective way, and it’s also given me the tools to find a healthy balance there: acknowledging the sensitivities while teaching him how to deal with them constructively, so he’s able to handle himself when he gets older.

SPD or not, we could probably all use the space and time sometimes to deal with things that we find unexpectedly difficult, for whatever reason. Awareness and validation of those emotions can really help decrease the negative impact of just barreling through and provide some practical instruments to process change, and that’s something we all need.

Picture (im)perfect

In these times of lockdowns and pandemic anxiety, like everyone I have been looking for ways to reduce stress and find a way to inject some new found appreciation into being house bound. I have been trying to tidy (sort of Marie Kondo style, but not quite), bullet journal (intermittently), design and do home workouts (either alone or together with the fam – these are usually binge watch workouts), or study (very, very hard to do with everyone at home and occupying the same space). This list, it turns out, is far too ambitious, but I keep trying.

Our “Psych” binge watch workout. That’s a fair amount of burpees and a lot of half boat extensions per episode…

And then I thought: maybe it will inspire and entertain me to browse through some interior design magazines. I’ll come up with marvelous ideas to make our home feel new and fresh. Turns out, that doesn’t work for me as well as I thought it would.

Why not, you ask? Well…

First of all, when I leaf through these magazines I very often find that the interiors and decorative ideas don’t really work for me – which is entirely a matter of personal taste, of course. Most of the themes and decors just don’t seem to appeal to me. But more importantly: most of the projects that these magazines suggest are so involved, and I just don’t have that kind of time! Or perhaps it’s a matter of prioritizing; I don’t know.

Either way, I really don’t see myself collecting and cleaning off used straws so I can cut them into little pieces and recreate a repurposed plastic mosaic of the Mona Lisa – not to mention that we only use either paper straws these days, or stainless steel washable ones. Should I somehow free up the time it takes to make weekly rounds of my house in order to frame home made art works and hang them on the walls, only to take them down and de-frame them the next week, then use the freed up frames for different home made art works and hang them up instead (lather – rinse – repeat)? Or give my house a whole new feel on the regular with all those personally restored hidden prizes I will have found after hours and hours of flea market treasure hunting; those same hours that – I may have mentioned this earlier – I just don’t have?

I definitely don’t see myself on a whim moving all the furniture out of our living room so I can sand down my wooden floor in order to give it a new finish that makes the floor look like it hasn’t been sanded down or finished at all – I mean, it sounds marvelously modern and magnificently natural, and it would definitely be a fantastic outlet for my inner minimalist, but still.

The main reason, though, why these interior design magazines don’t do it for me is that reading them leaves me frustrated rather than inspired. All those houses with oceans of space. Everything squeaky clean and not a speck of dust anywhere. Everything tidy and in its place. All the time. And these pictures of perfection are supposed to be attainable even for families with children across all ages – as it happens ours run from ages 6 to 13. What kind of exemplary mini humans are these that they are constantly tidying away all their toys and games and clothes and candy wrappers? Don’t they ever want to build a hut in the most inconvenient spot using everything they can find that has not been bolted down? Are there no socks or slippers or stuffies that slide underneath the couch and then lie there, just out of reach but still in sight? Do these children all eat neatly above their plates, spilling neither crust nor crumb?

This is what my living room table looks like when it’s neat and not being used as a dumping ground for every blessed lego piece and hair band and abandoned art project. It’s not exactly a mess, but it’s hardly minimalist perfection.

I know it’s all staged for the photo shoots, but the Stepfordness of it all freaks me out. Even in the houses where everything isn’t perfectly feng-shued on a shelf or neatly folded in a closet (with the closet door slightly ajar so you can see that the contents have indeed been neatly folded and tidily put away rather than hurriedly shoved behind a door because grandma has come over for a surprise visit), the one unfolded item of clothing has been draped over the edge of the bed with stylish “nonchalance”. The lone cuddly toy sitting on the sofa seems more like a modern art installation representing the tragedy of the eventual forced abandonment of childhood than a tattered stuffed bunny the resident 4-year old threw angrily across the room when his mother told him he wasn’t allowed a piece of candy. See? these stylized scenes seem to say, this is a room that’s lived in. Sure it is.

Spot the odd one out…

No, I’m afraid these examples of interior perfection are not for me. Do you know what magazine would work for me? An interior design magazine for families with children who don’t listen or who don’t like or manage to tidy up after themselves, and parents who don’t spend every spare second dusting every inch of their house or polishing their floors. A magazine with a special about storage and tidying solutions with spreads that include photos from before tidying, after tidying, and then five minutes after that, when the kids have been allowed back into the room to do what they usually do.

I’d subscribe to that magazine in a heartbeat!