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School plays, a trip to Disney World®, and mountain vacations fill our photo albums. But none of those are the moments I cherish as a mom… not by a long shot. The most meaningful moments of my parenting were years in the making and captured only by my heart.
From birth, my daughter Annika hated to be held. She’d kick and squirm until I put her down. It surprised everyone, not just me. I remember when an old friend stopped by our small Denver bungalow. We chatted while baby Annika wiggled and kicked on a blanket nearby. At some point in the conversation, my friend asked, “Aren’t you going to pick up your baby? Don’t you ever hold her?”
“Watch this,” I replied – because seeing is believing. As soon as I scooped up Annika, she started fussing. Once I returned her to the floor, she stopped, becoming happy again.
And so it went. No cuddling, no rocking to sleep, no baby Bjorn.
The only time my husband or I rocked her to sleep was when she had a fever. We felt bad she was sick, but were glad for a few moments of having her curled up in our arms.
I figured her behavior was my fault, something I should be doing better. I didn’t know why she seemed so sensitive to touch, to tags on her clothes, to pants with zippers, to hugs. How could I love her if I couldn’t touch her?
But it wasn’t me. When she was seven years old, we discovered that Annika had sensory processing disorder – a condition where one or more senses is either over responsive or under-responsive. In Annika’s case, her sense of touch was over responsive, hyper-alert.
The occupational therapists at Children’s Hospital who diagnosed and helped her with therapy gave us homework: all-over brushing and other proprioceptive exercises designed to help Annika’s tactile sense calm down from its amped-up state.
One evening, after about two months of doing this therapy, I knew it was working when Annika asked, “Mom, will you lay in bed with me to help me go to sleep?”
Most seven-year-olds wouldn’t ask this.
Most parents wouldn’t do it. (Not at age seven anyway.)
But for us, it was different. It was like a rebirth – a new beginning.
“Sure, honey,” I answered, thrilled for the chance. I wondered if she would she let me hug her? Rub her back?
That night and the many nights that followed, cuddled in her twin bed next to her, rubbing her back, I knew I’d been given a gift.
As I fell asleep next to her, many times with joyful tears in my eyes, I thought about all the times through the years that I wanted to touch her skin, rub her arm or give her a hug, and couldn’t. She couldn’t accept it because her senses were so overwhelmed. I knew how much human beings needed to be touched to thrive, especially children. As I rubbed her back and stroked her arms with the tips of my fingernails, I prayed that these touches would nourish her body, brain and spirit, that they would make up for those lost years.
But it nourished my soul as well. For the first time, I could cuddle with my baby girl. No gift could ever compare, not when I’d longed for it for so many years.
For many months, we fell asleep in her tiny twin bed together until a day when she said she didn’t need me there anymore.
There are no photos of those nights. Nothing framed on the wall. But I don’t need any. These snapshots are captured in my heart forever. They remind me to keep hope, be patient and always love, even when it’s hard.
Tell us about a moment as a parent that has moved you.