I just finished reading Little Women to G and Z. That book is way longer than I remembered - and – seriously?! - emotionally grueling. As had happened throughout Little Women, but on an even more snot-filled, ugly-crying level, I began to lose it as I tried to read those last pages aloud. The closing bit, where Marmee says, even after all the poverty and hardship, and even though her daughter Beth died (sorry if I am giving anything away here), “Oh, my girls, however long you may live, I can never wish you a greater happiness than this!” And she says this simply because they are all together...I can’t even type it without sobbing.
As I read to her, as she often does, Z observed my emotional reaction and asked, “Mom, is it touching?”
Honey, to me, just about EVERYTHING is touching.
You can just look at my red, blotchy, slimy face – or your brother’s: Yes. It’s touching. When a bird lets another bird go ahead of it at the birdfeeder? Touching. Something on the radio about helping people? We will probably at a minimum get misty-eyed. When there’s a video of a baby seal? Touching. Human interest piece in People magazine at the dentist? All those interspecies friendship books? Elderly people holding hands? Yes. Anything to do with animals, life, death, romance, family, and so forth is fair game for being touching.
At the same time, on my own, I’ve been dipping into The Highly Sensitive Person, in which I was *stunned* to read that 42% of people describe themselves as “not sensitive at all.” And here I’d always thought everybody was just better at managing their feelings and reactions than I was – because there was something wrong with me. Something weak, or ignorant, or lame; a lack in me which rendered me less adept than the majority of people...People who didn’t seem to cry or laugh quite as readily, people for whom interacting with others, for example, seemed to be much more clear cut, less laden with strong, overwhelming feelings, and MUCH less daunting...
I’d assumed everybody was “like me” and that it was my “fault” for being unable to “master” my feelings and reactions. Now I see another healing, liberating spectrum! I wouldn’t quite put my Z in the “not sensitive at all” category, but on a sensitivity spectrum we clearly occupy different spaces. And this holds true for her sensory processing as well: she’s impervious to hunger, noise, lack of sleep, etc. in a way that’s inconceivable to the SPD-ers* in the family.
In Figure I, I’ve charted approximations of our family sensitivity levels relative to one another (P=Pardner, Z=my daughter, G=my son, F=me). This is obviously simplifying and generalizing, but it also clearly indicates a Full Spectrum of sensitivities just within one family.
Figure I – Touching Chart: From Squishing-Touching to Not Touching
Knowing that others have different sorts and levels of sensitivity, doesn’t mean we ourselves necessarily should attempt to change our own feelings and reactions – even if we are able (?). But that knowledge opens our eyes to possibilities of different perspectives - and perspective, as I tell my philosophy students, is the key to a lot. It’s marvelous to see how we all shine in different ways. It’s intriguing for me to imagine the experience of not sobbing at the drop of a hat; for Z, learning about things that are “touching” is inspiring her to find her own tender spots.
Guess the Full Spectrums will keep learning from each other.
We just started By the Shores of Silver Lake. You know, the Laura Ingalls Wilder where Mary goes blind and Jack, their loyal, loving dog dies? It’s going to be you-know-what.
Full Spectrum Mama
* SPD-ers: people with sensory processing differences
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