I need to stop letting Nolan surprise me.
I guess what I mean is, I need to stop underestimating him. Seriously, I’ve known him for 15 ½ years… You would think I would know what he’s capable of by now.
But somehow for as much as we hover and watch to make sure he’s safe, he still surprises me with things that I never would have expected him to do.
Sometimes those are things that I don’t realize he’s ever learned to do. Usually they’re things that I’m so used to doing for him that it doesn’t even cross my mind that he should be doing them. You want a drink of juice? Okay… Let me get that for you. Then there’s that one time I have a moment where my brain goes, “Just show him how—he can lift the jug now…” Then all I have to do is take the lid off of the jug (did I even have to do that?) and say, “Your turn.” Before I know it, he’s hoisted the jug and filled his cup without spilling so much as a drop. “Oh yeah… He doesn’t only learn from things that we’ve specifically taught him but also from watching things other people do—not to mention the things other people teach him along the way.”
And maybe this is part of the normal growth and development of a teenager and their relationship to the adults around them… But with Nolan, there is no, “No, Mom—I’ve got this…” conversation to be had. He just waits patiently for me to figure it out. And when he runs out of patience, I’m sure that contributes to his frustration and (sometimes) aggression. So I’m learning…
He still surprises me regularly when he replies to my “Thank you,” with a “You’re Welcome” though.
But the things that impress me most are the moments where he’s able to self-regulate…
“Wait a minute, Cindy… Now we have no idea what you’re talking about.” Okay fair. Let me explain… So we know that Nolan’s brain processes information from his senses than most of ours do, right? Right. This input from his senses (or sensory input as we like to say) can either be overwhelming to him or it may have less of an impact on him.
In cases where it has less of an impact, he tends to seek those types of sensory input. The biggest of these for Nolan is in the taste and touch department. As far as taste goes, he tends to look for bold flavors as evidenced by his favorite foods and drinks—lemonade (the more sour the better), dill pickles, green olives (though black are also acceptable), jambalaya, salsa, and pretty much anything else that is overwhelmingly sour, salty or spicy. As far as touch, Nolan asks us for movement or “nails” which falls somewhere between a tickle and a scratch where he asks us to drag our fingertips over his arms (or whatever other body part might be available in the moment…)
As far as overwhelming sensory input, sound is the king for Nolan. This is why he’s usually wearing his headphones (that and because the light pressure they put on his head give him some of that happy “touch” input that he likes). It’s also why he likes to turn his iPad volume all the way to 11 when he watches YouTube Kids or why yells for seemingly no reason… When he’s in control of the noise and can use it to drown out everything else, unexpected things (like Mom coughing which can be enough to trigger a long crying jag) don’t stress him out so much.
When sensory input stresses his out to the point where it affects his behavior (if it triggers a meltdown, crying, etc.), we say he's not regulated. So self-regulation is when he is able to use coping mechanisms without our prompting to help keep the stress of the situation from taking over.
This weekend was Airfest in our neck of the woods. Some of the bigger attractions started showing up Thursday and Fridayto do run-throughs and get the lay of the land. This included multiple acts with fighter jets and featured the US Navy’s Blue Angels. Needless to say, the noise had Nolan anxious and upset.
My assumption as mom who prevents a problem before it happens was that we would need to have a couple of adventures/ road trips when the planes would be performing. So when Saturday rolled around and Kirk was already several hours into a search for his next great flea market, Nolan and I hit the road. After a short time, Kirk let us know that he was already on his way home and that his car was making a new noise. We’d not been sleeping great, and the tired was starting to pull me down… so I thought we should head home until the airplanes became a problem.
When I could tell the Blue Angels (simultaneously the loudest and most impressive planes of the bunch) took to the sky a mere mile and a half or so from our house, I asked Nolan if he wanted a car ride. He got his shoes and his iPad, and we headed outside.
If I'd been 30 seconds quicker, you could've read the writing on their wings...
I thought for sure he would head straight to the car. But he surprised me. He just wanted to hang out outside. And he was entirely mellow the the whole time. He even asked for a walk.
I kid you not, he did not even flinch at the noise. I still can hardly believe this. I’m just amazed beyond words.
As for Nolan being amazed with the airplanes? He didn’t really care. More impressive to him? The neighbor’s sprinkler… And I mean, who can resist nice cool water on a hot summer day? That’s the best kind of sensory input he could ask for.
And maybe that's a good reminder... Instead of being focused on the pieces that might be terrifying, maybe we need to focus on the things that make us happiest.
I guess I shouldn't be surprised when he teaches me such profound things...