Thermostat Issues

posted Monday January 11th, 2010

I’ve come to the conclusion, after this weekend, that it’s as though Sophie’s emotional thermostat is broken. Or at least a bit off. Maybe it’s her social thermostat, rather than emotional. And maybe I shouldn’t say “broken.” I know I shouldn’t say broken. I’m struggling with how to explain it.

Saturday afternoon, I took the girls to a birthday party. It was lovely, very casual, and somewhat unstructured — a park, some hot dogs, a couple of crafts, good weather. The kids dispersed and mainly did their own thing. I tried to hold back from my typical hovering mode, and watched Sophie wander, trying to find her way.

No one else noticed, I’m guessing, but from my perspective it wasn’t good. Sophie was passive — head down, not talking, just sort of aimless and not really connecting with anyone – til finally she latched onto the dad of one of the party guests and had a grand time chatting with him until it was time to leave.

That was not out of the ordinary; I’ve grown accustomed to such birthday party behavior. But what happened next is new, and it’s thrown me for a loop. It’s made me think about the birthday party behavior in a new way.

Later that afternoon, I dropped Sophie at her BFF Sarah’s house for yet another playdate. These playdates have been extraordinarily successful! And I’m cautiously hopefully that they are not just pity parties; I think Sarah enjoys them as well.

But as we pulled away from Sarah’s house, I noticed a pattern has emerged. She doesn’t want the playdate to end. That manifests itself pretty normally — she and Sarah both argue, stall, beg. But once Sophie’s in the car, something happens that I haven’t seen.

She begins to sob. I don’t mean cry or whine or complain. I mean full-on, gut-wrenching My Heart is Broken and I May Never Recover sobbing.

This continues for the short drive home, and for some time after that. The reminder of future playdates helps, but not entirely. I hate seeing her so upset, but at the same time, my heart swells, knowing how much joy those times with Sarah bring to Sophie, particularly when they come with the freedom and novelty of playing at a friend’s house without mom.

It’s as though it’s so awesome, she can’t contain her emotions. She blows a fuse.

I wish we could hit a happy medium, where — like Annabelle  — Sophie hops out of the car at a birthday party, huddles with a group of friends, then leaves the party a little whiny but otherwise no worse for the wear.

That, like so many things, is clearly not to be. Not for now, anyway. And frankly, it leaves me weirded out. The short stature, the hole in the heart, the difficulty with handwriting — okay, I get it, those are results of that 21st chromosome.

But the more ephemeral stuff, like emotional thermostats? Weird. That’s the best way I can put it. Weird.

And there’s no handyman — or even a doctor — to call to fix it.

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Tags: Filed under: birthday parties, Down syndrome, playdate by Amysilverman

6 Responses to “Thermostat Issues”

  1. There was a time when the thought was Sophie being able to communicate without signing was “clearly not to be”. Just sayin (I have some other thoughts on this that I’m having a hard time putting to paper but will talk to you about it later). :)

  2. Amy,
    I feel like it’s emotional immaturity. And my hope (my desperate hope) is that they will outgrow it. It’s to the point now where I almost dread taking Leo to places he likes (indoor playground, Barnes & Noble) because I know that when we have to leave, there will be a major scene. Like the one you described. And that’s if I can even GET him to the car. They are ugly. And embarassing. And they have had me in tears right along with Leo.

    I feel like with our guys they “catch up” in one aspect where they LAG far behind in others. And right now they are lagging, big time, in the art of “transition.”

    So, no suggestions. Just commiseration. It’s really, really hard.

  3. These are learned skills. Perhaps reading to her a home-made story about a girl who felt the same way, and the girl learned to not sob, to remember that there would be another time, and how she felt better and mommy was happoier when she didn’t cry/

  4. My daughter went through that stage and honestly it seemed like it took alot of prep and practice/experiences to help her find a way to master those feelings of intense loss, we used to prep before “anticipating” the end of play date, then we would come half an hour early and start the easing off process. She has actually mastered it pretty well now, probably since about 8 years old or so.
    She still becomes VERY sad at the end of an intense emotional experience like the end of a play- where she gets so involved in the fantasy of it that she will sob like I used to watching Hermans Hermits!!! lol Some kids feel and process slowly but deeply. Some kids are more intellectual and mercurial. You can experiment and find the key to your beautiful Sophie.

  5. One morning when I worked in Hong Kong, I asked the department secretary, “How are you?”

    “I already told you yesterday,” she shouted at me. “I’m fine. I was fine yesterday, I’m fine today, and I will be fine tomorrow. Why do you English professors keep asking the same question?”

    “I guess we assume that people’s moods may change,” I said, or some lame substitute for that. There is no “how are you” in Cantonese. There is a bewildering variety of other greetings, actually: “where are you going” and “have you eaten rice yet” and even, “so, you’re good, right?” but no “how are you.”

    Nellie, the Cantonese secretary, told me that she aspired to never have her mood change. No ups, she said, would mean no downs. She believed that should be everyone’s goals, and thus, she though, “how are you” was a stupidly boring question.

    I’ve been thinking about it ever since. Meditation teachers try to teach equilibrium. It’s almost a noble goal.

    But, for me personally, I want to have ups and downs. I want to have varied answers to “How are you.” Maybe not as varied as Sophie’s, but, you know, not as muted as Nellie’s.

  6. [...] other day, I wrote about my Sophie’s “thermostat” — how her emotions tend to run either too hot or too cold. Elaine had a terrific, [...]

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