Meltdowns During Pandemic: School-Start!

It’s started.

School is here, we’re beginning fully online, and… My kids are miserable about it. 

As highly sensory kiddos who prefer to be bodily engaged in whatever they’re doing, online learning is just about the worst possible choice for them. (Apparently online gaming is different from schooling.)

Of course, what they’re doing is currently safer than the alternatives, and I’m extremely grateful for all the work their school district has put into making this experience as meaningful as possible.

But – it’s just not the same as in-person.

Last night, as I was putting my oldest daughter C to bed, she erupted in pent-up frustration that startled me by its intensity (she’s not a  yeller by nature):

“I HATE online learning! Why can’t we just have things go back to the way they were? I was doing so WELL in middle school! Now if I have QUESTIONS about an assignment,  I can’t just go up to my TEACHER and ask them to explain it! I send an email and they DON’T GET BACK TO ME! I CAN’T KEEP TRACK of everything I’m supposed to do!”

She is PISSED OFF (rightfully so) that corona virus is still here, that we’re not coming together as a country to lower rates, and that there’s nothing we can do to impact others’ poor socializing choices.

Her feelings about online learning being hideous were strong enough that she kept listing horrible thing after (creatively) horrible thing that she’d rather go through than start school that way.

She went on for about half an hour non-stop. I tried interrupting her to affirm and ask questions, but really she just needed to vent – and vent – and vent… So eventually I just shut up and let her.

(As a side note, we live in a “pro-teacher” household – meaning, as a former teacher myself, a sister to a current kindergarten teacher, and someone who works with teachers in higher education, I empathize just as much with teachers as I do with students. Teachers are being asked to do impossible work, and this is most definitely not the format they originally signed up for. To that end, C clarified immediately that she didn’t mean to bash her teachers, and that she empathized with their challenges.)


There’s still the fact that none of this looks anything close to normal – either in terms of what she’s used to from previous (pre-COVID) years of schooling, OR in terms of “human normal”.

Meanwhile, my younger kids are just as unhappy, confused, and depressed. Ever since we went to their physical elementary school site a few days ago to pick up supplies (all socially-distanced, from our car), my 7 y.o. “I” has been confused and thought today meant heading back there with her mask and getting to see the inside of her classroom – and her teacher and friends.

“I like making new friends, Mommy! I want to have play dates!”

(There are so many times during this pandemic when kids have reasonable and healthy requests, and the answer is – no.)

With that said, this morning, we made it through a rough and rocky first day of (online) school:

  • C – ironically, despite her meltdown last night – had the easiest time of it, cycling through 15-minute “attendance meetings” with each of her six teachers within 1.5 hours; she’s done for the day.
  • “I” kept getting booted off her meetings (internet issues), but I was nearby to monitor and helped her get linked back in.
  • D was wrapped up in his blanket and chewing on it during his Zoom meetings, but I decided not to fight that particular battle today.

Now I need to go make the rounds again, and ensure that all is okay – or at least, okay enough.

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“Overthinking” Parenting

Parenting is an interesting craft.

Like all hands-on skill-sets,  you can only read so much about it before you need to jump in and do it – at which point you instantly realize how ill-prepared you are.*

I wrote in my last blog post about how incredibly challenging it was on a sensory level to become a new parent. The physical discomfort of months of pregnancy – combined with the pain of childbirth, chronic sleep-deprivation, and an infant who constantly  threw up all her food – had me despairing over how little of this I’d actually read about or understood ahead of time.

It was supposed to all be relatively intuitive, but it didn’t feel that way. I knew that my over-active (read = “overly intellectualizing”) brain wasn’t helping me – but ragging on myself for this was equally unhelpful. As Paula Prober (2019) writes:

“Thinking has gotten a bad rap. If you do a lot of it, which you know you do, you’re called an overthinker, and that’s something you’re told you’re supposed to avoid” (p. 57).

Yep. Prober goes on to write:

“Too much thinking can become a problem… [but] it’s how your brain works… [For] you, it’s not overthinking. It’s just thinking. Or being. It’s curiosity. Analysis. Wondering. Creating… It’s you being you…” (p. 58).

I’m incredibly grateful for this vote of confidence, and hope all “over-thinking” RFM parents will read Prober’s words and stop guilt-tripping. (And I will now officially stop censuring myself for purchasing a sociology textbook on child-rearing practices around the world when my oldest daughter was only a few days old, as part of my desperate search for reassurance that it’s “normal” to want and need help during those challenging first weeks.)  

With all that said, it’s been interesting over the past 12+ years to reflect on how doing parenting intersects with reading and learning about parenting. As with so many aspects of life, they’re deeply intertwined: parenting doesn’t stop while you’re taking a “break” to talk to a friend or family member about a challenge you’re having with one of your kids, or while you’re reading a book on how to help siblings get along, or while you’re attending a class on using “love and logic” as a disciplinary approach.

When my kids were super-little, I recall reading a number of books and website articles on developmental stages. However, I was so overwhelmed by work and parenting my (eventually) three kids under five – even with plenty of support from my husband and mom and babysitters and preschool teachers – that I didn’t write down a lot of my kids’ milestones; I just checked to verify they were basically on track.

(I mention this because it turns out with twice-exceptional kids, it’s pretty important to know a lot of “when” moments with your little ones. A bunch of the paperwork you fill out for evaluations asks you when, for instance, they said their first word… or took their first step… You know, reasonable things parents should probably remember and keep track of. Whoops.) 

One book I do remember reading and really enjoying about their early years was Alison Gopnick’s The Philosophical Baby (2010).

But most of the books I’ve read on parenting have come later in their still-young lives (ages 12, 10, and 7), especially as I’ve explored what I now understand to be their twice-exceptionalism. It turns out they all have rainforest minds AND they live with anxiety, ADHD (inattentive type), and/or neurodiversity.

To that end, attending a SENG (Supporting the Emotional Needs of the Gifted) parent support group and reading the core text for this organization – A Parent’s Guide to Gifted Children (2007) – was life-changing in terms of providing a space where I finally (FINALLY!) felt like I could safely open up not only about my kids, but my own experiences as a gifted child.

After this group ended, I got my three children formally evaluated by a neuropsychiatrist and continued looking for books and websites to support my learning-as-a-parent. Debbie Reber’s Tilt Parenting podcast was a godsend in terms of collating expertise from dozens of specialists in one convenient space, and I spent a full summer working my way through nearly all of her prior episodes. My shelves and Kindle library are now loaded with books on anxiety, ADHD, giftedness, neurodiversity, sensory processing disorder, and so much more. I haven’t read them all (yet) but just knowing they’re there makes a difference.

Given that one of my many goals with this blog is to eventually offer thoughts on various books related to parenting and/or giftedness, perhaps this will be my excuse to embrace my “overthinking” mind and geek out as I head over to my bookshelf…

Stay tuned.

* My experience with teaching went much the same way: I studied a ton, took many classes, did student-teaching, got certified, and yet – there was still nothing to compare with actually standing in front of my own classroom of 28 kids for the first time, with no other adults around. Who said I was qualified to do this, again? 


  • Gopnick, A. (2010). The philosophical  baby: What children’s minds tell us about truth, love, and the meaning of life. Farrar, Straus & Giroux.
  • Prober, P. (2019). Journey into your rainforest mind: A field guide for gifted adults and teens, book lovers, overthinkers, geeks, sensitives, brainiacs, intuitives, procrastinators, and perfectionists. Luminare Press.
  • Webb, J.T., & Gore, J. (2007). A parent’s guide to gifted children. Great Potential Press, Inc.

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Sensory Savvy: Bodily Sensitivity as a 2E Parent

The very first chapter of Paula Prober’s (2016) Your Rainforest Mind is entitled “Too Much: Intensity, Sensitivity, Empathy”.

There are a ton of important ideas here to explore, but for now I’ll focus on the issue of heightened bodily sensitivity, and connect it back to what it’s been like learning to parent for the last 12+ years.

First, an explanation. As Prober writes of Rain Forest Minds  (RFMs):

“… your perception, awareness, and sensitivities are turned up high. This can apply to sounds, textures, smells, chemicals, tastes, colors, images, and air quality. You may hear sounds that others miss or not be able to wear particular clothes due to their texture” (p. 18).

In her follow-up “field guild” for RFMs, Prober (2019) adds:

“Your sensitivities may be criticized or pathologized by family members, teachers, and therapists. Not knowing that a finely tuned nervous system and a body-mind that perceives more on multiple levels is part of your rainforest mind might lead you to believe that something is seriously wrong with you” (p. 36).

Yes, exactly, Paula. That’s what happened.

I had read Elaine Aron’s (1997) The Highly Sensitive Person years earlier, so fortunately already knew about this concept – but it was nice to see it reiterated so boldly in Prober’s book.

Okay – where to begin?

In hindsight, life was definitely too much (sensorily speaking) for me as a kid, though I didn’t realize this at the time. I wasn’t shy or socially anxious, yet I struggled with feeling the “too muchness” of being with people for too long. I remember needing to sneak away to read a book on my own during sleep-overs with friends; escaping into the bathroom during play-dates to decompress; and occasionally choosing to simply stay at home rather than go out to social and/or high sensory events.

I cried “too much” in elementary school, to the point where I was chastised by two of my less-tolerant teachers and made to feel ashamed of myself for this tendency. I slept with a stuffie (an old Norwegian “teddy duck” I called bamse) for years.

I (secretly, only at home) sucked my thumb until I was 12 – but this deeply entrenched habit suddenly went away when it was no longer soothing, and I turned instead to the lure of dieting, which provided temporarily bodily control but very quickly spiraled into an eating disorder I dealt with for my entire teenage-hood. (That topic merits additional blog posts, and was FILLED with sensory challenges of its own.) 

Suffice it to say I simply didn’t feel okay in my body as a child or teen, unless I was escaping into my mind or engaged in very carefully selected exercise. (For instance, I loved bicycling out on city streets in the fresh air early in the morning – like, at 5:30 a.m., before many people were out.)

I didn’t realize until I became a parent and started reading about Sensory Processing Disorder (actually, listening to a podcast about it on Debbie Reber’s awesome Tilt Parenting site) that I realized I may be able to retroactively diagnose myself in this way, too.

When I became pregnant with my first child at the age of 33, I experienced heightened sensory sensitivity – primarily persistent nausea (I ended up taking medication for this) and deep exhaustion. I resisted getting an epidural while giving birth, which led to a physical experience more painful than anything I’d ever dealt with before in my life.

(I say this not to state the obvious, but rather to say that I’ll bet highly-sensitive people have a harder time with childbirth in general. Many moms I’ve spoken with acknowledge how painful it is – yes, of course – but don’t seem to have experienced the physical pain as acutely or in the same way as I did.)

Having a newborn – as miraculous as this was! – brought with it an entirely new set of sensory challenges, ones I couldn’t really share openly given the taboo of complaining about being lucky enough to have a child.

With that said, the biggest challenges I faced were the following:

1) Suddenly being denied anything close to consistent sleep (WTF??!!);

2) Becoming overly vigilant (naturally enough) to the potential sound of a baby crying or fussing; and

3) Feeling every second of milk filling up my breasts. (I eventually got mastitis, which became perhaps the second-most painful thing I could imagine at that time.) 

Meanwhile, my oldest child C suffered the most out of all three of my kids as an infant: she was diagnosed with GERD within a couple of weeks of being born (she threw up everything she ate until we got her medication), and was very clearly physically uncomfortable a lot of the time, no matter how much comfort we tried to give her. That didn’t make life easier for any of us, poor thing.

I ended up stopping breastfeeding far sooner than I anticipated or wanted, simply to stop “feeling so much” in my body and get some sleep. My husband and I decided this was more important to our collective sanity than the potential benefits of breast-milk. Thankfully, C absolutely loved being fed from a bottle; she took to it as naturally as you could hope. (You could say she was gifted at it – ha.) 

Meanwhile, I began struggling with insomnia challenges that persist to this day. (I was lucky enough not to deal with this as a child, so I know it’s a remnant of parenting.) With the birth of each new child, I became more familiarized with the physical sensations, but it never became less exhausting.

(Again, I have many parent-friends who simply didn’t feel the same way when caring for newborns, so I’m comfortable attributing this perception to my hyper-sensitivity. They were all “new-mom tired”, of course – but not bone-achingly exhausted and unable to get to sleep the way I was.) 

Now that I’m parenting three kids who also have strong “sensory needs” (both avoidant and seeking), I’m able to look back at my own childhood, teenage, and parenting experiences from a new lens of compassion. As Prober (2019) recommends in her field guild for RFMS:

“If you have lived for years thinking something was wrong with you because of your sensitivities and intensities, it may take time for a new, positive identity to sink in and take hold” (p. 34).

That’s definitely been the case for me – but I’m happy to say I’m slowly making peace, finding acceptance, and learning effective ways to cope.


  • Aron, E. (1997). The highly sensitive person: How to thrive when the world overwhelms you. Random House.
  • Prober, P. (2016). Your rainforest mind: A guide to the well-being of gifted adults and youth. Luminare Press.
  • Prober, P. (2019). Journey into your rainforest mind: A field guide for gifted adults and teens, book lovers, overthinkers, geeks, sensitives, brainiacs, intuitives, procrastinators, and perfectionists. Luminare Press.

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Gifted Characters in Film: An Unexpected Glimpse

Still from “Wild in the Country” (1961), Jerry Wald Productions

As I wrote about in my last post, I write reviews of nearly every type of film possible (at least those made between 1912 and 1987) for a different blog site. That includes silent films, westerns, romances, foreign films, classics, cult favorites, sci-fi, concert films, experimental movies, and so much more.

I never know what I’ll stumble onto as I check off new titles on my list from that book. Some are deadly boring and make me despair for the time I’m wasting; others are interesting glimpses into cultural and racial tensions from a (fairly recent) historical perspective; and some simply surprise me by including dialogue that seems to come out of nowhere.

Like Wild in the Country, an Elvis Presley flick made in 1961.

I’ve watched nearly every other Elvis Presley title listed in Guide for the Film Fanatic, and am not particularly a Presley fan, so I wasn’t expecting much from this one. It’s about a misunderstood, troubled “country boy” named Glenn who goes to work for his scheming uncle rather than to the penitentiary after being goaded into fighting (and nearly killing) his bullying brother. Part of his “treatment” is seeing a beautiful therapist named Mrs. Sperry (played by Hope Lange), who sees the hope and promise in Glenn that he’d rather not acknowledge.

All of a sudden I heard this dialogue being exchanged:

Mrs. Sperry: “Surely, Glenn, you realize you’re gifted.”
Glenn: “I don’t care to be gifted. It’s too hard. It’s too much work. A person who’s gifted gets knocked around, and I’ve been knocked around enough.”
Mrs. Sperry: “If we were all afraid to be knocked around, there’d be no great men. We’d have no scholars, no scientists, no artists, no movers and shakers – those who overcome handicaps, who live to move and shake the world, shake it out of its alligator sleep and move people up and out of the swamps!”

Well, what do you know? The movie (scripted by Clifford Odets) is based on the debut novel of J.R. Salamanca, and one imagines he probably knew a thing or two about this subject. Even if the gendered language is exclusionary (“great men“? so 1950s!), it’s easy enough to simply see this as a product of its time, and feel gratitude for yet another source of confirmation that the “problem” of giftedness has been around for awhile.

In fact, this sequence made me think about my work related to education in prison – a project close to my heart, but one that’s mostly on hold right now given COVID-19 and lack of access to incarcerated populations.

For now, I’ll just say that I’ve been astonished how many “rainforest minds” I’ve encountered when working in the local men’s facilities. In fact, I even recommended Prober’s book to one student (SO clearly a gifted – if deeply troubled – man) who was close to release; my hope was that he would find solace in it as he navigates his way out in the Free World, with all its complications.

(I’ll write more about the topic of education in prison in another post.)

Until then… I need to see what happens to Glenn:

  • Will he acknowledge and embrace his rainforest mind, and publish the short story he’s shared with his therapist?
  • Or will he stay mired in guilt over his mother’s early death, and the fact he couldn’t rescue her from an abusive marriage?

I’ll check back in with my review once it’s done.

UPDATE: After falling in love with Mrs. Sperry (a no-no for therapists and their clients) and then accidentally killing someone during a drunken fight (it turns out the victim had chronic heart problems and Glenn wasn’t responsible for his death), Glenn finally realizes that going to college is his best path forward. Interesting how life often does play out that way.

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