The Texture Of Things

Texture Status: Paper

January 20th, 2007

I’m coming to understand that the tot is unusual in that she can be trusted in ways many toddlers cannot. She is very carfeul when it comes to books, for instance. WIth the exception of a small window of time when she was fascinated with bending the covers of board books backwards until the binding pulled apart a bit, she has been the kind of kid you could hand one of your prized novels without too many heart palpitations.

It’s not because she has some innate love of books (well, okay, maybe she does); rather I think I can trace it to a dislike of and anxiety about the tearing of paper. It is most evident in her reaction to the unwrapping of gifts.

She was roughly 6 months at her first Christmas: looked at paper, patted paper, not enough coordination to participate in unwrapping gifts.

At first birthday: in addition to refusing to touch any part of the cake or ice cream, her reaction to wrapping paper was to turn away and try to leave. Her attention returned when the item was fully unwrapped.

At 18 months, her second Christmas: hid face, cried out when witnessing the tearing or other removing of wrapping paper; greatly distressed; refused to touch it wrapping paper once it had been torn and refused to reach into a gift bag stuffed with tissue paper; only participation in the unwrapping of gifts was to trepidatiously take a gift that I had 99.7% unwrapped – fully unwrapped gifts were fine.

At her second birthday: still refused all cake and ice cream products; was mostly fine watching me unwrap things but not much interested in doing it herself; played with the paper scraps but would not tear or pull the paper.

Now, before I talk about this past Christmas, I have to confess I was nervous. I honestly don’t know what my family thinks about the tot’s texture sensitivities, but I imagine it parallels what the tot’s pediatricians think – that I’m making it all up, that I was too soft on the tot and didn’t “make” her do the things she was supposed to do (like, I don’t know, eat), that I’m imagining it, that I’m doing a poor job.

Any of these things may be true, or they may not. What is true is that I was concerned about how the tot would react to the opening of presents this year (at 2.5). So, I did what any other overachiever/nervous mother would do: I planned to practice with her before the gauntlet of holiday gift-exchanging gatherings*. It paid off.

I sat the tot down with the two presents her babysitter/care giver gave her and just watched. She touched the presents. We talked about how the presents looked, what the paper was decorated with, etc. She smoothed her hands across the paper. Then I told her they were for her and she could open them. She was intrigued, so she watched me turn the first one over and pull/tear at the main seam.

To my amazement (and total delight), she tore right at the paper. She struggled getting it all back, but we wiggled it around together to reveal a water color paint book.

This is where it got a bit weird.

She sat back, put her hands on her cheeks, and said (I kid you not), “Awwww. A Christmas present! For ME.”

I swear it only happened this way because I didn’t have the video camera nor were there any other witnesses.

The next gift was a large flat parcel, about an inch high. She saw it and – this is where it got more weird – promptly lay down on it. She rolled around on it, and although it was a strange sight, I let her do it under the pretense that she was fulfilling a whole-body tactile need at the moment. It’s the same kind of experience as when she crawls right into the tub of beans. It demonstrates that her hypersensitivity is lessening to the point that she can seek out more sensory input and that said input is pleasurable. (This is a good thing.)

She shimmied around on it some more and looked up at me with a sudden realization that – hey, maybe she could open this one too! Same thing. She tore right in once I helped get it started.

And that is how the rest of Christmas went. She saw a present and was rarin’ to go. She was also restrained, I should add. She didn’t simply take any present and rip into it. She always asked first, “I can open this present?”

I decided to test her to see if the paper tearing was an experience she reserved solely for its consequence: present acquisition. She and I have been doing little projects lately where I cut out shapes from paper and we glue them onto another paper. Ideally, she’ll start to use the glue stick on her own and start exploring with that sticky texture, but for now, I do most of the work. Our test the other day took the form of me tearing the shapes instead of cutting them. The short report is that she not only tolerated that, but she also tore the construction paper into little confetti pieces and helped me “rain” them down on the table top. Hopefully, this is the beginning of some important exploration we missed at an earlier age.

Hopefully I’ll remember to start keeping my good books up high.

* I only did this to discover what her reaction would be this year. If it had been an anxious one, I would have had a few days to work on some language and some relaxation cues that we could use during the gatherings.


  1. KLee says

    I’m glad that the tot has not only begun to be more adventurous but is also taking such delight (both literally and tactile-y)in the little things around her. There’s nothing in the world like experiencing the wonder and the joy of a child at Christmas.

    April 25th, 2007 | #

  2. amy says

    This Christmas was a lot, a lot of fun, and it makes me eager with anticipation at what the future holds. I often look at older kids and wonder what the tot will be like when she’s that age. I thought a similar thing when I read your message to your daughter on her birthday.

    April 25th, 2007 | #

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