“Do you know why they call Wednesday ‘Hump Day’?” I asked my 12-year-old daughter, Lindsay, a few months ago.
“Yeah. Because people hump,” she replied.
With a chuckle, I realized her tweenhood was over. She had now joined her older sister in the snarky world of teenhood. But Lindsay’s end-of-the-innocence reply also stirred a stew of conflicting emotions and thoughts in me — e.g., Was that a joke? An educated guess? A reason for concern? A need for several talks with her mother? An indictment of my less-exciting Wednesdays? All of the above? I found myself, in a word, overstimulated.
We usually associate the word “overstimulated” with babies or young children who experience sensory overload and then shut down emotionally, often becoming cranky, upset or simply nonresponsive. You might say an overstimulated parent experiences a “memory overload” that renders him or her speechless and in need of a break from all the emotional upheaval that growing children can evoke, especially at milestones.
A similar moment of overstimulation occurred recently when my 16-year-old daughter, Lauren, and I went on her first college search trip to Boston. I was already feeling torn as we boarded the plane because by chance that same morning I had just transferred the “home movies” of our daughters’ toddler years to DVD for safekeeping. The juxtaposition of baby Lauren in my mind’s eye and nearly college student Lauren in my actual eyes tugged at my tear ducts.
Then, more stimulation. In the Boston area, we stayed at my older brother’s house. Mark has three children older than mine, so talking with him about his family life is always a preview of what’s to come (and go) for me. But before we even got to chat about his newly emptied nest, my eyes met its embodiment in his backyard: the family pool had been removed, leaving a circular patch of sand in its place.
For me, it looked like an emotional crime scene: a round scar where so many family memories had echoed through the air. In fact, the pool deck was still there, like a vestigial organ overlooking the loss of its reason for existing. Before I could protest the pool’s removal to Mark, however, I realized the culprit: time.
My brother’s “empty yard” struck me especially hard because it reminded me of another circular scar in a yard — the one from my childhood yard after my siblings and I aged out of our family pool and my parents had it removed. For a moment, two pools of bittersweet memories flooded my mind. Cannonballs and “Marco Polo.” Nerf toys and beach towels. And, of course, the taste and smell of too much chlorine. It was all too much, like an overwhelming splash in the face after a long sleep.
So what is the treatment for overstimulation? Well, for babies, the antidote is to lessen the stimulation, provide quiet time, and wait for equilibrium to return. For parents, I would say the best coping mechanism is simply to embrace the chaos. Try to enjoy swimming with all those conflicting memories even as you grieve the passage of time. Etch your family’s lore onto the DVD of your mind for safekeeping. Unlike the technology used to record your family’s early years, your memories can never become obsolete.
Given the Hump Day story of my younger daughter (which I confirmed was a joke), you may be wondering about the moment I knew my older daughter’s tweenhood was over. In her case, the day came when she told me her 12-year-old friend wanted a gift card to Forever 21 for her birthday. I joked about a moment of tween dyslexia; she fake-laughed and went back to her homework. Still, for any entrepreneurs out there, I think overstimulated parents would flock to a store called Forever 12. Or maybe Forever Fill-in-an-Age-Less-Than-12-Except-for-Two.