Sensory Issues and Socks; One Mother's Solution
What do you do when your young child develops sensory issues that are both disruptive and frustrating?
My son, at age 7 and in second grade, had a big problem with socks. Like many children that age, he would sometimes hyper-fixate on random, arbitrary matters, mainly, I’m convinced, to test the stamina of his parents. In this case, it was socks. Big socks, small socks, short socks, tall socks. Red socks, blue socks, old socks, new socks. It didn’t matter; my son did not like socks. Not even in a box with a fox.
At the crux of the matter was the sensation of the sock. Every sock was too scratchy, stiff or bumpy. And, oh, the drama we had surrounding that awful seam across the toe; “Too lumpy, Mom, too lumpy!”
Few socks felt comfortable in his shoes, where they would bunch up, ride up, or slip down. It was maddening. Every morning was the same; I would call for him to get dressed and come down for breakfast, and he would remain in his bedroom waging a private war with an ever-growing pile of socks. School mornings would end with me screaming for him to just pick a sock, any sock; we’re going to be late! He’d grow increasingly anxious and as the minutes wound down he’d finally slip the best of the bunch onto his feet and trudge miserably down the stairs.
Many mornings ended in tears. Most mornings we missed breakfast and raised our voices. ALL mornings I felt consumed with crushing guilt that, once again, my son began his day in a state of distress.
As a mother I should handle this better. But what was this? Was it a phase, a test, or something normal to just get through? Worse, was my son showing signs of an actual disorder? Could he have sensory issues? OCD? Was he somewhere on that dreaded spectrum? Maybe he just had his father’s stubbornness.
At night, my son would not want to remove his socks for fear of never finding another good sock. Once the socks were off, they were no longer good. At bath time, you could see the worry etched on his face as he’d mournfully pull the socks from his feet.
After much trial and error, I finally found the cure-all sock that passed all his exhaustive standards. These socks were thin, smooth, soft, snug, and had NO TOE SEAMS. It even said so in big words across the package, gladdening my heart because now I knew that “no toe seams” mattered to other people too.
When I showed the socks to my son you would have thought it was Christmas, his birthday and the first day of Red Sox season rolled into one. The package contained six pairs and so we both went to sleep that night knowing we had six happy, stress-free mornings coming our way. I woke up and made pancakes, and we ate them with plenty of time to walk to school.
That night I came to a realization. This problem was fixable—without doctors, tough love, or self-help books. The next morning I bought 100 pairs of those magical socks, blissfully paying $187.59 while picturing my World War II veteran grandfather shaking his head at the waste and absurdity of it all.
Together, my son and I emptied his sock drawer and lined up the new socks in five neat rows of ten, with an additional layer on top. My son went to sleep assured that, for the next 100 days, he would have a perfect pair of socks waiting for him in his drawer. Our nights were absent the arguments and stress, and our mornings flowed free and unfettered. He was dressed with time to spare. He could eat a full breakfast and shoot some hoops or catch a few balls with his brother before school. My blood pressure returned to normal and the screaming came to a halt.
The biggest surprise was that we hadn’t made it through half the socks before the issue disappeared and went by way of most childhood peculiarities—just an embarrassing anecdote to use at their weddings. By pair forty-something, my son started grabbing whatever socks were closest at hand. Dirty? Didn’t matter. His brother’s? Didn’t care. Toe seam? “Mom, that’s silly, who cares about that?”
For a moment, I indulged in that rarest event in all of motherhood: Validation. I had efficiently and effectively solved this problem with no lasting damage to my son. Nope, my son would not be reporting to some psychologist about how his mother deprived him of sufficient footwear, thus destroying any chance for his future happiness, success, or ability to sustain a healthy relationship.
I know my son could have reached this point without an enormous pile of new socks. And maybe my mother-in-law was right when she said my solution was typical of the parental indulgence that is ruining our society and future generations. But the way I see it, I single-handedly shut down forty-some days of anxiety, worry and angst for both my son and myself. I gifted us with forty-some nights of extra laughs and bedtime stories, and forty-some mornings of order, relaxation, and pancakes. There is a price for happiness after all, and in our case it was $187.59.