Dear Ms. Meniscus:
I’ve noticed that I am carrying over my fear of being touched onto other people. For example, on days when I’m in severe pain from rheumatoid arthritis, if I’m watching my grandchildren (who are the joy of my life) I don’t allow them to play in a way where they are physical with each other. I know they are not being hurt, when they are tumbling on the floor together, yet I twinge in pain just watching them. I often make them stop and play something where they are not physically touching each other at all. What can I do to let my grandchildren be happy playful children in my presence? It is bad enough that I keep people at arm’s length, but now I’m forcing other people to keep each other at arm’s length. Can you help?
Don’t Touch Grandma
Dearest Don’t Touch Grandma:
You present a two-pronged issue. First of all, you say that you are in such pain that you are afraid of being touched. Madame is sorry to hear this. Secondly, you are worried that you are forcing other people to keep each other at arm’s length. Madame thinks otherwise. You are not forcing anybody to do anything. We are talking about kids, specifically, your grandchildren whom you love and who love you. If you are twinging in pain “just watching them,” should we not consider your reaction as a possible nod toward self-preservation? Who wouldn’t be afraid of being accidently clobbered by a couple of kids rumbling and tumbling on the floor like wild cubs in a forest? It’s a reasonable reaction. You must step back a moment and ask yourself if this much commotion combined with your level of pain is simply too much.
Please understand that setting limits for the children’s “physical” play is in no way selfish or limiting. Madame would argue that it’s quite the contrary. Surely children who are as loved as these playful little bruisers are can be taught how to “exercise” consideration when Grandma is hurting. That means yes to calm play, but no to roughhousing.
Aside from wrestling, there is plenty of amusement to be found for children; although it may not occur to them to play any other way. If you are able, talk to your grandchildren about the kinds of games you played as a child. Perhaps you can interest them in arts and crafts. Even the most energetic kid loves to build a volcano out of household items (if old enough to understand the science lesson); otherwise, there are card games for young children (Go Fish) or even memory games. If you are well enough, consider a story hour that would be specifically for them. Have them bring along several books that you will read together.
As their Grandma you will be doing these children a great service if you can impart a lesson of consideration. You can even role-play, with games such as “doctor” or “teacher”. There’s no end to what you can do with a little imagination and patience. The key is to explain to the children in the clearest language possible that you have pain, and that they can help (and cooperate) by playing different kinds of games yet never missing out on a moment’s fun at Grandma’s.