I think we’ve discovered a therapy center that is actually going to help. I went into this with extreme skepticism, but after our first session on Friday I received more feedback than I did in six weeks at that other place. I know it’s not a panacea, but they’re doing the things that need to be done.
Yesterday they made this:
The point is to help learn to gauge his own emotions so he can start regulating them. They also created a list of things to do when his temperature gets too high, and I think this is going to be a fantastic tool.
But it’s also a fascinating look inside his mind. Super happy is a Texas Rangers home run. The persistent theme of the GPS is to be expected. “Happy” is just having the GPS, “a little bothered” is the GPS not getting a satellite signal, and “frustrated, annoyed” is a low battery on the GPS, which I can confirm.
“Mad” for being told what to do–not surprising. (This weekend he told me, “I want to do what I want to do, and I don’t want to do what I don’t want to do.” Don’t we all, my child.) “Really mad” for “I only saved $40 for my GPS” is obscure. I don’t know if that’s when he realized he needed more money to reach his goal or what this is about.
Where it really gets interesting are the top two. “When a boy at school keeps following me” is not completely new. He told me once that a boy at school kept following him at recess and wouldn’t leave him alone. I tried to get more details and talk to him about it, but he shut down. I really don’t know what’s going on–it could very well be that the boy just wants to be his friend and MapKid doesn’t understand. Or the boy could be picking on him. Or maybe both at once–the social dynamics of 1st graders are a trifle confused. But it’s obviously really bothering him.
And comes the top item, equating exploding with “when kids at school say I can’t join their group.”
Oh. That makes my heart hurt.
This is completely news to me. I hadn’t heard anything about him being excluded from a group, but the therapist told me that he talked about it at some length and was insistent that this was the most angry he ever felt. Apparently he asks if he can play and they say, “No, you can’t join this group.” Oh–ow.
Here’s what I immediately remembered: 5th grade recess. All the girls played Chinese jump rope. (I don’t know what made our form of jump rope “Chinese,” but that’s what we called it. You made the “ropes” out of small inter-looped rubber bands.) I ran up to Angela and Michelle and said, “Can I play?” “No,” they said, “This game is locked.” And they linked their pinkies together, the schoolyard symbol for “locking” a game to other players. And this happened not just once, but again and again and again. One time I asked my teacher, Mrs. Taylor, if I could just stay in the classroom and read during lunch. “Oh, no,” she said. “You need to be out playing with the other boys and girls.” “They won’t let me play with them,” I said. “Oh, I’m sure my girls wouldn’t be so mean as to do that,” she said. What an incredibly naive woman. How could you teach for 30-something years (she was about to retire) and not realize what was going on outside your window?
MapKid’s therapy homework this week was to ask two social questions of kids at school. He is to ask his friend R. (the one he previously bonked a head with a trunk) if he likes the show “Fetch with Ruff Ruffman” and a girl in his class if she is going to see “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.” He frankly doesn’t see the point of these questions, or why he should brainstorm with Miss Nancy on ways to start a conversation. But he wouldn’t understand if I said, “This is why. Number 10 is why. Because you don’t know the rules, and so they won’t let you play with them. Because kids can be cruel and mean and adults can be clueless. Because I don’t have Asperger’s, I’ve got a pretty darn high emotional IQ, and I still was miserable on the playground, and it’s going to be even harder for you.”
Baby steps. The thermometer helps. The therapy helps. Sometimes I wish I could just keep him away from all this, but it’s the world, and you can’t keep your kids from the world they’re eventually going to live in.
But it still hurts my heart.
So many things are impossible to explain.
Why, for example, I haven’t posted in a week and a half. Completely inexplicable. No reason for it–no excuse.
Why, as well, I fell into a total and debilitating slump that lasted for three interminable weeks. Equally inexplicable is why I snapped out of it.
I have decided it was a form of emotional flu. For several days, I dragged around, denying that I could be coming down with anything. Then I succumbed utterly and spent days barely dragging myself out of bed. Then I started to feel better and would start each day with a burst of energy, only to start lagging late afternoon and end up back in bed by 8:30. Now I feel just fine.
I guess the strain of the summer finally caught up with me. There’s a well-known pattern for migraine sufferers: they are fine in the midst of a crisis. But when the stress finally lifts and they can finally relax, WHAM! Here comes the headache. One of my biggest triggers for my headaches is hosting a party. I really enjoy entertaining, and I usually will have a great time. But often the minute the last guests head out of the driveway, I’m clutching my forehead in agony. My husband, more attuned to these things, often takes me aside in the middle of a get-together and asks if I should just go ahead and take a pill.
I guess this was like that.
Inexplicable: why MapKid can be such a joy one minute and such a pest the next. Friday and Saturday he was an absolute joy. Then Sunday morning he woke up in a flaming temper. He got 12 strikes before we even made it out the door, strikes being given for transgressions such as throwing your underpants across the room, whacking your mother with a tennis shoe, and deliberately pouring an entire glass of water on the floor.
Sunday afternoon he was charming.
I can’t explain it.
Inexplicable: why MapKid felt the need to confess to me.
I was helping him take a bath when he said, “Mommy? Do you remember the Christmas that Santa brought me Buzz Lightyear?”
“Yeah,” I said, “That was the Christmas before last.”
He looked, there is no other word, sheepish.
“Do you remember how I was in my room, and you told me not to peek?”
MapKid’s room looks out into the living room, with, God help us, French doors covered with curtains. “Santa” had positioned Buzz under the tree in the living room.
“Yeah,” I said.
He hung his head. “I peeked,” he said. “A little.”
He looked so serious–I bit my lip to keep from laughing.
“It’s OK, buddy,” I said. “I bet Santa didn’t mind.”
And a final inexplicable incident:
I was talking to my husband and the cat jumped up next to me on the sofa. I started to pet her and realized she was covered all over with damp spots, as if she had been out in the rain–but it wasn’t raining.
“That’s really strange,” I said. “I wonder why the cat is wet all over.”
MapKid wanedered into the room. “Oh, that’s cause I was licking her.”
I had no idea we needed a rule for that.
My brain seems to have decided on its own accord that real life is just not working out.
It has instead developed a single-minded focus on one thing: sewing. I’m a long-time sewer (seamstress?) and cranked out my first gathered skirt sometime in the early 80s, but for the past few years sewing has taken a backseat to (a) childrearing and (b) knitting to the point that the sewing machine has been buried in a pile of yarn for the past three or four years. I recently reorganized my craft area, however, and the unearthing of my sewing machine rekindled my interest.
It’s quickly become an obsession, to the point I’ve finished three blouses in the past week and a half, with another in the works. This is a particularly odd and pointless fixation, considering I don’t go anywhere that I would wear all these clothes. If things continue at this rate, I will shortly have an entirely new wardrobe, which I presumably will wear around the house as I talk to the cats.
Actually, I did have an opportunity to leave the house on Saturday. It meant leaving the sewing machine for a few hours but promised good food and conversation with our friends C. and J. They know all about MapKid’s challenges–C. more than she would probably like, what with my endless hysterical phone calls. Their son R. has known MapKid since they were both in strollers. They go to the same school, and last year were in the same class. MapKid lists R. as one of his best friends.
Dinner with adults was a heady prospect only marred by terror at what havoc MapKid might wreak on their household. Things went pretty well for the first hour or so and then fell apart utterly when MapKid walloped his best friend on the head with a toy pickup truck.
Yep. He left a bruise.
I withered. I slumped right back into my slumpiness. I felt hopeless, helpless, humiliated.
C. was generous in her reassurances. These things happen, she said. Boys roughhouse. This was not the first and won’t be the last bruise R. gets from another kid. It’s OK. Everything is OK.
Still, I couldn’t past they fact they invited us into their home and my son assaulted theirs. This, my friends, is why I never leave the house.
We continued on with dinner and ended up having a lovely time talking to grown-ups. R. and MapKid played some more and seemed to make up their differences.
Eight o’clock rolled around, the boys seemed on the verge of turning into pumpkins (sleep-hungry, cranky pumpkins), so I went into the kitchen and started to pack up our stuff to head home. C. met me in the kitchen, looked me firmly in the eye, and said, “Are you OK?”
I babbled. I said things were hard right now, and I was kind of freaking out on a daily basis, and the whole sewing obsession was kind of weird, but no, really everything was fine, just fine, and I’m OK, in fact I’m the dictionary definition of OK, if you looked in Websters next to OK you’d see a picture of me, really.
She let me wind down. “You know it’s OK if things aren’t OK,” she said.
What I did next may best be defined as “goggled.” I looked at her blankly with my mouth open. The few brain cells not contemplating my next foray into fabric struggled to process this concept. It’s OK if things aren’t OK.
I realize I said essentially the same thing myself just last week, but that doesn’t mean I believe it. Things have to be OK. That’s what I do–I make thing be OK. If they aren’t OK, I will singlehandedly steamroll them into OK-ness. It is not OK that things aren’t OK.
MapKid is not OK. He’s angry, aggressive, occasionally violent, and incredibly hard to control.
I am not OK. I don’t know how to deal with him, I keep casting about for help and finding it inadequate to my needs, and I can’t seem to sleep. A good portion of my brain seems to have washed its hands of the reality entirely and is even now in a corner humming to itself about princess seams and silk charmeuse. (Can I go sew now? What about now?)
The idea that this not-OK state is, in fact, OK, is really hard for me to wrap my head around. But that seems to be where I am right now.
That doesn’t mean that I’m not going to keep trying to achieve an OK state. We can’t continue in not-OK-ness–it’s unacceptable. But I also don’t have to fake it. My life kind of sucks right now. And that’s . . . OK.
It feels really weird–and completely wrong–to be saying that in public. And I want to emphasize I’m not searching for pity, nor am I in danger of offing myself with my pinking sheers. Everyone goes through non-OK moments, and this is mine.
So Saturday night, we went home, put MapKid to bed, and I got in a few hours of sewing–you know, just to take the edge off. I did some basting, some seaming, some understitching. And then when I finally turned off the iron and switched off the sewing machine, I came to a stunning realization.
I had completely wasted my one social outing by forgetting to wear one of my new blouses.
And that is not OK.
MapKid invented a new word this week: grumped.
To be grumped to be made grumpy, and boy oh boy howdy has he been grumped lately. The cat grumps him, as does our selection of breakfast cereal and his visit to the dentist. “That grumps me,” he announces, scowling, and proceeds to stomp around in an enormous huff. My son’s mood has lately been about as pleasant as a bear awoken moments after entering the REM phase of hibernation.
Grumpy puppy looks as mad as MapKid feels.
His mamma, meanwhile, isn’t so much grumped as slumped. I am, my friend, in the pits. I ooze gloominess and a vague sense of despondency. I exhibit unhealthy urges to spend my day curled up under my desk. I invent reasons to go to Brahms for strawberry milkshakes.
There’s no need to worry about my state of mind. I’m not depressed, I’m not suicidal, I’m not even sad, exactly. I’m merely suffering, I think, from a post-Summer-of-Hell hangover that will wear off in a day or so. Parenting of all sorts can be exhausting and challenging and soul-battering, and parenting my particular kiddo has been particularly rough lately.
I know three things about my slumps.
First, they pass. This is not terminal slumpitude, just a temporary blip in the mood radar.
Second, sometimes I just need to feel what I feel. I have a bad habit of denying my state of mind and insisting, chirpily, that everything’s great! Just great! No, really, it’s all awesome! And then retreating to my room to hide under the covers. I’m feeling a faint shade of indigo, and that’s OK. So I gave myself the day off. I also, er, gave myself yesterday off. (One advantage of working for oneself: ease in requesting personal days.) I haven’t been productive for three months, two more days aren’t going to matter much.
Finally, there’s nothing like a solid sense of accomplishment to eliminate a bad case of the slumps. I do, in fact, have a writing assignment, and it’s not going to write itself. So tomorrow I intend to gather my resolve, pack up my laptop, and go forth and write. Since I’m susceptible to my own bribes, I’m going to camp out at Central Market where I can (a) take advantage of the free wifi and (b) get myself a yummy lunch. And maybe gelato.
So count on hearing from a peppy Elizabeth in a day or so. And feel free to start using the word “grumped” yourself. It applies in numerous situations, not just those experienced by 7-year-olds. “Wow, the traffic was terrible–I got really grumped.” See what I mean?
What do you do to ward off the occasional slump? Tips are welcome in the comments!
MapKid (who returned from Oklahoma City yesterday afternoon and started school today–and yes, there was celebratory skipping) has developed an odd and annoying problem of getting up umpteen billion times at night to go to the bathroom.
Now, I can understand the occasional trip to the loo in the wee hours, but this is on an entirely different scale. Four, five, even six times he pops out of bed, switches on the light, and shuffles through the living room announcing, “I’ve got to go to the restroom.” (It’s always “restroom,” not “bathroom.” My kid can be oddly formal sometimes.) Last night, for example, he was veritable jack-in-the-box from 8:00 until 11:30.
He often seems to have trouble getting to sleep at night, so I figured this was just an excuse to get out of bed. However, when I mentioned it to my mother-in-law a few weeks ago, she raised the question of whether or not he could have some kind or urinary tract or bladder infection.
So that night as he was getting ready for bed, I asked him if it ever hurt when he went pee-pee. “Maybe sometimes,” he said.
This wasn’t very convincing, but I couldn’t let the child wander around with an undiagnosed infection, so I explained that he might be a little bit sick. We would go to the doctor the next day and she could give him medicine that would make him feel better.
He continued to put on his PJs, but he looked uncharacteristically solemn. He put his clothes in his hamper with remarkable restraint and picked out two books without shrieking or throwing himself on the floor once. Clearly he had something on his mind.
“What are you thinking about, kiddo?” I asked him, as we settled together on the bed with the books.
He took a deep breath. “Mommy?” he said, “Do I have a growing problem?”
I looked at him blankly. Growing problem?
And then it hit me: those ridiculous ads.
You’ve seen them. Lots of senior citizen males dashing off to pee in the middle of their golf game or sporting event. Avodart is the drug. The tagline: “You don’t have a going problem, you have a growing problem.”
The poor child was worried he had an enlarged prostate.
I did not, in fact, whoop with laughter. I kept a very serious face and said, “You mean like those ads on TV?”
“No, sweetie,” I said, my voice shaking only the teeniest amount, “That’s for grown-up men. You might just have an infection.”
I read him two books, tucked him into bed, and finally made it into another room where I could laugh uninterrupted.
God bless him, the silly goose. And what is up with TV these days that you can’t turn it on without some commercial for a product designed for the most intimate of conditions? Heaven only knows what these poor kids make of all the Viva Viagra! nonsense.
We went to the doctor, and MapKid was infection-free. As I suspected, he’s just made it a habit to get up half a dozen times to see what’s going on in the rest of the house. I’m thinking the advent of early-rising for school will solve this problem naturally.
And thank goodness, my seven-year-old is free from the medical issues plaguing senior men.
Growing problem. Hee.
Has your kid ever misinterpreted a commercial about erectile disfunction or the like? Share your stories in the comments.
A friend called yesterday afternoon. “So what are you doing?” she asked.
“I just waved goodbye to MapKid as he drove off for his five-day stay with his Nana in Oklahoma City,” I said.
“Oh, you must be so sad,” she said.
Um, sad? Not exactly. I was thinking more along the lines of gleeful. Relieved. Delighted. Overjoyed. And the heavens opened and angels sang. If this makes me a bad mother . . . I’ll get over it.
It’s been a looooong summer. To have the last five days of it without a single tantrum? Bliss.
Honestly, I’ve never been the kind of mom to get worked up over handing my child over to someone else. I love MapKid like crazy, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want some space now and then. I did not, in fact, weep the first day I left him with the babysitter. He was eight months old, and I had one more semester of grad school. I was thrilled to have found part-time childcare and freaked out that four hours a day wasn’t going to be enough. (It wasn’t.)
I didn’t cry the first day of preschool, either. We were broke, I was just getting started freelancing, and my most prominent emotion on driving away was panic I wouldn’t make enough money to pay for it. Furthermore, I had had it Up To Here with Dora the Explorer and really needed some professional help with potty training.
Nor did I cry the first day of Kindergarten. MapKid did Kindergarten twice. The first time was at the same preschool where he’d been going for years, so it wasn’t much of a transition. The second time, at the public school, was, well, the second time, and my greatest concern was that I had bought the wrong school supplies.
If I really think about it, as far back as MapKid’s birth I wasn’t that worried about him going into the hands of others. I remember when we took our childbirth class and the teacher talked about all the stuff they do in the first few hours after birth–weighing, measuring, bathing, etc. The instructor said the nurses can go do this on their own, or you can stay with the baby the entire time. She felt strongly that (of course!) none of us would be so unnatural as to be parted from our precious infants for more than instant so soon after delivery. I agreed with her absolutely.
Well. An hour or so after birth, after they wheeled us both from the delivery rooms to the newborn rooms, the nurse popped in and said she needed to take the baby to go do their thing. We could come along, or we could rest. We handed over that kid faster than a hot potato. I was utterly exhausted from the night of labor and emotionally wiped out, not just from having just given birth but from nothing going as planned [short version: MapKid was six weeks early, and the epidural didn't work]. My husband and I collapsed and proceeded to take the single best two-hour nap of our entire lives. I remain eternally grateful for that nap.
I guess some moms feel like they are the best caretakers of their children, the most knowledgeable and competent. I, on the other hand, usually think other people probably know more about parenting than I do. They can handle him if not as well as I then better.
Others seem to feel sad because departures from their children are often associated with rites of passage. “My baby’s growing up,” they sob on their way to their cars from the first babysitter/preschool/kindergarten drop-off. I don’t know why, but this doesn’t bother me. Of course, I sometimes mourn the passage of time. When I packed up baby clothes, I felt a pang that he wouldn’t ever wear that adorable bear onesie ever again, and when I removed all the Thomas the Tank Engine paraphenalia, I felt sad that he was too old to play with it–but I’m more likely to get weepy on these private occasions than at the designated Moment of Transition. Maybe I get too caught up in the externals (did I pack the diaper bag right? did I buy the right school supplies?). Maybe I’m woefully lacking in sentimentality. I’m OK with that.
I talked to MapKid this morning and he’s having a great time. He described their route in detail–which is an achievement since most of it consists of unbroken stretches of I-35. He told me about how excited the dog was see him, named the exact exit they took to Nana’s house, and conveyed the thrilling information that McDonald’s has chicken nuggets. Yes, I miss him. Of course I miss him. But I’m also absolutely delighted to have this time to myself. It’s a chance to recharge my batteries, take some monumental naps, have a few lengthy, uninterrupted dinners with my spouse, and luxuriate in tantrum-free days. It’s also a chance for me to take stock of ways I can manage things better this fall, since God only knows I didn’t manage very well this summer. New strategies will be developed. New plans plotted out. I see charts in my future, and schedules written on whiteboards.
When MapKid gets back, another rite of passage will, er, pass, and he will enter first grade. I’m here to tell you right now: I will not weep when I drive away.
If on Monday morning you see a slightly deranged-looking woman skipping down a Fort Worth sidewalk singing “Oh, Happy Day!”–that’ll be me.
My work-out routine was shot to splintereens this summer by my erratic childcare schedule, but I thankfully made it to Nia this week. Nia gets described in all kind of elaborate ways, but it basically boils down to Jazzercize for the New-Age-inclined. In other words, it incorporates a lot of yoga-type discussion of chakras in between dancing your butt off.
This Wednesday, my instructor urged us to “find our source of joy!” and “celebrate what you have to celebrate!” At the moment, the one thing I could find to celebrate was that the nice, long tank tops I ordered from Athleta would arrive before my next class and that I would never again have to wear my annoying cheapo Target tank top that slowly creeps up my belly as I dance.
That was all I could come up with.
Thankfully, my mood improved by the end of class to the point I was able to think of a handful of other things worth celebrating, prominent among them the knowledge that Central Market has free wifi and that school starts in a week and half. Honestly, the start of school is the light at the end of the tunnel right now. It’s been a discouraging few weeks. The tantrums have continued–in one spectacular incident, MapKid picked up an entire bin of Legos and threw them across the room. He’s essentially boycotting breakfast and lunch since I’m insisting on the new food regimen, and hunger does not improve his mood. He’s developed an incredibly annoying habit of snorting at anything he dislikes or finds frustrating–by snorting, I mean making a violent exhalation through his nose, sort of the opposite of a sniff. He snorts at the cat, at his dinner plate, and at the idea of cleaning his room, and he snorted vigorously through an entire half-hour tour of the elementary-age Sunday School classrooms.
The Nia instructor told us to “enjoy what’s working!” and I couldn’t think of darn thing that is working.
It’s all the more frustrating because my freelance career has withered to almost nothing in the last three months. The contrast to last year couldn’t be greater–this time last summer, I was up to my eyeballs writing my second book, another book project was in discussion, and I had an agent excited about my prospects. Now the second book is about to come out, but the other book project fell apart and the agent and I parted ways. Blame the economy for some of this, but blame me as well. My husband and I decided that this summer I would concentrate on working with MapKid. This was going to be the summer I got ahead of the problem and positioned us all for the months and years to come. I wasn’t going to make much money, but we were going to be in a much better place than where we started.
Well, I’ve made hardly any money and far from being in a better place, things seem to have gotten worse. So what was the point if we’ve actually lost ground?
I was singing this sad song to my friend C., who pointed out that the alternative would have been for me to be working up a storm and feeling terrible because MapKid was having so many problems. “You’d probably feel horribly guilty that you were too busy to help with him,” she said. And she’s right. But it’s hollow comfort.
Celebrate what you have to celebrate. School starts the 24th. MapKid has always done really well in school–the structure really works for him. He responds to the authority of teachers, and he’s never (knock wood!) had a meltdown at school. I’m worried, of course, that some of the problematic behaviors will start spilling over into school. But at least we can all get back to our routines, and I can have some time to myself in my office to get some work done.
So next summer I’ll find a new strategy. Maybe I can find a social skills group that works. I’m definitely going to plan for more childcare since it’s obvious that I lack the happy-stay-at-home-mommy gene. I’ve got to keep to an exercise schedule at least, because a punishing workout is a far more sustainable way to improve my state of mind than the alternative (i.e., strawberry milkshakes). Meanwhile, I will muddle through the next week and sent my child off to first grade with as much confidence as I can muster.
The day after Nia, my package from Athleta arrived. Find your souce of joy. I suppose if a tank top with a built-in sports bra is the best source of joy you can find, you celebrate that.
Or you snort. Whatever works.
I don’t do well with anger.
I come from a family where people don’t fight–or at least they fight very little. My parents rarely argued–and honestly, the few time they did, it totally freaked me out. I never had a shouting match with my parents, or even slammed a door at them. I’m essentially nonconfrontational, and I’m not entirely sure, deep down, that if you yell at me you might stop loving me.
My husband and I don’t fight, either. Our arguments are conducted in total silence, each of us carrying on lengthy spats entirely in our own heads. This strategy is not particularly successful in resolving disputes, although it means we rarely say things to each in other anger. Not that my husband doesn’t have a temper–he can slam things with magnificent force. But usually this sort of anger comes out in reaction to a traffic ticket or a broken computer or, god help us all, lost keys, and is not, thankfully, directed at me. Sometimes when we’re most angry with each other we become utterly silent. We don’t slam cabinet doors–we close them v e r y c a r e f u l l y.
My reaction to my own anger is often bewilderment. What am I supposed to do with this emotion? How am I supposed to channel this? I do best when I can direct anger into something constructive–an email, a phone call, a campaign. Anger that I cannot manage exhausts me, even frightens me. Anger at another human being, particularly anger against someone I love and whose relationship I treasure, makes me feel weak and helpless.
All of this sits heavy in my stomach right now, alone in the living room, as my husband does the dishes as part of his attempt to cool off, and my son lies crying in his bed in the next room.
MapKid’s rages terrify me. They infuriate me. They call forth surges of pity at his complete helplessness in the face of his own overpowering emotions. They wipe out all pity in overwhelming fury.
MapKid’s rages can come out of nowhere. Sometimes I see them coming and can try to fend them off. Other times, he’s just . . . cranky. And cranky can transform without warning into rage.
I don’t even know how it started this evening–and it doesn’t really matter. He stomped around for a while, cranky about the pasta I put on his plate for dinner, annoyed about something to do with his Garmin. Things came to a head over reading. He didn’t want to read his book. I find this particular point of contention ridiculous since we’ve talked a bajillion times about how he needs to read a book every day for his summer homework, we’ve gone to the library to pick out the books, and we’ve been dutifully reading every evening. How can he act surprised and outraged when I then pull out a book?
During our reading, he sprawled his legs across the book so he couldn’t read the words. Every two or three pages he collapsed sideways and and heaved a huge sigh. He picked up everything within reach on the sofa and fiddled with it until I took it away. He obsessed over the number of pages in the book and, when I refused to let him count them, he thrashed around and shrieked.
We did bedtime immediately afterwards. He threw things–we followed the same protocol we’ve done about misbehavior at bedtime for years and took away one of the two bedtime books. He slammed a door and we took away the second book. My husband tried to tell him goodnight and he screamed. My husband left the room.
He sat on the bed and his face crumpled into tears. He crawled across the bed to me and sobbed on my chest. I tried to put my arms around him and he shouted and pushed me away. He sobbed again and threw his arms around me. I held him, but then he grabbed a teddy bear and flung it across the room.
His own anger had him completely at odds with himself. He loved me and wanted my comfort at the same time he hated me and wanted to lash out.
He’s in bed now. He got up once to go to the bathroom, stalking and stomping through the living room like an undersized teenager.
I have a stack of books on the table in front of me on dealing with rages and tantrums. None of them, so far at least, have helped. I try to stay calm, remain at peace, contain my own anger. Usually, I succeed. Sometimes, I fail. I hate it when I lose my cool and shout back. I hate myself when I’m the one who slams the door. I hate my own rage.
I kept it together tonight. I suppose that gives me a small sense of satisfaction. Not much.
What am I supposed to do?
How do I teach him to control this anger? It’s one thing to rage at me–but what if he’s at school? Church? A public park? What if he’s older, stronger? What if he hurts someone?
How do we survive his rage unscarred? I find it amazing we’ve made it seven years without losing any of the glass in the french doors to his room. No cats have been harmed in the raising of this child–so far. I can’t say the same for various toys flung across the room. I can’t say the same for my presence of mind. Some things, once said, once done, cannot be taken back. What will he say? What will I say? What will we both remember for years to come?
I wonder, sometimes, is it a blessing that I’m so unfamiliar with anger? I can usually keep going without reacting in kind–is that a good thing? Or would it be better if I did get more angry? If it I did lose it a little more often? Would I put up with less? Or would it be disastrous for him to confront anger similar to his own in an adult?
The house is now quiet. MapKid’s asleep. The dishes are done and my husband is watching TV. The blog post is almost done. My anger has drained away, leaving me weak and tired.
Let’s hope when tomorrow comes the anger will have melted away from my house, and the day will find us at peace.
Last night was the last evening my husband was going to be out of town on business, and I decided MapKid and I needed a treat. It had been a rocky day–dinner at the grandparents had been a nightmare, since the new food regime is not always as enjoyable as the roasted potatoes incident. Why not dinner at Central Market, a grocery store/restaurant with a huge patio and a big play area. Good pizza, some time on their playground, and then a shopping expedition to pick up dinner for the week–we had a plan.
We ordered our pizza and then headed to the play area. A handful of kids were running around, and MapKid gleefully joined the fun.
I kept a pretty close eye on things–playgrounds can be minefields, particularly when there are a lot of younger children around. MapKid has been known to blithely shove two-year-olds out of his way when particularly focused on climbing a ladder or heading down a slide.
My attention was caught this time, however, not by the gaggle of shrieking toddlers but by two older kids–brothers, clearly, with matching shocks of reddish-brown hair. One looked about 7 or 8, but the other had to be at least 10. They didn’t seem to be interacting well with MapKid–at one point, MapKid ran by screaming, apparently at Brother #1, “Stop following me!”–but this is par for the course at playgrounds, so it didn’t phase me.
For a while there seemed to be some energetic playing going on at the top platform of the tallest structure, the one connected to the twisty slide. I couldn’t see very well, but as far as I could tell it was going OK.
Until I looked up and saw that Brother #1, the younger one, was standing at the top of the stairs leading down and from the platform, his arms outstretched. MapKid stood facing him, his entire body tense, unable to pass.
My primitive Mommy brain screamed, Danger! To the Progeny!
I leapt out of my chair and nearly knocked over a couple of two-year-olds myself to get to the playscape. As I headed that way, I saw MapKid turn and enter the slide.
But by the time I arrived, breathless, at the end of the slide, he hadn’t emerged. Instead I could hear him shrieking at the top of the slide–and another child’s voice arguing.
They had trapped him, one at the stairs and one in the slide.
“Come down the slide, boys,” I said.
I must have used that universal Mommy tone that Will Not Be Ignored. Brother #2, the older one, popped out of the slide, followed by MapKid. MapKid’s shoulders were tensed up, his forehead creased. His eyes were wild, like a panicked animal.
Brother #1 popped up beside me. He pointed at MapKid. “He punched me in the face.”
Despite a year and a half of tae kwon do, MapKid is no more capable of deliberating landing a punch than he is of swimming the English Channel. He might, however, have made contact entirely by accident, or even by lashing out if he were angry and overwhelmed.
“That’s too bad,” I said. “MapKid, can you say you’re sorry?”
“Sorry,” he muttered.
“You boys need to not block anyone up there,” I said. “If someone wants to come down, you let them come down.”
They looked at the ground.
“Do you understand me?” I said.
“OK,” brother #1 muttered. Brother #2 said nothing.
I turned to MapKid. “Let’s go get that pizza!” I said brightly.
He grabbed my hand and we started walking away. “It was those kids’ fault!” he yelled. “It was all those kids’ fault! They’re mean! They’re mean kids!”
I felt like we were walking on paper-thin ice with cracks emerging in every direction. “Yeah, but it’s OK now. It’s all OK now. And we’re going to get our pizza. Do you want a Dr Pepper to drink?”
Amazingly, it worked. By the time we got the pizza, he was focused on food, and then I took him upstairs to eat, to the balcony where you can see the entire store laid out before you. In the joy of watching people walking around and eating a truly awesome pizza, the moment passed.
I tried to ask MapKid about the incident this morning. He was engaged in setting up one of his races in which Lightening McQueen battles again a whole host of Hot Wheels. “I don’t want to talk about it,” he said. “I didn’t want to play with those boys.” I will try again later–there’s probably a teachable moment around here, and I need to find it.
Even if we do talk about it, I won’t ever know what really happened. But it scared me. We worry a lot about bullying, and if that’s what this was, it was short-lived and relatively mild. But the panic in MapKid’s face terrified me.
It’s at times like these I feel a primitive urge to never leave the house. To never expose myself and my son to the big wide world. To protect us all in a safe cocoon.
I can’t, of course. It would be wrong, irresponsible, abusive even, to my child to isolate him completely even out of a wish to protect him. But that means there will be other Brothers #1 and #2, and I won’t always be there to intervene. Pizza and Dr Pepper won’t always make it all go away.
It’s a big scary world, and not everyone in it is nice. Would that it weren’t so.
The time has come to deal with food.
MapKid eats about five foods. This would be bad enough, but which five foods changes frequently and without notice. He’ll always eat chicken strips and french fries–his default order at any restaurant. I keep a bag of frozen nuggets in the freezer, and I try to contain my irritation that will gobble down preprocessed chicken mash-up but utterly disdains any home-prepared chicken, including my truly yummy panko-breaded chicken strips.
As for the other three foods, take a guess and hold your breath. One day he adores spaghetti and meatballs–the next time I make it he won’t touch it. One day he thinks Life cereal is the best thing in the world and will devour bowls of it. The next it’s “disgusting” and I end up throwing away a nearly full box because it’s gone stale.
What’s even worse is that eating has become so angst-ridden that it often escalates into a meltdown. I tried to fix him lunch the other day and he ended up lying on the floor of the kitchen screaming, “But I don’t know WHAT I want!!!”
I’ve tried all the tricks. I’ll offer him two reasonable choices. For breakfast, I’ll ask, “Do you want cinnamon toast or Rice Krispies?” For dinner, “Do you want spaghetti or quesadillas?” No go. This child has seen through the two choices question and defies it utterly. He ends up back on the floor, wailing, “I don’t know WHAT I want!!!!”
Oh, and if you were noticing the relatively starch-laden and veggie-free nature of those choices, you are entirely right. I gave up offering broccoli and carrots and whole-grain bread ages ago. I just want the kid to eat. Something. Anything. (My, how the idealistic have fallen. When this child was an infant, I bought him organic vegetables at the food co-op, steamed and riced them myself, and rejoiced greatly in the sight of my progeny downing endless bowls green beans, butternut squash, and sweet potatoes. I quoted endlessly the books that claimed that by introducing vegetables early, you were priming the child’s taste buds and he would continue to eat these foods as he grew up. Ha.)
I’ve also tried the trick of providing the food we were eating with the caveat that if he didn’t want it, he could get himself anything from the kitchen he could fix himself. Yeah. Well. One time this resulted in a magnificent meltdown when he tried to make himself toast and then lay on the floor screaming that removing the toast from the toaster was “too hard” because the toast was “soooooo hot!”
I’ve let the food thing go the last few months because I had other things I was dealing with and I find it exhausting wrestling with Every. Single. Thing. I hoped, actually, that my increased flexibility with food matters would actually pay off with a slightly wider diet once the pressure was off, or at least fewer screaming fits if I gave in and allowed him to eat buttered white toast for every meal.
No luck. It’s gotten worse.
I’ve tried to understand what’s going on. Perhaps (probably?) there’s some food sensitivity here–most kids dislike strong flavors, and Aspies seem even more averse to the them. Perhaps there some element of trying exert control. Even more crucial, I think, is the pressure of having to make a choice. I try to get him to decide what to eat, on the theory that if he picks it, he’ll eat it. Not only is that not true, I think sometimes the requirement to make a choice completely overwhelms him.
So! I’m done with this nonsense.
We’re implementing new food rules around this house. I’m cutting out choices. I will provide him food; he can choose to eat it or not. If the kid misses a few meals as a result, so be it. He’s not going to starve–this house is positively bursting with food. At this point, I think about the only leverage I’ve got is his hunger.
I don’t intend to be unreasonable. I’m not going to insist he down asparagus and arugula the first night. I just mean that if I fix him a bowl of cereal for breakfast, that’s breakfast. He can scream all he wants. I’m not going to sit on the floor and try to pry out of him what his delicate palate would prefer today.
However, I do intend that he start eating more of the foods I make for my husband and I. Of course, I won’t make him eat our spicy kung pao chicken. If I deem our meal to be completely beyond his taste buds, I can always whip out the frozen nuggets. But in almost everything I put on the table, there’s something mild enough he can eat–even if it’s just the rice that goes with the kung pao.
Our new regime started earlier this week. I prepared a quite lovely meal, if I do say so, of pan-fried rainbow trout (caught by MapKid and his dad in the mountains), sauteed squash with sweet onions and tomatoes, and roasted potatoes. I dutifully cooked up some nuggets, but I also informed MapKid that before he left the table he needed to eat some of the potatoes.
There was squirming and whining, but really less resistance than I had expected. Maybe he was in a compliant mood–maybe there was some glint in my eye that made him think a fit would be a bad idea. We placed two beautifully browned roasted potatoes on his plate and said, “Eat up.”
He picked up his fork and slowly speared a potato. He held it up to the light. He examined it as one would study an alien bacteria from Mars. “Oh, just get it over with,” my husband said.
MapKid put the potato in his mouth. He chewed. I braced myself for screaming.
“Hmm,” he said. “That’s pretty good.” He stabbed the other potato piece and gobbled it down. “Can I have some more?” he asked.
Wordlessly, I piled his plate with potatoes. Gleefully, he shoveled them all down. Later he announced to his grandparents that he just loved roasted potatoes.
I did not see that one coming.