Eyes Averted

After The Boy’s final band concert for the year, I anticipated a meltdown. His TA had asked his friends-who-are-girls to make sure to high-five him before they left, but I knew they wouldn’t. I tried to prepare him for it several days in advance, even getting a promise that he wouldn’t get upset because he knew he would see them the next day. But when he was done, the panic set in, and he wound up, eventually returning to the stage area (where many people remained, clearing the stage), throwing his binder, and then his mouthpiece (a small but heavy hunk of metal).

Everyone around us gasped, and then went about their business in more hushed tones. One kind soul retrieved the now-dented mouthpiece, and I thanked this person without looking at him.

tuba practice

And I realized that I don’t even attempt to make eye contact as any of this goes down. I never do. Am I embarrassed?, I kept asking myself days after the realization. It would be ok if I was, but I generally don’t care what others think of me or my son. I had thought myself way past that stage.

After much soul-searching, I found that it wasn’t embarrassment that made me avert my eyes. No. I just don’t want to deal with everyone else’s reactions. I have enough to deal with, and it isn’t my job to comfort/explain/respond to whatever it is you are feeling upon witnessing my son’s autism in full color. It is my job to relieve his anxieties and calm him.

And if I look into your eyes, I will have to deal with whatever I find there.

I can multitask with the best of them, but not during a meltdown. He is my focus, and everything else is secondary, especially the thoughts of others.

So if you encounter a parent like me who won’t look at you in this situation, they may be embarrassed, or they may just not be ready to deal with you. If you are a parent in a situation like this, you don’t have to worry about anyone but your kiddo. S/he’s the one that needs you most, right then. Even if they are throwing hunks of metal at you.



He Melted

Last Sunday, I found a flyer in The Boy’s backpack that said he had a performance this past Thursday, at the orientation for incoming 6th graders. I was a little annoyed at the lack of advance notice, but we rolled with it. I made sure his band shirt was clean, cancelled my Thursday lesson, and made arrangements for transporting his tuba.

Thursday evening came, and I picked The Boy up at Grammy’s. We rode out to his school, and I reminded him that it was ok if he didn’t see all of his friends after the concert (which has been a big source of anxiety and mini-meltdowns in the parking lot after events like this all year). He was anxious about it, but at least we were talking about it. When we got to the school, there were curiously no parking spots, so we parked a ways away, and headed toward the gym. As we got closer, I could hear drums, and I knew we were in trouble. Sure enough, we walked in, and his band was already playing. We waited for the song to be over, and I tried to get him set up behind the band, in the percussion section, quickly so that he could play along with at least the next song. He wasn’t having it, and knocked his binder to the floor. He was angry and feeling left out, and rightfully so. “I missed it! They played without me!” I told him I must have read the flyer wrong, and asked if he wanted to leave.

After the performance, the principal released the 5th grade families to tour the building on their own, and The Boy just lost it. He began walking quickly, shoving people out of his way, giving me the finger, saying he was going to throw his tuba at his band director and cut off his head. I could do nothing but follow and apologize to the people he was shoving out of the way. Apparently, at one point I got too close, because he grabbed me by the neck and shoved me against some bleachers, knocking my glasses off. I picked them up and continued after him. After much walking around the school, and a few hugs from band friends he saw, we headed back to the gym, where he did pick up his tuba and threw it across the gym floor towards his teacher, who was speaking with a woman at the time, and it hit her in the ankles. Again I apologized, and attempted to get The Boy to sit. He did, and the band director approached, hoping to assist me in calming him down. At this point, he revealed that it was, indeed, his fault. That the time had changed and he had announced it in class, but failed to let me know.

The Boy was still agitated, and got up to leave the gym again. But this time, it was for the parking lot. He was calming, and we were heading to the car. I had called The Man at some point for help, and he was on his way, although I’m not sure what kind of help I was looking for. I began to cry. The Boy asked why, and I said, “Because I hate to see you this way.”

We ended up leaving his tuba and music there – let them deal with it for now, and headed home where it took about an hour for The Boy to calm down. By then, he was ready for pizza, and even played my trumpet a bit.

This didn’t have to happen. I’ve told school personnel, including the band director for multiple years that The Boy cannot reiterate to me what is said at school. Apparently saying it ad infinitum is not sufficient. But the band director learned from this. He apologized three times that night (and not once did I say it was “ok”), and called on Friday to express his apology again. I can forgive a young teacher who knows he messed up big time, if it looks like he learned from it. I cannot forgive the principal and assistant principal who initiated the change, made no accommodation for affected students (how many robocalls do I get from the school per week, and this wasn’t on any of them?), and didn’t lift a finger to do a thing on Thursday night. In any school, the buck stops with the principal, and this woman and I are like oil and water. She is not my friend, nor is she a friend to any special needs student. And she quite likely will be the subject of a letter to the Superintendent before the end of the year.

In any case, we are lucky that we do not experience these catastrophic meltdowns on a more frequent basis. The last time something like this happened, The Boy was about 10. The problem is, he is now almost 15 and bigger than me, and can apparently remove me as an obstacle (or at least attempt to). This scared The Man, but not me. It just is.

But it is a helpless feeling, and it is something that requires recovery.



Rigidity Again, but Better

A few weeks ago, I wrote about having my own sort of meltdown when we had a two-hour delay for school for no apparent reason. I resolved at that time not to get stuck again, and the next time this happened, I would stick to my normal routine of getting up at 6am to get myself ready.

It happened again yesterday morning, and I think the fact that the delay was utterly ridiculous added fuel to my fire. But that is another blog post… I did what I had resolved to do, and woke up at 6am, got myself ready. I still had a little bit of a time crunch – I’m really not sure how – but the process of getting everyone ready was much smoother.

BETTERMORNINGSAt one point, I was putting together The Boy’s lunch, and The Man stood in the kitchen, a little warily, I suppose, and asked if there was anything he could do. I told him no. And I realized I needed to have a yes answer to that question. I need to allow him to help me when it gets down to it. I was a single mom for so long that I get into that mode sometimes, that I-am-fierce-I-can-do-it-all-on-my-own-and-no-one-can-stop-me mode. But I’m not all on my own. And it’s OK to ask for help. It might take a little training for everyone involved, but it would be better for everyone involved if everything didn’t fall on me in the morning.

And another big part of that is that The Boy can do some, too. So much of what I do for him is just routine left over from when he was eight years old. Now he is fourteen, and much more capable of handling responsibilities. I need to step back and let him.

So, I guess it’s time for a morning training plan. I’ll get that on my list of things to do, and I’ll get back to you and let you know how it goes. 😉


It Could Have Been Really Bad

This morning, the cat escaped as The Man and The Boy left to go to Grammy’s.

He’s escaped before, but usually sticks close to the back deck, or just circles the house, allowing us to follow him.  Today, however, there was a rabbit involved, and the hunter in Raffi burst loose.  When the man went to retrieve him from the back ditch (between our lot and an overgrown field behind our house), Raffi actually hissed at him and bared his teeth.

Rather than risking a hand to the monster, The Man decided to drop The Boy off, and return to see if he could get him back inside.  But when he returned, Raffi was nowhere in sight.

He called me at work, and all the possible outcomes ran through my head, and remained in the back of my mind all day.  When I ran home after work to change, I looked all over the property, making smoochy noises, purring, and chirping as I went.  Nothing.

I started to think he was gone for good.

And I started to wonder what I was going to say to The Boy when he asked if Raffi had come back.

I prepared him as best I could, explaining that he may come back tonight, or sometime in the next few days, but that if he didn’t come back in about a week, he may be gone for good.  He processed this, and seemed ok, but when we got home and Raffi was still not around, he began a negative cycle, which was not going to end well.  How do you tell a kid to be patient when he is worried he’ll never see his cat again?

After about an hour of the pacing, the self-talk that started to get louder, including phrases like, “He’s NOT coming back,” I heard The Man’s truck pull in.

And then I heard a small kerfuffle, and The Man saying, “Open the door!” to The Boy, who was outside pacing the deck.

And Raffi was back.

Tired Boy

Raffi was visibly tired after carousing the neighborhood, or ditches, or the neighboring golf course… who knows where he went (we are contemplating a go pro for his head in case he pulls this stunt again, because we are that curious).  The rest of us were incredibly relieved, and impressed he could find his way home. And The Boy was happy not to have been abandoned after all.


Managing My Own Anger

Yesterday was a doozy of a Monday.  I felt like Alexander in the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day (a favorite when I was growing up).  There was an ant in The Boy’s juice, the cable box went wonky again, a co-worker lied to our boss and threw me under the bus for a mistake that was very clearly hers and hers alone.

And mid-afternoon I get an email from The Boy’s principal saying perhaps he could start on trumpet this week because he doesn’t meet the “criteria” to play the tuba.  Yeah, that just happened.

There were no “criteria” to play the tuba even mentioned at our last meeting.  That band director is discriminating against my child.

boy with tubaLuckily, I didn’t get the email until about 3 or so, because truthfully, I couldn’t concentrate on work after that.  I was extremely preoccupied, and downright pissed off.  Heart beating rapidly, I left work right at 5, and drove to pick up The Boy, planning my evening around the big, long response I was going to write.

The Boy was in a great mood, and I faked a good mood for him, as well.  I shared the happenings with my parents and strategized about next steps with them.

When we got home, I began to type all of the phrases that had been rolling around in my head for three hours, constructing my three-page response.  And I began to shake uncontrollably.  Not with rage, but with anxiety.  I also made several trips to the bathroom, which I have had to do when stressed since my mid-thirties.  When The Man came home an hour later, we talked, and strategized some more, and I continued to write.  I spoke with The Boy’s autism teacher on the phone to gain some insight, and then I continued to write.  The Man knows that getting all of my thoughts down just right in my response was the key to my calm.  Until it was a finished draft ready to send, it would be on my mind.

And of course, I couldn’t sleep last night.  I knew it would happen, but there’s nothing I can do about it, so I just roll with it, going over things yet again in my head for several hours.

My draft is now complete, and it is a killer letter.  I have a plan in place, no matter the response.  He will play the tuba, and will not be switching to anything else.  I’m still angry and anxious, but I’m managing it, thanks to my outlets: writing and planning.  The key is knowing yourself enough to know how you are going to respond to anger, both physically and mentally, and to have something accessible which calms you… A bit like our kiddos, huh?


iPads and Lessons

English: The logo for Apple Computer, now Appl...

We delivered the iPad to the repair place yesterday, and I think part of the lesson, why-we-shouldn’t-throw-iPads-when-we’re-angry, was the length of the drive to the repair shop, easily an hour and a half.  The Boy was not happy with the time involved, and I’m sure would not relish having to make that trip again, yet another thing to think about the next time he has an urge to take his anger out on his electronics.

I believe he also had a consequence for some behavior at camp yesterday (I say, “I believe” because no one from the camp mentioned it to me, but The Boy self-reported.  This could be encouraging, except that he sometimes makes these things up, and grossly exaggerates his offense, as well as the resulting consequence.  We really need communication logs…).  He explained that he was building a tower, and someone else kept knocking it down, so he said some not-nice things and had to sit out for parachute time, one of his favorite activities at camp.  When discussing this in the car, I brought up our old friend B.E.A.R. (Breath, Exhale, And Relax), a technique taught to The Boy in early elementary for diffusing his own anger.  I’m not sure how effective it has been over the years, but for whatever reason, it makes him giggle, and it also reminds him that there are other actions that he can take besides the obvious choices of throwing things, using not-nice words, etc.

The neat thing was, he made his own connection between the two incidents, and said that the next time he would Breathe, Exhale, And Relax instead of using not-nice words, and instead of throwing his iPad if he couldn’t reach Grammy on facetime.  Whoa.  Made his own connection, and used independent thought to find an alternative to venting his anger in a negative way.  To me, this is huge.  Way to go, little man!


Feelings… Nothing More than Feelings

Angry Talk (Comic Style)

You know what I don’t understand? When people say things like,

“Don’t worry about it!”, or “Don’t feel guilty, sad, angry, etc.”

Newsflash: We cannot control what we feel.  And you cannot change your emotions.

For instance, when we have a rough morning, and something has triggered anxiety in The Boy to the level that he is refusing to leave the house, I get angry.  I am not angry with The Boy, and as long as I don’t aim my anger at him, it is perfectly OK for me to feel that way.  I am angry because I fear I will not get to work on time, and I fear he will have a rough day at school. Reasonable, given the circumstances.

For instance, when I feel guilty that The Boy has no pets, but clearly has a love for animals, it’s OK for me to feel that way.  I can’t control it.  I feel guilty because I fear that I am not providing him with opportunities to develop his interest in animals.  As long as the guilt doesn’t overpower me, as long as I use it to spur thought about how I could help him more in this area, the guilt I feel is OK, and can even be a positive force.

The challenge is having the self-awareness to understand the basis of the emotion: where is it coming from? Can I do anything about that right now?

The other challenge in my life experience is to make sure that my emotions are not escalating The Boy’s emotions.  If he is anxious, and I am angry (and I express that anger), he will only get more anxious.  Therefore I need to (quickly) figure out my own emotions, so that I can avoid negatively affecting him.

Rather than telling somebody, “Don’t feel that way!”, try expressing your own emotions.  “It makes me sad when you feel sad,” is a  much more open, accepting, and constructive way to show how much you care about the other person, and sounds much less flippant and judgmental than “Don’t worry about it!” or “Don’t feel sad.”