“Meltdowns are momentary.” – Wisdom to remember…
About a month ago, I reached my life’s nadir point. Since then, I’ve been trying to unpack and heal from some of the thoughts that have kept me limited. One of the issues that has been so difficult is accepting my son’s behavior in public. Most people know that I love and accept my child. I want what’s best for him and try to expose him to all sorts of experiences that will help him grow. I have had a challenging time with is accepting that our experience is intensely unique and challenging. I have deep anxiety to what others would name “normal” parenting situations. The pool is a great example of this type of experience.
My son loves the water, it is a very fun sensory experience for him and add to that the social aspect of other children having fun and he is in joy. Yet, I struggle with my son following my instruction in the presence of such an engaging experience. I have tried everything from social story scripts to behavioral rehearsals in low stress situations. Yesterday was no different. While waiting for a friend to let us into his apartment complex’s pool, I rehearsed with him and the rules for leaving the pool. I gave him three steps: 1. Mommy will say “it’s time to go.” 2. You will say “okay.” 3. You and I, will get out of the pool and go get on dry clothes. In the car, he rehearsed it and promised he’d follow. We also talked about other pool rules: Keeping his hands to himself, being gentle and walking. He also was able to say and demonstrate behaviorally. Then we get into the pool. He followed my initial directions. All is well. Then people started to show up.
A large part of my existing anxiety plays out as being excessively hypervigilant. My head is always on a swivel. Most people do not know that he is on the spectrum and I have to watch out for how he interacts with other children, how he is following directions, and whether he is doing something dangerous. When smaller children arrive, I’m immediately worried…
“What if he pushes them in the pool?”
“What if he rough houses them and pulls them underwater?”
“What if he tries to play with someone who does not want to play with him?”
The “what ifs” drive my hypervigilance. Part of the worry is based on what has occurred in the past, when L has interacted with others, and he does something that the other child does not understand or like. On Thursday, he was playing tag with a girl around his same age and he grabbed her a few times very roughly under the water and she was embarrassed and then afraid to play with him. This is heartbreaking to witness for me. Naturally, he wants to be loved and he wants to play, but he does not always understand the social rules or impact of his behavior on others.
If you could see me in the pool, hypervigilant, you would probably say to me,” just relax, he is being a kid.” Unfortunately, I cannot because I feel so responsible for his behavior and I do not want him or others hurt. Nevertheless, this is one reason I have such a problem with going to a simple place such as a pool. If others are not there, it is enough to monitor him jumping into deep water without an ounce of fear or real swimming ability. Or running around the slippery pool deck without a care. These are natural things for any parent, but the willful ignoring of my requests, coupled with an intense need for excitement and no clear understanding of consequences makes this harder. Yet, we are often not alone at the pool and when you add people the concern grows. I will say, it is better at a pool such as this where there is more self-monitoring and fewer overt rules.
Yesterday, I had to watch how close he was to other smaller children when he was jumping into the pool. He often gets too close to them (I think intentionally) to create a reaction when he splashes them. Another layer involves watching as concerned parents wonder why my son is acting in the fashion he is, silently judging us. This challenges me to really stay present within myself and not worry about what others are thinking. Yet, to be completely honest, I often go to the pool or the beach with the acknowledgment our outing is not going to be a pleasurable or easy experience for me. I often couch this under the heading of “things that are harder for me as a single parent of a special needs child.” Yet, this resentment and anger is not helping me. Nor does it make things easier in my life at all. All it does is want me to avoid these things and limit my life, and that has not brought me any joy. So, I decided upon asking the Universe how can I accept all of this experience and what should I do as a result?
Then comes Aunty Chandra. After 30 minutes of being at the pool, a Hawaiian woman comes to the pool and greets us. I smiled and talked about needing a moment to relax and enjoy the pool. She was kind and spoke in a low tone, with a gentle smile in her eyes. She engaged me in conversation then slipped into the water and commented on how great it was to enjoy the weather. Up until that moment, I was unaware of how beautiful it was outside as I had been in my mind with my worries. We talked while I watched after my son and soon, began to relax a little. Other families came, and I continued to monitor my son’s behavior.
After 2.5 additional hours, I decided to go to the hot tub. No other children were in the pool and L asked to go with me to “small pool” or hot tub. Aunty Chandra was there again, relaxing and once again engaged me in conversation. Feeling like I could breathe a bit more now that the recent influx of children left, I allowed myself to release my body tension in the hot water. We chatted and I told her how I was trying to relax while feeling nervous about my son’s behavior. I explained that he is on the autism spectrum and that I usually do not get to enjoy the pool because I’m being very watchful. A knowing smile spread from her eyes to her lips and she nodded then said she understood. She kindly offered, “I have a grandson who is autistic. Do try to enjoy yourself.” She then started to tell me about what helped her grandson’s behavior (not following directions and defiance) and also said that my son was awesome. She said, “I’ve been watching you too and its clear he is so loved by you.” She then went on to say, “Sister, you have such a bright spirit. You both do. Sitting here right now, I can see you glowing. You are a teacher, right?” Having not told her anything personal about me or my son except the fact that he was on the spectrum, I was shocked. I said, “Yes, how do you know?” She continued, “You look like a spiritual teacher. Someone that others would listen to, I can tell by your energy.” I smiled (fully shocked by her sight) and said, “I’m a therapist and a teacher.” Chandra responded excitedly, “Now, THAT explains it. Yes! You are special and so is your son. You can tell you are taking good care of him because he is strong and brave. He is also very happy; you can tell by the way he smiles.” I nodded and looked in his direction, feeling more and more at ease. L was now doing a routine of jumping into the pool and then quickly getting out and jumping in again. Each time he did so, he giggled and whooped excitedly.
At that moment, I saw what I needed to see. He was fine. I was fine. He was playing, happy and though other children were on the sidelines, he was having a great time and I was not hovering and hypervigilant. Aunty Chandra then started talking to me about her pains in her body and the gift of coming to the pool. Immediately, seeing what her body needed psychically, I asked her if she did yoga or qi gong. She said, she did not know it but was willing. I gave her a pose to do to re-collect her energy she did it and lit up. Excitedly, she exclaimed, “You need to teach us. You should be on TV, helping people. I can see it! I will introduce you to another elder and we will support you in helping others.” Again, not having told her ANYTHING about my current life or dreams, I was chagrined again. Clearly, this woman was sent by God/Universe.
Aunty Chandra and I went on to talk about astrology, my hope of a podcast, my coming birthday and L’s birthday. I gave her the story of how he was named, and the significance of his name after she talked about what a sweet and kind voice he has even when jumping in the pool. It was an amazing experience and a true gift from the Universe. We had so many things in common that I immediately told her that I needed to get her telephone number. She agreed and said, “May I take a photo of you and Leo? I bet you never get someone to take photos of you.” I almost cried. Mostly, because this is again another aspect to being a single parent that I have been resentful about and it was such a kind but simple offer. She attempted to use my now dead phone camera (see the last pool incident for reasons why my phone camera is not working) and I will cherish the one image she was able to create. After that, I decided to have L leave the pool.
I rehearsed with him the routine and immediately, he started yelling. Now, I must also add, at this point two very fine, black men had come into the pool area. They seemed to be military and I silently noted them as I do any other black person in our vicinity. Ms. Chandra tried to help me with L, who was now yelling, “No! No, leave the pool” and was in full defiance mode. I told her that I just needed to help him but that I appreciated her kindness. She asked, “Should I get the brothers to help you?” I outwardly said, “No, I’ve got it.” Inside I was saying to myself, “Hell no, I’ll once again be looked down upon as a black woman for not being in “control” of my kid. No thank you.” Aunty Chandra said again, with a kind smile, “Okay, I’m going back to lay down.” As if she knew that that coming experience would be too much for her to handle.
It was a challenge. For 10 minutes, L had a complete meltdown. He yelled, he cried, he bit, his kicked, he scratched me and he refused to get out the water. We had a complete tussle in the water, with me using a calm and even voice…” It’s okay. It’s time to go. We can come back.” Suddenly, my relaxation was gone and I was back to an internal monologue of hypervigilant thinking.
“See, this is why we don’t come to the pool.”
“Everyone is looking at us.”
“What if people think I’m mishandling him while I have him in this hold so he can’t bite or scratch me?”
“I must be seen as the worst parent.”
“What if he hurts himself struggling with me? What if he hurts me?”
“How am I going to do this?”
Then suddenly, I heard a still calm voice in my mind,” meltdowns are momentary.” I started to repeat this phrase and then I surrendered to the moment. I stopped being in resistance to what is. I asked one of the brothers to help me get him out, having gotten physically exhausted with him in the pool. The bigger of the two gentlemen came and just stood beside him. L immediately got out and I said, “thank you.” While changing his clothes, he was still upset about leaving and Aunty Chandra came back over to say goodbye. She said, “You handled that beautifully. You were calm and used such a calm voice. You are a great Mom.” Almost in tears, I thanked her after moments like this I feel raw, sad and judged her words were a healing balm. Then I realized a profound truth, God/Universe sent me this amazing experience to heal and accept my life. The realization that if I show up (despite the worry) then I will be given help. I just have to remain open to the help and not believe my anxious thoughts. I could have asked one of the brothers initially, but my pride and need to preserve my image as a black mother got in the way. My biggest take away was “meltdowns are momentary.” While in the struggle with L in the pool, I felt that was forever, but really it was momentary. When I focus on those negative momentary situations, in the past, they have then dictated how I then did things with my son. Now I was given the guidance that I do not need to let my anxiety encourage me to stop doing what is necessary to enjoy life. I can keep showing up and doing my best and there will be understanding kind people there to support and to help. I cannot say that I will immediately cured of the “hypervigilant thoughts” but I can say that I am more willing to stay with them and remember that meltdowns are momentary.
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