Leaving the house with Helen has never been easy. Countless times we’ve barely begun a shopping trip before she is totally overwhelmed. I’ve watched her completely shut down. Rocking back and forth, pulling her own hair, biting her fingers, completely unresponsive to my voice. Or the opposite. An intense combination of pain and fear sends her out of control, thrashing, kicking, banging her head against my chest over and over while she screams. Or some awful combination of both. No matter what, we’re all rushing out of the store to the car. I’ve literally climbed on top of the car seat so that I could safely buckle her in without hurting her. Then I’m driving home with hands gripped tightly to the steering wheel so they’ll stop shaking. And Matthew, my sweet Matthew, hands over his ears, tears in his eyes.
Because we both know. It can take hours, hours, to get her calm. And there’s nothing we can do about it.
And my very empty promises. She’s ok, buddy. It’s going to get better, I promise.
I’m not sure who I most tried to convince.
It was bad. So very bad.
But it’s getting better. We understand more about her limits and how to help her. So, when our Aunt gave the kids spending money, we were all excited to go toy shopping. I prepared Helen for the trip, took our go-to therapy gear and went at a time I knew the stores would be quiet.
Perfect. Until her question was met with a No. She turned her pretty lip into a pout, stomped her foot and tried again.
Then it began. A fake cry/half-wail with a few real tears thrown in for good measure.
It was wonderful.
She wasn’t frightened or in pain. She wasn’t overwhelmed. She was just mad. And she communicated what she felt to me. Do you have any idea how many miracles have to take place for that to happen? It was the first time in Helen’s entire life that a parenting situation made perfect sense. Even Matthew noticed the difference. At her first cry, he ran over to try all his big brother tricks and calm her down. But after just a minute, he turned to me grinning.
She’s totally fine, isn’t she, mom? She’s just whining!
I put her in the cart and we finished shopping, fake cry, intermittent wailing and all. Matthew and I kept grinning at each other, relieved that this was the situation. I’m sure we looked completely crazy. (I did resist the urge to high-five strangers in the aisles. Probably a good idea.) We made it to the car and I easily buckled her in. Driving home, I glanced at Matthew. She was still crying, but he was completely relaxed and chatting about every detail of his “awesome new toy”. And I knew. I knew. We were already OK.