Today, I have no profound news to share but, I want to tell you the story of my day.
We live in the Pacific Northwest and, as you may or may not know, we have been under a blanket of smoke for quite some time due to various wild fires in just about every direction. The air quality has been deemed unhealthy for select groups, like those with asthma and so on. Not surprisingly, E falls into that category so, we have mostly remained indoors.
Today, the air was clear and the temperature was cooler. It just screamed, “Go Outside!” After a successful doctor’s appointment, we decided to go to the zoo; enjoy the animals, get some good exercise and, generally, just breathe in fresh air. Both of the boys were on board with this idea, which is rare. Usually, one wants the opposite of the other.
As we exit the freeway, we are already seeing a long line of cars, slowly creeping towards the zoo parking lot. Then we see signs at each lot, stating that that parking lot is full. I cannot stress enough how crowded this place was. People were everywhere! Normally, I’m a person that thinks, “ugh, people…” and would head home and come another day. Today, however, probably spurred on by a feeling of cabin fever, and the boys still wanting to go, we circle the lots and head for the overflow parking. As, we are driving, E is getting quieter and quieter. We park and hop on a school bus that’s being used as a shuttle. E, still quiet, sits by the window and stares out, while C is a wiggle-worm on my lap thanks to an over-full bus. I ask E if he is okay. He mumbles that he’s fine, just tired. A typical canned response. But he is not fine. He is overwhelmed by the thought of all the people at the zoo and those riding on the bus with us. C’s activity and noises irks him. He gets grumbly.
Mind you, the ride is likely no more than 5 minutes. However, it’s just enough time to push E over the edge towards the “Tween Attitude.” When we get off the bus, C starts skipping along ahead of us towards the gate and E starts parenting him, telling him to stop this and stop that. I, then, have to chide E and remind him that I am the parent and can handle anything C does that might be wrong.
Our first stop is the bathroom. As we wait for E, C spots the “very special” vending machine. The only place he knows of to get ‘Dippin Dots.’ (For those who don’t know, Dippin’ Dots is an ice cream snack made by flash freezing drops of ice cream in liquid nitrogen.) I know that eating a frozen treat will make him cold, so I tell him we will grab some on the way out so that he can have the warmth of the car after he finishes it. All is well on that front for the time being.
E seems cranky but alright, and we proceed to wander. I let the boys lead and choose what we see. E loves to stop at all the educational spots: solve all the puzzles, learn all the things. Things are going well, aside from his parenting instincts refusing to wait until he has his own child. However, as we progress, maybe ten minutes into our trip, he is starting to “act out.” Now, when E acts out, it’s not your typical bad behavior or meltdown scenario. He starts growling, walking tense, and mouthing off at every turn. This is partly due to his age and partly due to his ASD. Every time I try to chat with him and soothe him, it’s like he’s smacking me but with his words. He is cranky, and I seem to be making it worse. So, I leave him be, knowing he will soothe himself eventually.
We were able to see a few of the animals that we haven’t yet seen on this visit. Usually, they are asleep in their dens or out of sight. This time however, we saw the elusive bobcats, leopards, and tigers. Now, my boys are huge cat fans, so this worked wonders to improve Mr. Grumpy Pants’ attitude.
After a few hours, we were all satisfied and head for the exit. C, still skipping all over creation, but getting more and more worn out, heads for the prized vending machine. I start pulling out my wallet and find that I only have a single dollar; the Dippin’ Dots are $4, and the machine doesn’t take credit cards. “Warning! Warning! Danger, Will Robinson!”
Cue meltdown moans. Quickly, I spring into action. “Hey, lets go see if they sell any in the gift shop and, if not, maybe we will find something even better!” So, we wander around and look at everything at least twice. C starts getting wild, a sure sign he is about to go into sensory overload. He wants one of everything, and can’t make up his mind. An aspect of his executive function issues is the inability to make decisions, thus becoming overwhelmed. I step in and pick something out for him and he’s happy but, he is still hung up on what to choose. Once E makes his pick, we go to pay. I ask the cashier about cash back, which they don’t do, and am directed to the ATM outside. At this point, I’ve spent enough money, and just want to go home but, C is headed for a full-blown meltdown over those dang Dippin’ Dots so, I check out the ATM. They charge a use fee of $3 to take out money, and my penny-pinching side shows up.
“I am not going to spend almost the same amount in fees as it is for the stupid treat; I just spent more money than I planned to at the gift shop. Stop spoiling this child and go home!”
Caleb is now quite put out. He loves his new stuffed animal, but is angry that he didn’t get everything he wanted. Granted, it sounds like I’m describing a spoiled brat or a toddler, but I’m not. I’m talking about my almost-9-year-old son who, pathologically, has no control over this behavior.
As I watch him stomp down the sidewalk, arms drooping, head down, I remind myself that he is trying his best. He is not on the ground throwing a fit. He is not yelling or hitting me. He is not banging his head on a wall or my body as I’m trying to walk. He is removing himself as best he can from a situation that pushed him too far.
On the bus back to our car, he wouldn’t sit with me and he kept sniffing in his overly-dramatic way. But, in the car he said to me in a quiet voice: “Mom, I’m sorry about this. I don’t know why I act like this and I hate it.”
Oh, gut punch. He is a good kid. He is trying his best with the tools he has. He is very aware of his actions and does not like them, yet, doesn’t know how to change or control them yet. Here’ another subtle reminder of the differences of autism– no one person is the same. My two boys: case in point. One has internal meltdowns or shuts down (I recently read a post explaining internal meltdowns here) and, the other, becomes hyperactive then melts down. I guess Forest Gump was right:
“Life is like a box of chocolates. You just never know what you’re gonna get.”