Once in a while (actually, once a week,) J gets anxious and has a “moment.” It doesn’t last very long, but it is exhausting. The PECS board is involved, and there is a rather dramatic insistence on scheduling things until he is satisfied that I (we) have paid attention to what he wants when he wants it.
J times this perfectly. The moment that I am busy, rushing about, hands full of things, attention focused on something that requires me 100%, THAT is when J will want to go over the board in minute detail.
There is a lot of deep breathing involved. There is a lot of me reminding myself that this, too, shall pass. There is a lot of holding a PECS card up to my face, tapping it repeatedly and quickly with one finger, and expecting me to stay calm. I do my best. I don’t deny that there are times when I bark and say “yes, yes” because I have either something on the stove, or am slicing something, or am trying to get to the bathroom.
If J doesn’t get the EXACT quality of attention that he requires (because he has his standards and they are on a sliding scale that is unavailable for perusal from the rest of us,) he gets angry. That’s when the chin-flicking comes in. Once in a while there is light stomping. Today we had soft fists hitting the chin on both sides.
My strategy was to say “yes, J…we will go to -insert place here- on -insert whatever day he was pointing at-.” I said it many times. J was either unconvinced, or the number of times he had to ask, point, demand attention was higher than on other days. I said yes, yes, my dear…as you wish. (Oh, Westley…it didn’t work for you, but eventually Buttercup did figure it out, didn’t she?) I didn’t really have a problem with this insistence because a) I’m used to it, b) it’s pointless to have a problem with it, and c) I knew it would pass…eventually.
After ten minutes of chin-flicking and chin-hitting I decided to say, rather firmly, “ok, well…I understand that you are pissed off and want things your way, but I don’t think this is productive.” I went to the balcony, and closed the screen door. J decided that he should take this opportunity to become even more vocal about what he wanted. I came back inside and he came up to me, quite close, and repeated the tapping of the PECS card, the chin-flicking, and the chin-hitting.
I don’t tell J he’s being bad. Even when he’s being a brat, I try to say he’s being rude rather than bad. Rude is an attitude; bad is character flaw. So I said “J, you are being rude. I understand that you want something, but we cannot get on with your breakfast and everything else until you stop this.” He was shocked that I would take that tack so he got closer, flicked harder and tapped more insistently.
I grabbed the keys, took the security bar with me, and stepped out on the porch. I grabbed the keys in case J decided to lock the door. Ditto for the security bar. I could see him because the door has a window, and I know he could see me. I locked the door, and stood there looking at the tomato plants on the driveway.
I was more irritated than angry. I know my son has difficulties communicating how he’s feeling, and I know he can get tremendously anxious, but (as I said to him while he was stomping around the kitchen protesting against life and its hiccups) we are stuck together and all the chin-flicking and PECS-tapping doesn’t help. “I will help you, but you have to listen when I say whatever it is I’m saying.” On the way down the hallway towards the door I said “I will come in when you’re ready to listen.”
J’s silhouette filled the window. He was still standing in the kitchen, his snack portions ready to put in the box, the packages ready to go back to the pantry. I gazed at the tomatoes and took a deep breath. I counted to 100. While I did this, I could hear J walking back and forth between kitchen and garage as he put away the snacks, and then stored the box on top of the fridge. When I got to 100 I opened the door, replaced the security bar, and hung my keys. J was standing in the kitchen with his binder, and he was obviously done being upset.
I asked him what he wanted for breakfast, and he showed me the breakfast burritos. I told him to get the things ready, and stood back in case he needed help. With very little intervention on my part, he made and ate his breakfast. He kept looking at me between bites, and I smiled at him in a conciliatory manner.
After that we tidied up the kitchen, made beds, gathered laundry and headed to the basement to do whatever it is we do in the mornings. Every time I stepped into the TV room, or he came out to the sitting room, he told me he loves me.
At 10:30 we did a few more chores, and then I asked him if he wanted to exercise. He chose The Sound of Music for his workout movie, and climbed on the elliptical machine. By the time intermission rolled around, I told him it was lunchtime, and he was happy and ready to eat. We made lunch, and then he asked for his bath. After his bath he wanted a shave, and after that he wanted his band-aids and wrist brace.
It is an anxious day. I know that. He has been “off,” but he has worked his way through it. We didn’t start very well, but we figured it out. Maybe it’s the weather. Maybe it’s just the excessive togetherness of two adults in the house together all the time. Maybe he’s just needing the reassurance that he has a say on what he wants to do, and when.
I understand what little I can figure out about all this. I make sure that I am as fair as I can be, and that -because he was worried about me not being around the day of my surgery- I stay where he can see me if I have to “step outside.” It is the same dynamic, but it has changed. I don’t know if that makes sense, but that’s the way it seems. New and improved? Same formula and new packaging? I don’t know how this would be marketed…
All I know is we’re trying to make it work. It’s not quite running like clockwork, but if you’ve ever looked at a clock’s mechanism (not a digital one, of course) you know it’s quite complex and beautiful. It takes years to become a master clockmaker. It takes effort, and attention to detail. It takes patience and skill. It takes vision and an understanding of the way pieces work together.
We’re working on it….