We were traveling down the freeway. It was a cold, rainy day. My son suddenly called out, “Wanna go to the dark tunnel?!” We had just emerged from an overpass. On our daily route, from our home to the office and back again, I’ve been hearing about it. I don’t know how many total overpasses there are, but there are certainly more than ten. Multiply this by the ASD boy in the back seat who wants to repeatedly ask about it, and you get the picture of how many times I’m hearing about the “dark tunnel” these days.
There is something pretty obvious about the overpass, that span of bridge that passes over the freeway to link one side to the other, that is his inspiration for this behavior. He had actually quit doing this about two years ago. But, it’s back. And it’s manifesting itself worse than before. Each time I go under one of these overpasses, he has to say the same sentence over and over and over…until I respond with something that will make him stop. And that did not happen on the first few tries.
“Wanna go to the dark tunnel?” came about because of something I did a long time ago. Over two years ago, we were headed home on the freeway one night when I saw a major traffic jam. My kid, backseat driver that he is, does not like a traffic jam. Even though he can see all lanes of travel are blocked by other cars in his direction, he will yell from his throne, “Go!! G-O spells go!!” proclaiming that, I guess, I should plow right through the car in front of me, and shove everyone else out of the way.
Instead, rather than be stuck in the traffic jam, with those commands, I decided to take an exit and follow a side street until I passed the crowd and enter the freeway again somewhere down the road, hoping the jam was cleared.
I did this not really knowing the route. I managed to create all the ingredients I needed for a meltdown. I changed his routine without warning. I took him somewhere he’d never been. I did not warn him about the very dark, very old tunnel at the end of the route because I did not know about it either until we got there.
My son freaked out at the tunnel. No big surprise there. Needless to say how awful I felt for both of us. We had one major meltdown that day, and though I’ve never been back, he has not let me forget it. Since that day, he brought up the dark tunnel for the entire summer. Repeatedly. Then, he put it away, like summer clothes in winter. And now, we’re here again.
First, I tried ignoring it. That did me no good. Even if I managed to get him to shorten his pleas or stop repeating his question for the 15th time in 30 seconds, he just starts up again when we pass the next exit that requires us to go under the overpass.
Next, I tried redirection. This too only works until the next overpass. Then, the mantra begins again. “Wanna go to the dark tunnel?” Repeated- over and over.
If I tell him he doesn’t have to be afraid and we are not going to the dark tunnel, he will still advocate wanting to go to the tunnel. I know he does not want to go. This is when the bluff comes in.
I’ve discovered the only way to stop this cycle is to call his bluff. So, I say, “OK, you want to go to the dark tunnel?” At first, he would say “No, stay!!” and fold right away. Lately, he’s gotten braver with his demand and when I ask he says, “Yes, wanna go to the dark tunnel.” So, he’s calling. Then, I have to raise the stakes and say, “Okay, I’m going to the dark tunnel.” As added proof of my intent, I throw in a turn signal and change lanes so he thinks I’m on the way. Usually, he will then fold and say, “No!! Stay, lay, A!” which apparently translates to “Hell, no mom, I was just kidding!”
Finally, just a short time ago, he made the demand and I had to engage in all of the above and he still did not cave. I couldn’t take the actual exit that I was at because I would have been late taking him to therapy. He won that hand. His prize? He continued to torture me with the “Wanna go to the dark tunnel” mantra. At that point, I must admit that I had to laugh because he got me and he knew he got me.
My next move was to tell him there was another secret dark tunnel at the mall which was the direction we were headed. This secret dark tunnel was called a “parking garage” but it was just like a tunnel. I asked him if he wanted to go to that “dark tunnel”. He hesitated. I asked again. He said, “No, stay-lay-A!!” I won that hand.
Sometimes now, he will up the stakes. If he thinks he is winning at this bluff, he will throw in the following: “Wanna go to the dark tunnel. Car wash!! Car wash!! Wanna go dark tunnel and car wash!! Let’s wash the car!!” You know, of course, that the car wash is nothing more than a dark tunnel with water and brushes as further sensory overload. There is no way my kid will sit through a car wash without a total meltdown.
When he starts upp’ing the stakes like this, he’s too rich for my blood. I’m gonna need to call in the house on this one. The ABA team… Til then, I’ll have to have the turn signal ready and those straight dollar bills for the car wash…