Most of the time, I can tell a meltdown is imminent. I know the triggers. I can either prepare in ways to avoid it or work through it. Sometimes though, a meltdown will occur without any known pre-cursor. No known trigger. And before I know it, things are very ugly and out of control.
The latest one began in the morning. Innocently enough, he was riding in his car seat in the back, playing with his iPad. He’s now sophisticated enough to manage Googling his favorite toy car makers (Road Rippers) and ending up on websites like FAO Schwartz which I never taught him about but which he was perusing a couple nights ago. Luckily, he still does not know my credit card number or passwords.
We were cutting it close to being late for school. He was eating a Pop Tart in the back seat of the car. I gave him all his regular asthma and allergy medications, his Vitamin, his fluoride. Every regular task had been completed. The routine was followed.
It was the second day of rain. It was cold, dark and dreary outside.
“Which color do you want?” he asked me. Of course, in the mixed language that is my son, this means, “Which color of this toy car, that only I can see, do you think I want, mom?” or better yet, “Which color, of the car I’m looking at, do I want you to buy for me, mom?”
No matter how I answer this question, I lose. If I say, “Which color do you want?” he will assume that I will get him one. If I say, “Blue,” he will immediately shout out other colors as if he must argue. If I ignore him, he will continue to ask the question for the rest of the 20 minute ride, driving me nuts. He will then complete this echolalic crescendo with a complete meltdown. If I say there will be no purchases of anything, then, in place of a meltdown, I get tears, which can escalate to a meltdown. None of these are good options on the way to school.
Up til now, I had lived a fairly charmed life as far as school meltdowns were concerned. I had been secretly impressed with how easily my son transitioned into school with his aide and forgot all about me. I was not needed and I was happy about this. It gave me a sense of freedom and almost relaxation. Of course, I always have that little feeling, in the back of my mind, that something might go wrong, but don’t we all have that?
I chose to answer his question by telling him that I was not going to play the colors game. I also told him that when he argues colors with me, it makes mama sad. This was met with silence. This turned out to be the calm before the storm.
I made this statement about ten minutes away from school. Stupid as it was, that was my conversational response today. Didn’t really go so well for me. He sort of talked to himself for the rest of the ride. When we arrived at school and I went to get him out of the car, he yelled, “Clean! Clean!” Of course, this means he is crying and needs tissue to wipe away the tears. Great!! Our first school, drop-off, meltdown. Hoo-ray.
I did not see any actual tears. I asked if he wanted to go in to school or go home. “Kindergarten!” he yelled. He got out of the car. I did not see his aide. We started to walk in to the building. The tears came. They came with yelling, “Clean! Clean! Wanna clean! Want the blue car. Want the red car. Do you want the red? Blue! Green!” and we were off to the meltdown races.
Okay. What am I going to do? I knew I was not the first mother to have a child cry as I took him in to class. However, the other kids were crying because they did not want their mothers to leave. My kid? Nothing to do with missing me. I’m pretty sure the “colors game” was just a runway for the meltdown take-off.
I decided to take him back out to the car and get tissue. We were still a little bit early and his aide had not yet arrived. As we headed back out to the car, his meltdown escalated because he thought I was taking him away from kindergarten.
I made it clear it was just because I was getting tissue. Even after he had the tissue, he continued to cry. His aide arrived. Today’s aide was R. He is very mellow but does not know my son as well as his other tutor. He tried to calm the little guy down by having him count.
Not a good idea.
Numbers are another runway for take off to Meltdown City. I relinquished control to R outside the classroom. The rather comical thing about it – in my warped mind- was that the other mothers gave me a sympathetic nod, like they knew what I was going through! Ha! These other NT moms were thinking my son was going to miss me today!! Oh, so laughable, in the midst of all that stress.
On top of it all, R then told me there was a substitute teacher for the day! I stood at the front door to the building down the hall, and down another hall. I could still hear my son yelling and crying. I stood there listening. (I did not have to strain). I finally left after another 5 minutes when it seemed there was a lull.
I learned later that my son had a full-fledged meltdown for a good 30 minutes. I picked him up and sure enough, the boo-boo face and the edge of meltdown reappeared. The rest of the day was shot. Therapies were cancelled and I took him home.
Much like the hiccups, when they first go away, the meltdown returns sometimes. It came back while in the car on the way home, and at home. He looked exhausted.
He could never express what it was that set him off. He’s still recovering. Any wrong move is met with tears. Then, he runs around and smiles. Then tears. I have no idea what is going on. It could be precursor to illness but he just got over a bad cold and then the stomach flu.
This was just one of those mystery meltdowns. You cannot prepare. You cannot change things that are not out of the ordinary. You cannot communicate with your child well enough to know what set him off. You just have to ride it out. And it sucks.