Every morning I awake in dark silence. My internal clock wakes me anywhere from a half hour to five minutes before my alarm sounds. I check the clock. I dread the sound of the alarm. I feel abject horror if the alarm is forced to wake me and will do anything not to hear it including checking the clock every five minutes from 4:30 a.m. to 5.
Yes, the alarm is set for 5 a.m. And, yes, that means that I’m waking between 4:30 and 5 a.m., five glorious days a week. It’s dark. It’s cold but I never linger. I am up as soon as I see the time. I do my chores. As the sun rises in the fog and rain, I hope each day to have more than 30 minutes to wake, pee, dress, feed, medicate, wash, and prep my son for school. I’m lucky if I pack him in the car and head off for our 30-35 minute drive to the school parking lot on time, without forgetting something I must return for later. Gas is expensive.
The reason for my devotion to early morning rising is for peace. It’s quiet. I’m alone. I move stealthily and with purpose, preparing both our lunches and breakfast, exercising, and grooming, cleaning, laundering… When my routine is complete, I head to wake the sleeping giant.
I try not to be filled with angst, dread or even trepidation. But, truthfully? I have some fear. My son can be more emotional than a 17 year old premenstrual version of me. Some mornings, I will open the door and he will loudly greet me with “Hi Mom!” Those are days I breathe a sigh of relief. When he gets himself up? The day ends up being pretty good.
It’s the days when I walk in and he’s still sound asleep that are unpredictable. Some days, when I have to wake him, he is okay. He will smile and respond. Other days, he will do nothing but moan. He will utter no words for the first 15-20 minutes. Those days make me nervous. I wonder if there is regression, if he’s had seizure activity in his sleep, or if he’s just tired.
The worst of all is when he wakes up crying. These days are infrequent but they still happen every one to two months. When he wakes up crying, I know I’m in for a bad morning. He will start silently, tears streaming down his face but no sounds. He will try to wipe away the tears with his hands and, strongly averse to this sensation, he will then begin to yell for a tissue. If the tissue is not instantly in his hand, he will go full-on yelling, combining that with echolalia, repeating the same phrase over and over, each time louder, working himself into a frenzy that I cannot penetrate with words.
I try to be patient. I try to be understanding but, at the same time, I’m working with a deadline. We have to be at school by a certain time. I have to get him in the car or we will be late. And if the weather’s bad, I have even less time.
On these kinds of days, it is me who dresses him while he screams in my ears, grabs me, bends my neck, pulls my hair, squeezes my head, kicks and yells. And every time I offer him the option of staying home. This, apparently, is a fate worse than death and he yells that he wants to go to school. The tears continue. His nose runs. He demands tissue after tissue. I wonder if the tears will stop before we get to school. Sometimes, like the hiccups, the tears will start up again while he is in class with his tutors. They have to take him out in the hallway and work him through whatever has brought it on.
As we approach Christmas, the morning tears and the difficult days have increased. The echolalia is increasing. His desire to play with toys from his early toddler years has begun. He pulled out an inflatable soccer ball that hangs from the goal that he’s had since he was just over 12 months old and kicks it. He demands that I kick it. He will not give up until I kick it. When I don’t, he melts.
He’s bringing up his desire to “do shapes with Mommy.” This means he will recite different shapes until he induces his own meltdown. I ignore it. He continues. He will recite lines from “Team Umizoomi”, a Nickelodeon show where one of the characters builds various things from shapes and they come to life (like a motorcycle, excavator, hot air balloon, etc.) until he sends himself into yelling and crying fit that lasts 15-20 minutes of agony that feels like I’ve been subjected to waterboarding for hours.
It’s ironic that he induces his own meltdown using a show about patterns. For us, it’s the same pattern each holiday. The variation is in the details. The meltdowns increase. They are preceded or even accompanied by growth and progress. They take over like a werewolf during a full moon, as the Christmas holiday approaches. I hope each year that “this Christmas” will be different than the last. But it’s always been the same.
Just as certain as its onset, once the holiday is over, so is the behavior. The stress, both his and mine, no matter how much I try to ease it, does not dissipate. The time must pass. The anticipation must be replaced by fulfillment. The excitement must be replaced by routine. And, the people in the house must vacate, the traces of them gone before his high drama subsides.
I just have to hold my breath, over and over.
I must find my peace in the darkest hours before dawn and let those hours carry me through the “most wonderful time of the year”. Someday, I tell myself. Someday, it will be different. Hope is a good thing.