Another Day In the Life

Michael lost it the other night.

It had been a good day for him, in fact a great start to the school year so far.  Last year, he stumbled so badly at the beginning of the school year, in terms of academics and behavior, that I actually phoned his teacher on Friday in tears wondering if he should have been held back.  This year, has been much different.  The behavior journal that became our communication lifeblood for the last two years has been stellar.  He’s needed minimal homework help in the assignments that have (yes, already) come home over the course of the week.  He proclaimed that “Fourth grade is much easier than third grade,” proudly, happy with his luck and circumstance this year.

So I figured Wednesday night would be an easy evening.  My husband’s cousin, who is our only family anywhere nearby, lives in the same town as we do.  A happy circumstance that occurred not long after we moved to our tiny, New England town; they’d lived about thirty minutes south of here, in the active NYC commuter corridor, but had been looking to move to a place that had better schools and a slower pace.  They’d liked what they’d seen when they came to visit us, so they purchased a home about five minutes north of us. A lovely, four bedroom home with a pool and a deck…and a well.

Wells and septic tanks are commonplace here in our tiny town, but they were so foreign to us as transplanted Midwesterners that our own home search included prerequisites that no one out here seems to care much about:  city water, gas heat and stove, and central air conditioning.  This placed us in a home that wasn’t ideal for other reasons (namely, we live on a busy street across from a cemetery), but these items were deal breakers for us.  And in the nearly seven years we’ve lived here, we’d started to question our wisdom; we could have had a much larger house on a quiet street if we’d only decided to go for a well, or oil heat.  But R’s cousin does have a well, and it went kaput two days ago.

Regardless of whether it was storm damage or something else, the family asked to spend the evening at our house.  I happily agreed, and decided upon a menu for a crowd that would simmer while her kids took their hot showers.  So I made beef stew, since it was a cool, early fall, rainy day.

I should have known.  Beef stew is food all put together.  Food covered in a sauce.  Two things that are triggers for my boy.  Food can’t touch one another in Michael’s world. It also needs to be plain; he never gets sauce, or salad dressing, or toppings on a sundae.  Never.  Why I thought this would be OK for him, I have no idea.

But my beef stew set off a series of events that started with a sad face at dinner and ended with me pushing him (all nearly 80lbs of him) up our stairs to his room so the cousins would not hear him screaming at me at the top of his lungs.  He didn’t hit or strike out at me, thank goodness, but he entered a place that I don’t often see anymore, where my sweet boy changes into an angry, belligerent child who is out of control and looking to therefore control everyone else.  It took me an hour to calm him down; I’ve learned for the most part that the only thing to do with these incidents is to ride the wave and let it peter out.  As the anger and the emotion takes control of him, he gets more and more tired until the spell just finally breaks and he returns to his senses.  At school this happens in the principal’s office or a quiet room.  At home, I had to force him up a flight of stairs and into his bedroom, a safe zone.

It will be telling to see this year if we have more of these incidents at home or at school; last year they were largely confined to school.  I worry every day that he will not “grow out of” these tantrums (though, to be fair, they happen every few months rather than the every few days or even hours that they were when he was a toddler) and that he will not be able to function in society.   But for now, we got through it, and by the morning, the storm was gone.  My sweet, smiling boy was back, and racked up another stellar day at school yesterday.  I still see the clouds on the horizon, but I am out of the rain…for now.

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2 Responses

  1. Wow! That sounds almost exactly like what my 8yo tantrums look like. (And her big sister’s a few years ago…)

    Back toward the beginning of your blog, you mentioned that you were in gifted classes in school. (I remember because that is what caught my interest and got me to start following your blog.) Is Michael gifted? I know he has other diagnoses, but could he be gifted too? The reason I ask is that these type of tantrums are common to gifted kids. (I know other kids have them too, but…)

    I just read a book call Emotional Intensity in Gifted Students: Helping Kids Cope With Explosive Feelings. It really helped here.

    Figuring these things out can be so hard. My almost 12yo has really calmed down in the last year or so (which is good since the 8yo is really ramping up.) Maybe all it takes is time.

  2. I think Michael probably is gifted in some areas, but his neurological deficits make it very hard for us to see still where those areas are. He can learn very, very quickly, but it is such a hurdle to get him over his issues with focus and sensitivity that he ends up lagging behind.

    Thanks so much for your suggestion on the book…I’m going to check it out! 🙂

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