Full disclosure: yesterday was a bad day. I started this last night, but didn’t want to finish it until I had some more time to reflect.
My favorite part of authoring BigCalfGuy is sharing in Jake’s successes and triumphs. That being said, I would be doing a disservice by not sharing in our failures and setbacks. Not every day is like a Cosby episode, in which things get settled with love and humor – and in thirty minutes.
Today was a bad day.
Using our perfect 20/20 hindsight, we should have seen something coming. Jake had been without the other four members of his nuclear family for a solid week, and he doesn’t do transition well. We made it home late on Sunday, and he was very happy to see us. It could have just as easily gone the other way – we’ve been greeted with angry protestations and mini-tantrums before. But as Sunday turned to Monday, and then Tuesday, the pent up energy of the return to normalcy was beginning to take its toll. Jake was getting moody, snapping at people, and was easily provoked. Jake even yelled at his extended school year (summer school) teacher. He was sent back to school today on strict orders from Beth to apologize.
Today, Beth went to Kelly’s to pick up the kids and get ready for Gabe’s soccer camp. After a brief visit, she asked the kids to get their things together and pile into the van. Jake was already there. He likes to sit up front and ride with Mom. He also, apparently, likes to be the only one in the van until Beth shows up.
Liv ran out and climbed into the van. Jake threw a complete fit! He began thrashing around in his seat, yelling at Liv to leave him alone. She tried to tell him that everything was OK, and that Mom had told her to come to the van, but he wasn’t having any of that. He grabbed her arm and squeezed, trying to coax her into leaving. Then he scrunched up in his seat and KICKED the dashboard and eventually the windshield!
He immediately knew he’d done wrong. That’s how I knew he wasn’t having a meltdown, but rather throwing a tantrum. The second he crossed the line – things changed. He became instantly remorseful and took off to find his mother and beg forgiveness.
His go-to means of exerting his independence and dissatisfaction with his mother is to insult her singing. “You don’t sing good!” “Your singing is bad!”
By way of apology, he began praising her vocal efforts. “Mom, you sound really pretty when you sing!” “Don’t make me die!” “It was an accident!” “Don’t cut my choke!” This last one must have something to do with his throat, which he sometimes refers to as his choke. Funny in that he thought to compliment her singing, sad that it’s possible he thought we really would kill him. With so much of his language being echolalia, and lacking the sarcasm gene, he likely heard “Mom’s gonna kill me!” on TV and took it literally. Sad.
Anyway, it wasn’t long before Beth and I had this text exchange:
Punishing Jake is tricky. There isn’t a lot that motivates him, or that has any real meaningful connection for him. His electronics are HUGE in his life. The problem here is that they’re a big source of support and comfort. By taking away his electronics, we’re punishing him pretty thoroughly, but we’re also punishing ourselves. He’s going to be more on edge, less able to self-sooth, and more apt to commit further crimes. Catch-22. Tell him he can’t have any friends over? Who cares? He doesn’t have them over now. Sequester him to his room? So what – autism by definition is a loner disorder. We certainly aren’t going to kill him or ‘cut his choke.’
What I think is funny is the text exchange. Usually Beth gets to be the calm, protective one, and I take on the role of Scary Daddy. I mete out the punishments better. Today, we switched because I wasn’t even home. We don’t usually do the “just wait until your father gets home” approach to parenting. There’s no cause to drag out something over the course of the day. If it happens – it’s dealt with. End of story.
I guess there’s no moral to the story. Jake freaked out over something important only to him, and we ended up with a broken van windshield. Beth had to play Bad Guy, and I had to swallow my anger and play it cool. Jake avoided me like the plague for the whole hour I was home between work and school board meeting. He came to me when I got home at 8:30 so I could say goodnight, and the first thing he said to me was, “Don’t make me die.” Kind of heartbreaking. I tried not to belabor the point, as Beth had done a good job with that already, but reiterated my disappointment and laid out my expectations for future behavior. Whether any of it sunk in is anyone’s guess.
I reviewed the facts of the case with Liv this morning, and she has no idea as to why he overreacted. He’s 12. He could be having some puberty-changes. He may have been having some “body feelings” and got embarrassed when Liv interrupted him suddenly, or it could have just been the culmination of his feelings at our absence and return finally manifesting themselves as anger. We’ll likely never find out.