He climbs up the snow bank and down, crashing into me. He steadies himself and then glances, ever so briefly at me, before he throws himself into the snow. He’s forgotten how big he is, how much he has grown. His body is moving faster than his brain and he finds himself crashing half into the snow bank and half onto the hard cement. I hear the loud thud as he lands, his chest bouncing off the pavement. I wince, he barely registers the pain on his face before he is up again. When he was younger I would have found a way to intervene – to put myself in his physical space. To give him a big bear hug (a “squeezy hug” he calls them). But he’s much bigger now, it won’t be long before he is taller than I am. He’s too frantic right now for me to move closer. If I try to get in his space right now, too soon, he will panic and bolt.
I concentrate on remembering to breath and I constantly self talk in my brain “He is fine, you are fine, this too shall pass”. I momentarily let myself feel frustration. Not with him but with the fact that had I been with him even twenty minutes earlier I would have seen the signs that his Engine was running high and his brakes were leakier than ever. I would have moved him to an uncrowded, quiet area. Given him a cold drink, encouraged him to do some heavy work (like wall push ups or carrying a stack of books) and averted this complete dysregulation (though I admit I’m not 100% effective). But I wasn’t with him. I couldn’t do that. So I push those thoughts away. I need to be fully present in this moment with him. I need to be alert but calm. Ready to step in as soon as I see a chance to help him regulate.
He starts to dart one way then seems to change his mind but his body hasn’t fully received the message – his legs go in one direction while his upper torso tries to head in another. This results in him falling again, this time all of him hits the pavement hard. This time the pain seems to register but he still jumps up right away, gasping for breath, his face mottled red and white from the exertion.
“I think that one hurt” he yells as he holds his side. He’s not yelling at me, he’s become so dysregulated he cannot control the volume of his voice.
But now I see my chance to step in, to assist in some way. I swiftly but calmly move closer as I say “Ouch, that must have hurt. Let me see”. I look at his side, a definite redness is developing, I rub the spot gently and then pull him in for a hug. I know i am taking a chance, he might be too hot and too “touchy” for me to try to hug. The tightness in my chest lessens for a moment as he relaxes slightly in my arms and says “Big Squeezy Mom” as though he is 4 instead of 12. I position myself, my arms wrapped around his upper torso – I try not to think how hard it is getting to give him the squeezy hugs he needs as he keeps getting bigger and bigger. I entwine my hands and squeeze my arms around him, picking him up off the ground slightly. I’m just about to ask him if he wants more when something catches his eye.
Before we can finish this, this much needed regulating, he has broken free of my arms and is running toward our neighbour. His whole body seems disjointed – his arms flailing and he almost trips over his own feet.
“HEY!!!” my son yells to our unsuspecting neighbour. The man startles, almost drops the shovel he holds in his hands. Then he sees its my son and his face relaxes. Almost as quickly an alarmed look returns to his face as my son barrels toward him with no indication that he is going to stop before crashing into him.
I start to panic, wondering if my son really will inadvertently knock over our elderly neighbour. I know I am too far away to physically stop him and yelling “stop” or “no” might dysregulate him further. Instead I yell (as calmly as I can) “C, freeze!”. Thankfully this old technique that we have not had to use for many years seems to flip the switch in C’s brain and he does indeed come to a full stop, about 6 inches from our neighbours face. Before I have time to reach them or the neighbour has time to recover, C has moved on to the next thing.
“I seeeeeeeeeeee youuuuuuuuuuuuu arrrrrrrrrrrrrrrre shovelling” he struggles to get out, his vocal tic makes him elongate almost every word and in an effort to get the words out he moves his voice up several octaves. The sound, quite honestly, sounds like nails running along a blackboard. Bless this neighbour of ours. He looks at C and flashes a smile and answers “Sure am”.
My son begins to insist that he help him, that our neighbour let him do the last bit. I’m honestly taken aback by C’s offer, it is a very polite and neighbourly thing to do. But the neighbour quickly brushes off his offer as he only has a few more shovels to go and he is done. C, however, is not going to take no for an answer and I can see him digging his heels in. The continue their banter of offer and refusal back and forth. C’s voice is becoming more and more insistent, pressured and loud. He is unrelenting. I grasp at ideas to interject meant to spur C on to coming home with me. He’s having none of it. I see my efforts are only spurring on his intense feelings. He’s now physically trying to grab hold of the shovel. The neighbour is backing up, not giving in and yet beginning to falter as this seemingly polite boy is coming close to crossing the line to rudeness.
I start to feel panic welling in me. My head is pounding – the small headache I had before heading to pick my son up from his short day at school has now blossomed into eye watering pain searing between my temples, making my eyes blurry. I am worried for a moment that I might actually get sick, right there standing on the sidewalk in front of our neighbour (who we rarely have ever seen in our 10 years living here so we are virtual strangers). I am searching my brain, trying desperately to come up with something that will motivate C to abandon his quest to be “a good neighbour” as he keeps repeating to an increasingly distraught man.
Out of the corner of my eye I see snow, large icy chunks strewn across the sidewalk in front of our house. I immediately want to scream. Once again the new snowplow company has succeeded in plowing our already plowed road and covering the newly cleared sidewalk. I want to scream. I so don’t need this right now. I want to sit down on the sidewalk and sob – for the pain in my head, for the pain in my heart, for the frustration and the panic, for the feeling that we just seem to keep doing the same dance over and over.
But I don’t do those things
Instead I take deep breaths and I proclaim “C – look at all Dad’s hard work! Look at what the snow plow did”
It works. He looks at the direction I am pointing and he abruptly ends the discussion with the neighbour and starts stomping off down the road. I flash what I hope is a sincere smile at the neighbour and wish him a good day.
We get to our house. I look at my watch. It has taken us 20 minutes to get home from school. The school is 3 houses away. I just want to go in the house and crawl under the blankets. But instead I instruct C to grab a shovel. We need to get the ice, snow and slush off the sidewalk at our house and our neighbours before it freezes up and becomes impassible for our elderly neighbours and the kids walking to school. I’m also hopeful that the heavy work will help him regulate.
Of course our garage door is broken so I have to dig out my keys, head around the side and get another shovel for myself. By the time I get back C has thrown a ton of snow on the formerly clear road. Snow that the new plow driver will just speed along and throw back across the sidewalk.
I don’t think this time. I just react. I start to yell. C’s face falls – I hadn’t realized how proud he was of his hard work. I feel instantly guilty but before I can apologize he begins to bang his head off the tree. Hard. He knows I am tense and upset. I have just yelled at him. He assumes it is all his fault. I move towards him and put my arm around his shoulder. I pull him close and I say “I’m sorry” and he accepts my apology.
He goes back to shovelling and the fixation and line of questioning from the past few days resurfaces.
“Mom, I need to go to the Dollar Store” “I need you to take me” “If you don’t take me I’m just going to go on the bus” there are no pauses for me to answer. He makes no eye contact. His speech is pressured and brief. Finally he yells “MOM, I NEED to go”. He is visibly shaking now and he’s right beside me. I look up and, even as part of my brain yells “NOOOOOOOOOO” I answer him.
I say “We are not going today”
And he throws his shovel. He swears and approaches me, pursing his lips and preparing to spit. At the last second he turns and runs into the garage door instead. He slams his body hard and he yells “I NEED to GO!!!!”
I know this is the OCD. I know he’s been fixated on the Dollar Store and a certain toy for a few days. I know he truly believes that if he does not go he will not be able to live – that the anxiety and unrest will continue to haunt him. The unrelenting thoughts haunt his every moment. He cannot find joy in his life when he feels so out of control. He talks all day about it, he even talks in his sleep. His anxiety is high and his tolerance low. I know he believes if he goes and gets this toy he will feel better. I know this is not true. I know because we fell for it the first day. And for a short while he felt better. But we are wiser now. We know.
I know this is not his choice. He needs me right now. I just need to get in the house. I need my migraine medication. I need some space and a good cry. But he needs me. He needs me to be calm but I can’t be calm right now. I feel desperate and hopeless. I feel angry and frustrated. Through gritted teeth I say “Get in the house!”, well really it is more of a growl as I stomp my foot and point to the house. He freezes, there is fear in his eyes that I don’t notice at first. I’m too busy trying not to let these strong emotions of despair and anger and frustration completely overwhelm me. I make a move toward him and he jumps forward and runs into the house. I start to cry – relief that he is now in the house, shame that I have acted this way.
When I get in the front door he stands a few feet away, biting his fingers and swaying slightly side to side. He looks at my face and seems to take in the fact that I am crying. He starts to talk, pauses, smacks himself in the head once and then says “I’m sorry. I’m sorry but Iiiiiiiiiiiiii neeeeeeeeeeeeed to gooo to the ssssssssssssttttttttttttooooooorrrrrre”. I feel like someone has punched me. I am crying and he is still asking to go to the store. But before I yell back I catch his eyes. The pain and fear and anguish and guilt – all of it is there in his face. I’ve stopped crying but now I am partly hunched over – my eyes closed, taking deep breaths. Suddenly I feel calmer and I look up at him and I say
“No. I’m sorry. I’m sorry that school is so hard. That the world is so noisy for you. That your brain tells you one thing and your body another. I’m sorry that OCD is trying to trick you and all of us. I’m mad at the OCD but I forgot and I got mad at you. I’m sorry I blamed you. I’m not mad at you.”
He begins to cry, his shoulders releasing some of the tension and he just nods at me.
I sit down on the bench by the door.
He says quietly “Do you need a hug?”
I nod and stand up and he comes and squeezes me tight. I kiss his head as we hug and say “Remember – It’s not you I’m mad at. It’s the OCD”. I feel him nodding his head and he pulls away slightly and says
“and the damn snow plow guy”
Yes. Yes. And the damn snow plow guy.