It’s almost midnight but I had to write tonight because I’m out of chocolate. I am out of chocolate and today was one horrible, emotional mess that has left me out of sorts. After two days of travel, we are finally with my family in northern Florida. But there were problems on this trip and it was so much more than I’d expected.
We were flying somewhere over the midwest when Mr. Big was trying to eat a snack and didn’t have enough room to lay it all out in front of him. (Can we just take a moment to remember the days of roomy plane seats?!) So he put half of it on his tray and half on his lap which made an unholy mess. Grandma, sitting next to him, scolded him mildly, but it instantly sent my from kid from sweet angel to nightmare demon. This isn’t an unusual response for him, but it’s more typically seen when he’s tired or hungry. Somewhere in the last year, though, Big has developed a hair trigger response to anyone who gets angry or frustrated with him. He yelled and kicked and screamed. Then, when we thought he had calmed down, he slapped a full cup of coffee out of my hands and onto the stranger across the aisle.
Up until then I had kept my emotions collected because Big had only lashed out at me and his grandmother. We’re pretty tough and we know that he isn’t a defiant child, just one with challenges. But now his actions impacted others and I was mortified. I looked at my beautiful, sweet boy and for the first time my view of him changed. I saw the label that he was given by his therapist just days prior to the trip and it made me ache for the normal him he’ll never be. I saw the explanations and apologies for future outbursts that would become the new standard in our interactions with others. In that moment, as I tried to force back looming tears, a flight attendant came over and asked what happened. It turns out that saying the word ‘Asperger’s’ in public with a stranger I wasn’t sure I could trust broke down what little defenses remained.
I cried as I crouched in the aisle while mopping up my son’s mess. When Big saw my tears he immediately transformed back into my sweet boy who, as if a spell had been broken, saw the results of his actions and started crying too. Here I was stuck thirty-thousand feet and 2000 miles from where I was trying to go with a child who needed a place to cool off and mom who just needed a break. The amazing flight attendants on Alaska Airlines came to our rescue. Someone should make them all capes because their response was to immediately offer me wine and the jump seat at the front of the plane. I politely refused the wine … but only because they didn’t have a cup with a lid! Instead, we took the seat so that I could hug my son and have a moments breath.
When Big’s therapist first brought up the idea that he had a developmental delay I was startled; I don’t have other children to compare him to. He was also four when it was first mentioned and his differences were harder to see. Now that his classmates have surpassed him in certain behavioral areas, it’s more clear that the therapist is correct. The three of us will work together over the next few years to help Big understand social norms and coping mechanisms for when he gets angry. He may not readily navigate these rules today, but he’s so smart that I know he’ll figure it out.
Perhaps what I mourned in that moment of sadness was not a normal child, but a normal childhood for my son. I suspect that all mothers hope our kids grow up happy and carefree. Heartache and challenges should come with adulthood; youth should be whimsical and full of peace. I will have to do my best to give my son those precious, untroubled moments and hope that in the end, the times of joy outweigh the times of sorrow.