It was such a beautiful sight. I almost took a picture, and would have, if it would have not been in church, or rather in the church toy room. This is where we sit with Michael now during mass, as he can play and move around freely, without the constraints of the pew or the demands of Sunday school. Like everything lately, church is too much. Following rules, sitting still, anything that requires him relinquishing some control are intolerable. He wants to go, be a part of it, but it’s too long, there’s work and he’s overwhelmed. I was amazed as I watched him set a up a game of school with each of his three figurines on a chair, (a Disney villain figurine, Elmo and Gilbert the cat) facing a little toy table and desk where he sat as a teacher recreating the whole school day. Here he was in charge, made the rules, and felt in control. He played the role and the game so calmly and beautifully, but I knew he was far from calm. Watching him closely at church yesterday morning, I saw the volcano building under the surface, yet here he was doing appropriate play at the same time. A little girl came in the room halfway through the mass and moved his toys and began to color. Michael took this very well. She shared her crayons and markers. They began to color together and talk. It was beautiful to watch. It was a perfect moment in an imperfect morning, but I kept waiting for the emotions to come out. They did. Right at the final prayer Michael started picking his nose. I told him to stop. He did, but then started uttering statements that he knew would get a rise out of me.
“I want God to die!” He shouted.
I’m sure he’d been holding back all his frustrations, and when I told him what to do, whammo! He hit me where he knew it would hurt, my social embarassment at not being able to control my child. I was feeling powerless too, and have been since his anxiety has grown bigger than what I could handle. We exited very tensely and after had a big fight.
Afterwards, as I sat alone after crying and collected my thoughts, I realized, Michael is just like I was at that age. I was so full of anxiety, the need to control things, but being a girl and neuro-typical, it manifested in other ways. I cried a lot when things didn’t go my way, and I had terrible self-esteem. The last point particularly hit me, as our Psycho Educator said to me that she suspects Michael’s self-esteem is very low, hence his ability to handle frustration is limited. Watching him lose control and then me lose control brought me back to my childhood. My mother couldn’t figure out at first how to help me, and she’d lose patience when I would be whining and I could see her struggling how to help me. She didn’t know either. Only time and maturity on both our parts helped. Now I was the Mom at a loss too. My heart broke for Michael, and my anger remained only at myself. How could I handle my own feelings better and not take the bait? It was hard to be sure, and, after all, I am only human. As an Exceptional Parent, I still have a lot to learn. I made my way to the library where I took out a slew of books on anxiety and children as well as on Asperger syndrome and anxiety. This would become part of my arsenal, along with the Psycho Educator and school psychologist’s suggestions for helping Michael.
Even when he is not trying to help me, and actually working against me, I now see how Michael is still opening up my eyes to how to help him, as well as help myself. I can’t enlighten him, if I don’t connect the dots in my own journey with anxiety, anger and depression. I have lots of anger issues I am working through and am glad for it. Anger is at the root of Michael’s problems, as they used to be at mine. And what is anger, after all, but loss of control over emotions because self-esteem is not in place or strong. When the self is strong, we can handle a lot. I will look closely at the tools in these books for both of us.
Exceptional Moms, do you automatically look behind the behaviors and anger of your Exceptional Children when they seek a reaction? It’s hard to do. And many of us fail from time to time. That’s ok. You can share with your child that you’re not perfect, but that, like them, you are working on becoming stronger and there’s no shame in expressing emotions. It’s when we hold them back that we get in trouble. Until next time.