It was about 10 minutes after my graduation (yay!) and I had just found my little family in the stands at the top of the arena. The other graduates were standing around taking pictures with their loved ones, laughing and holding their gorgeous flowers. It was loud in there, but not nearly as loud as the sound that was about to come out of my son’s mouth. This low, deep, groan that comes from the pit of his gut. I often wonder how it doesn’t hurt his throat. But this is unlike any other groan you have heard, it’s low in pitch/tone, but not low in volume. He digs deep for these sounds, they are meant to be heard.
And everyone around us heard my son.
I’m sure they recognized this sound as the one interrupting the ceremony, and-
I’m getting ahead of myself, lets go back to the beginning.
Rewind a bit to the start of commencement.
Y’see, I scoped the exits upon arrival. “That’s how we’ll escape,” I thought, and I made sure my family sat near them and away from people. I made sure Hammy (my husband) was settled with the kids, gave him the pointers, directed him to the exits, and I made my way to the floor to sit with the rest of my graduating class.
About five minutes into yet another dull speech about pride and how our class will shape the future of this nation, I hear my son. And for some reason I think that muttering to myself instructions for my husband to “walk him around or out the back door” can reach his ears. Let me tell you, it doesn’t. Didn’t stop me though, he was going to hear these whispers from 800 feet away.
Another 10 minutes go by, and this guy is still giving this dry speech when my son starts to get louder, his groans and raspy screams are starting to echo off the walls of the arena. The speaker pauses for a second, and then his voice gets louder in what I can only assume is an attempt to drown out my son. I think to myself, “good luck, even with a mic my son will have you beat.”
Soon I notice my husband walking my son around the top of the arena, and I think, “finally, you listen.” My son is still loud but he’s beginning to calm down. It wasn’t until I actually crossed the stage and took my picture that I realized that I didn’t really know what was going on at my own graduation because I was too busy thinking about how my children were going to respond to the event, and whether my husband could manage.
And this was exactly why I didn’t really want to come to my own graduation. It was to double as a vacation for us because I was graduating in Virginia (we’re from Texas), but I worried about not being able to enjoy ourselves because we would spend much of our time in “prevention and escape” mode.
I decided to take the leap. How else were my children going to learn to interact with the world if I hid them from the world? So here we are, a 21-hour drive from home, in an arena full of strangers, and my son is on the verge of a meltdown. I saw it coming. I knew it was coming, but yet I wanted to take an after-graduation picture like everyone else.
The Meltdown…and my (surprising) reaction.
About four quick, awkward snaps of the camera phone, it happened. Full and total meltdown. Oh, and this was a meltdown from the greatest hits collection. Aidan went all in on this one. Pictures were out of the question now. It was time to make an escape. We were right by the door so we made a quick exit, and I don’t know why I thought that would help, leaving. It never does. You gotta ride the meltdowns out once they happen, y’know? But today of all days I thought changing locations would help. Ha! Okay…
So, once outside I find it’s just as packed with people as it is on the inside. This doesn’t look good for us. Aidan is still going strong. Honestly, if he could hold a tune I’d put him on ‘The Voice’, boy has some pipes. Here comes the stares, the comments, the judgment. And for the first time ever, I realized that I didn’t really care. I just didn’t.
I know that I always talk about not caring about other’s comments or reactions, and I like to think that I was living the life that I was preaching, but deep down…I cared. I often felt the embarrassment, the anxiousness, the anger of the situation. But on this day, I realized I didn’t really give a damn. And my kid was giving an Oscar-worthy performance. He was loud, big tears, big gestures, biting his arm, hitting his head, all of it. And I was kinda like, “meh.” Not to his obvious signs of discomfort, but to how others chose to respond to my child having a difficult time.
I’m in my dress, cap and gown, and I’m catching eyes left and right and I don’t care as much as I felt I would have. I bent down in my gown and dress I will probably never wear again and I held a conversation with my child who at the moment probably didn’t care. I told him, “Aidan, I know you are having a rough time and I will wait with you until it passes, and as soon as it does, I will work very hard to figure out what went wrong and what I could do to make it better in the future.” I don’t know for sure if he understands every word I am saying, but I always assume he does. I’ll repeat this or some variation of this several times throughout the meltdown, while standing as close to him as he would allow. I don’t physically handle him unless he is hurting himself, which in this instance he was. I hold his hands for about five seconds, then I let go. If he goes back to doing it, I will hold his hands again, then let go. And repeat if necessary. He will usually stop hurting himself before the meltdown actually ends.
He took about 15 minutes to calm down, which isn’t a lot compared to some of his other meltdowns, but this one was a large one. I think every pair of eyes was on us, but I didn’t give a damn. Was I embarrassed? Meh, yeah, I think (I don’t really think I was as embarrassed as I had been in the past), but I thought about how Aidan was feeling. And when you get passed the whole “I’m having a bad time” bit and focus more on “my child is having a tough time” you can let most shit go, including the stares from judgmental strangers. This isn’t to say that your feelings aren’t valid, I’m the biggest proponent of owning your own emotions, but do what you can to help your child get back to their version of “normal.” This helps me. Focusing on my children over myself. I’ll have a breakdown in the bathroom after they fall asleep or something. Or I won’t.
We all feel it.
We have all felt the stares, heard the comments, the pangs of embarrassment and anxiety when our child has a meltdown in public. That feeling of helplessness is like no other. You finally get home and you swear off going out again. And you don’t. For days. Then weeks. You don’t go to the park, you don’t go out to eat, forget about the zoo.
You begin to question your ability as a parent. You have pre-planned everything, you found all the exits, you have all their favorite items, you went at the right times, you chose an event that was tolerable…and yet, they still had a colossal meltdown. You’re never going out again. You feel awful for feeling this way. You thought you were stronger than this.
And you are. Your child is going to meltdown. And you’re going to survive. They’re going to embarrass you, cause you grief, and do a number on your anxiety. And guess what? You’re going to survive that too. What you’re not going to make it through is waking up one day and realizing that you hadn’t actually lived.
You owe it to your children to give them the opportunity to experience the world. They won’t know how to live in it if they don’t get out in it. The general public will be alright, as you and your child have every right to be where you are. I’m not saying you don’t have a right to feel embarrassed or anxious. I am saying, shelve it for the time being, focus on your child and when the time comes (you’ll know when), feel it all. Feel every bit of it, you’re human, you have feelings.
You might have to leave wherever you are when a meltdown occurs, but come back out. It might not be the same day, or the next one, but come back out. Take a pause for a few, but get back out there. Try again.
Living a life of fear isn’t really living, it’s existing and you owe it to your children (and yourself) to at least try…and then keep trying.