Keep Calm and Carry On

I have a son who turns into a feral animal circa 7:00 PM daily. He loses all rational speech. His eyes  start rolling around like a spooked horse.

He becomes so wound up and freaked out and irrational that only the following things work: quietly coaxing him to come down off the six-foot fence bordering the neighbors’ yard, picking up all 55 lbs of him and carrying him whimpering and whining upstairs like an oversized baby, humming children’s hymns to him as he alternately looks warily at you and fights closing his heavy-lidded eyes—essentially, being the sea of calm against his flash-flooding thunderstorm.

It’s the only way to reap positive change with my children: keeping calm and neutral.

It’s not something I’m very good at either. You fall on the floor and have a screaming tantrum, I want to scream right back at you. Start running around bellowing in the produce section at the grocery store because you didn’t get to buy popsicles and I really want to subdue you with a few well-chosen martial arts moves, glaring at you archly as I hold my foot on your neck.

But I don’t. Seriously, I don’t even know any martial arts moves.

I have a hunch that I am not the only person whose natural, instinctual response to complete shrieking lunacy is to want to scream right back. Preferably while clawing someone’s eyes out or throwing a bunch of rapid-fire punches. But someone has to be the grown-up in a scenario where people and things are falling completely apart.

I attended a special-needs conference years back when I was desperately trying to get my footing in this new deluge of parenting a child with disabilities. In one class, the presenter asked us what we wanted to see, behavior wise, from our kids. I raised my hand and said, “I want to take my children to Target for twenty minutes and not look like a circus freak show.”

You know what the presenter, a smart and experienced behavior therapist, said I should do? She told me to pack up my kids and get us hence to Target, and to remove all emotion from the experience.

She urged me to prepare myself for such an outing by accepting that I might leave the store without a single thing that I needed on my list; that the entire shopping trip could feasibly involve nothing save me not caring if the whole thing blew up and we aborted the mission.

It seems sort of counterintuitive to plan an outing with the express purpose of not caring if the outing completely fails. But I can attest that it is the only way to function, at least if you have kids who fall outside of ordinary.

You just can’t care if it all goes up in smoke. Shrug it off and say, “Oh well. We tried. Maybe next time will be better.”

It seems really ironic and funny to me that in order to help one’s beloved children through situations where they are completely overwrought, one must convey essentially no emotion.

Except, of course, love.

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