It happens every holidays. The excited mothers who are thrilled that their children are off school for a few weeks. They speak in anticipation of sleep-ins, lazy days, relaxing and recuperating combined with the grand plans of outings and day trips and possibly catching up with friends.
I listen to their exclamations of joy and feel like a real cad because if I were to be completely honest – I’d have to admit that I HATE school holidays with a passion.
And yes, hate is a strong word.
I hate that I have full days of fighting children instead of only a few hours in the evenings. I hate that my children whine and complain the entire time that they’re bored regardless of the activities I have provided them with, and I hate that more often than not, I end up housebound because taking them out causes too much stress for all of us.
I will admit that the first week of any holiday break is always the worst because it’s then that the boys are trying to make the transition from the routine and structure of school to the more relaxed easy-going (somewhat structureless) holidays.
The first week is also the time that I start to notice my own mental state shift. And this is largely because I am usually more on-edge and anxious as I try to foresee and predict meltdown triggers and step in and stop them before they occur. I am constantly aware that I need to stay one step ahead of them in everything and that the prospect of just ‘taking each day as it comes’ is something that I just don’t have the luxury of indulging in.
Holidays don’t have anything relaxing about them because they are always chaotic, stressful and loud.
Oh my goodness they’re loud!!
Having said all that, I missed the boat completely with Harley on Sunday with him having the worst meltdown I have EVER seen to date. Clearly I missed all of the warning signs.
At the moment, the children, Mum and I are staying in a holiday house on the NSW central coast and on Sunday, we decided to walk up to the shopping strip nearby and get some essentials because it would be quicker than finding a car park. But for some reason, Harley thought that we would be driving up and threw a fit when he discovered that we were walking.
He stomped along behind us dragging his feet on the footpath and screaming at intervals that it ‘wasn’t fair’, that he was ‘tired’ and that he wanted to go home. We ignored him and continued walking refusing to let him ruin our plans because we felt that we weren’t expecting too much from him.
We reached the end of the street and Harley calmed down enough to cross the road and we thought we’d be ok after that so we took our chances and went into a nearby cofee shop to grab a quick coffee before shopping. Harley just reacted by sulking and being generally cantankerous.
As we drank our coffee, he continued to growl at us and threw his food straight at Mum so I told him that his behaviour was disgusting and that we weren’t going to put up with it. He was told to change his attitude or there would be no beach that afternoon. After we finished our coffee, we headed toward the supermarket and that was the exact moment when Harley turned it up a notch. In a matter of minutes, we were thrust into the middle of a full-blown mammoth sized meltdown and there was no escape.
He screamed his lungs out and threw himself down on the footpath with arms and legs flailing furiously. People stopped and stared and when I tried to pick him up but he may as well have had concrete in his boots because he was literally anchored to the ground and I couldn’t budge him.
I tried to talk to him but he just screamed louder. I tried a second time to pick him up and I did manage to carry him for a few steps, but I was kicked and punched so hard that I had to put him down again and I waved the white flag of surrender. So instead, I sat on the edge of a shop window and pulled him between my legs with my arms wrapped tightly around him whilst saying: “Shh, it’s ok, it’s ok, Mummy’s here” while stroking his head as he kicked and thrashed.
At the time, I truly believed that what we were witnessing was a tantrum rather than a meltdown, but the proud part of me didn’t want to look like a bad mother to passers by so I took the ‘calming a meltdown’ approach instead. I did this because I realised that his fit looked like something a 2 year old toddler would throw not something you’d expect from a 9 1/2 year old child. And when Harley gets angry – he becomes super-humanly strong and when he’s not coping…even more so.
Mum was unable to move him either so we had no choice but to send Ella to the supermarket to get a trolley and bring it to us. Together we lifted Harley by the arms and legs and placed him in the trolley while he continued to jump and scream and thrash violently ducking the punches as they flew at our heads.
I walked around the supermarket grabbing only the absolutely essential items so we could get out quickly, while Mum waited with him in the trolley at the front of the store. He was so loud that he could be heard no matter what aisle I had walked down because he was screaming at full volume. I put my head down and refused to look at anyone. I was embarrassed, angry and exhausted.
About ten minutes later, I noticed that the screaming had subsided and headed back towards the checkouts and saw Mum talking to another woman who Mum later told me had recognized that it was autism.
In fact, Mum told me that FIVE different people had also approached her saying that they understood because they had a child/grandchild/relative who also lived with exactly what they were witnessing in Harley and that they understood our exhaustion and mental drain.
No judgment, no unsolicited advice..just pure understanding and support.
She (and I) were absolutely blown away!
It’s now been a few days since that episode and I’ve had time to reflect and chat with Harley because I really wanted to get to the bottom of this and discover what actually went wrong. I simply don’t ever want another episode like this. Talking to him was surprising and very eye-opening.
And this is where I find the autistic mind both fascinating and frustrating. This whole event came down to a simple misunderstanding and a hiccup between what we communicated to Harley and what he understood.
Firstly, he had already prepared himself for a car ride which didn’t eventuate, then we added in a quick coffee stop and thirdly, he didn’t have a film strip in his head of what the shops looked like because he hadn’t been there before. Most children are equipped with the emotional maturity to cope with change and adapt to new situations with ease. But Harley – feeling out of his depth , completely freaked out.
But don’t get me wrong here, I don’t excuse his shocking behaviour at all.
Throwing food back at Mum, stomping, screaming and the physical abuse are all extremely inappropriate. But all that I can think to say right now in my resigned, tired voice is : ‘Welcome to our autism’ .
I am struggling to teach this child anger management and self control and how to cope in different situations because I’m just too exhausted anymore. I am counting the days until his next psychologist appointment because I’ve been dealing with this for far too long now.
I wish I could enjoy having my children home without spending most of the time in tears. I want to love the school holidays as much as everyone else. But I don’t.
Not even close.