Susan's Blog

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Breakfast of Champions

A friend and very wise man told me that one key to happiness is very simple: acknowledge when a good thing has happened. If you remember, just last weekend we had a pretty aggravated outburst which was about the order of breakfasts. One thing about Nat is that it is extremely important to him that everyone eat breakfast before engaging in too many other morning activities. Last weekend, we had forgotten to eat breakfast and instead we were all pulling on our snowboots to shovel and play, and Nat completely “lost it” (a remarkably casual and unsatisfying expression for an actually very serious happening. It would be more apt to say that Nat completely dove into it, or chomped it, that kind of thing. Lost it is so offhand, forgettable.).

So there we were with our marked-up hands , sunken hopes and deflated hearts and all other down-and-outs. My entire affect around Nat turned around; suddenly after months and months of relaxed, in-love Mommy, I was the soldier-at-arms, ever-vigilant and timid mother. Shit.

Luckily, the people at Nat’s House have a different perspective. “I can’t promise anything,” Donnie said, “But it will probably be okay if you have enough structure and activities planned for him.” (Donnie may not have said that, but that is what I heard: it will probably be okay, this is a blip, etc. No matter how many of you said this to me, hearing Donnie say it just went right into my brain and made itself comfortable.) So I did plan a lot of stuff.

And just now, I had Nat empty the dishwasher so that I could then reward him with the activity of his choice: listening to his new Tigger CD. I put some grilled cheese in for me, and we went upstairs together and I started fiddling blindly with all the incomprehensible buttons on the boombox (yes, I probably need reading glasses, but, well…) and the music came on, and suddenly Nat was stomping very very loudly out of the room, and Ned was talking quickly in that mounting panicky voice, and Nat reappeared, towering menacingly over me where I sat on the floor, a sitting duck, in front of the stupid stereo. Nat had his forearm hovering in front of his teeth. He saw me looking up at him, with what must have been quite a lot of pleading (but useless, perhaps, in this context) emotion in my face.

But then, the energy slowed down. “Breakfast, breakfast,” Nat was saying. A light went on in my head. Ned’s too: “Just like what happened last week,” he muttered.
“Oh!!! Nat we forgot to give you breakfast!! Oh, come down and have breakfast, Sweetie!” I said, standing up carefully, trying to stay out of the Pinching Zone. Nat’s arm was still spread across his mouth, but no bite had been taken yet. The feel of the interaction had changed markedly; he was staying with it, God bless him, staying with us, fighting the pull towards confusion and rage.

“No breakfast, listen to music.” But he was stomping and stomping and his arm, well … it was in the Biting Zone —
“Nat, it’s okay to come back to your music,” Ned said.
“No come back.”

I went downstairs, and Nat followed me. “What do you want, bacon, bagel, or cereal?” I asked a few times. But Nat was still agitated, stomping, stomping. He ran back upstairs. I decided for him: bacon: the fastest and the favorite. I quickly threw some Oscar Meyers microwave crap (another Key to the Universe, btw), onto a plate, hit 45 seconds, and then called Nat down.

He came running down and slurped up the bacon. “Okay, Nat, now you can go finish your music!”

He ran back upstairs and I fiddled with the stupid, button-filled thing, heart pumping like a rabbit’s, while the stomping around me got more and more frantic. “Music, music,” Nat was saying. I knew what this meant: “Mom, don’t fuck it up by not knowing how to work the damned stereo.” I could feel/imagine the Pinching Zone descending —

“…Tigger, blah blah,” boomed the stereo. Nat stopped stomping. “Mommy will go out,” he said quietly. My breath returned to my body, and soft Mommy ascended once more.

I wanted to cover his face with kisses and dance around but instead I took him by the hands and said clearly and warmly, “Nat, you did such a good job telling us what you needed.” And I went down to eat my stale grilled cheese, which never tasted better.


Such an awesome breakthrough for all of you. Glad Nat could express his needs and you and Ned took care of them. Major kudos.

— added by Niksmom on Saturday, December 27, 2008 at 1:55 pm

Isn’t it weird/funny how such seemingly tiny things that never really register on our radar can set our auties off? I have had so many “duh” moments with my son, it’s ridiculous. In the thick of a meltdown, my brain just goes into panic mode and I don’t think. Afterwards, when discussing it with a therapist, they always manage to point out the trigger and how the meltdown could have been avoided, and it’s always something SO SIMPLE.

Anyway, congrats on the breakthrough.

— added by ASDmomNC on Saturday, December 27, 2008 at 5:10 pm

It’s funny, but I didn’t think of this as a breakthrough. It’s only that after talking to Michael yesterday that it came to me that it occurred to me at just the right moment that I could simply acknowledge the times that Nat does hold it together and the efforts that seem to come naturally to him now. My writing about it makes it into this momentous thing, but it was actually typical of Nat. It’s just that when things get bad, they are so sharply contrastingly bad that I forget the normal, which becomes mundane or even banal.

— added by Susan Senator on Saturday, December 27, 2008 at 5:24 pm

That was so great!! I am so happy for you and I know exactly how it is to feel this way… It’s so interesting to read because it almost echos our life with Meghan, except Meghan insists on Chicken cordon bleu for breakfast…(what the hell kind of fancy school is she at??) No, kidding…our fault because it’s her favorite and she has been so good staying in control–so I know how wonderful it is to see.

— added by Holly Nappi Collins on Saturday, December 27, 2008 at 6:14 pm

“Mommy will go out” because I am a man, not a child who has a mommy, and men need their privacy.

Your eldest son is a man, a man who does not wish to harm those he loves but may not be able to control the pinches, etc. away from professionals who are trained.

“The House” is staffed by people who understand and know how to assist with the demands of hormones and adolescence. Growing up is hard, and it is painful at times. Who among us would wish to relive the tumultuous times of our adolescence? And worse, relive it during early adulthood in front of our families?

You are doing great coping with the changes. You are doing great!


— added by Anonymous on Saturday, December 27, 2008 at 8:21 pm

Thanks for putting this so sensitively. This is, indeed, the hardest thing I have ever yet had to do, to let Nat grow up. My firstborn, and my very needy child — who is a man and who is doing so incredibly well despite any obstacles! Your words make me want to celebrate.

— added by Susan Senator on Saturday, December 27, 2008 at 9:05 pm

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