Georgia’s 13 now. That means she has the raging crazy hormones and innate quest for independence from her mother that most kids her age have, contrasted with a developmental age and capacity for rational thought somewhere, well, less than 13.
She’s also a stubborn and incredibly focused person at times. She has a talent for perseverance and a breathtaking capacity for repetition – all part of her autism. And well, she’s tenacious. Very. In fact, Georgia is really what tenacity wants to be when tenacity grows up, as they say.
This weekend Georgia had a few not great days. Well, I’ll be honest; we had a few not great days together. That mellow baby I’ve told you about has the capacity to get really quite upset, be angry, frustrated and insistent now that she’s figured out that she actually wants things. With the increase in her ability to communicate has also come an increased ability to know who to ask for things and to articulate just what she wants (and even more often, what she doesn’t want). Her increased capacity for emotion, expression and desire are all good things. They are skills and attributes I want her to have. But it also means we encounter what I will diplomatically call “roadblocks” some days.
Usually a roadblock happens when Georgia gets something very random in her head that she wants and it simply isn’t possible. Examples? When she insists she must go to the daycare she is now five years too old to attend. Or insists on having Christmas in July. Or when she wants to sleep over at her uncle’s house “today!” who happens to be on vacation for two weeks. Or when she insists we leave for summer vacation “right now” in November or that we must have sushi for every meal.
There are days that Georgia asks to go to the park. Sometimes these are warm summer days with nothing to do but hang at the park. Sometimes, however, these are busy frozen wintry days with 2 feet of snow on the ground – weather that Georgia actually really dislikes, but she doesn’t understand that it isn’t always “sunny and warm and full of kids playing” at the park. So while she really does seem to want to go to the park, I know that she’d last about a full 20 seconds perhaps before she’d be, “It’s so cold! I don’t like the park! Ugh!!” And some days, we simply can’t go to the park. On such days, no matter how we tell her that the park is not a good option, it doesn’t make a difference and the asking turns to insistence, which quickly becomes anger and frustration.
She’s very good, and can average an “ask” about every 1.48 seconds and efficiently turn up both the volume and whininess of the request with each “ask”. We start with the friendly responses, “Oh heavens, darling, it’s too cold for swings today!” or “There’s no kids there today! That’s no fun at all!” but these quickly get replaced with the close-ended options: “It is closed. The park is closed. Closed.” or “No one is allowed to go to the park today.” (Her typical response would be to ask if the police said so, and we might just be desperate enough to claim that, yes, the police have banned park use today). By the 480th time asking, and the 480th time responding, we do that thing that parents do. We become the junior psychologists, the very above-it-all, this-won’t-work-on-me parents: “Let’s just ignore the requests and not give her attention for that.” Very successful strategy for some kids, I’m sure. Not this one. She is impossible to distract – which is amazing as she is such a highly distractible kid in other ways.
Her next strategy (and this one is truly the best) is to vehemently claim, “I. Want. The. Park. I. NEEEEEED. The. Park.” Add to each syllable an emotional Tarzan-like fist thump to the chest and you’ve got it. At the end, insert a heartfelt, “I’m soooo disappointed!” Make that a full and richly repetitive afternoon and you’re headed to the bottle of Advil by, oh, about 4:30 pm.
It’s odd. Georgia is, on one hand, so easy going and not a kid who is neither “spoiled” nor prone to tantrums. Yet there are those days when she gets often VERY random things into her head, hijacking her attention, and it will take a full waking day to discuss, argue, cajole, wrangle, empathize, and work through it, at the end of which everyone is utterly exhausted and you realize you haven’t had time to enjoy anything at all about your day.
Picture trying to discuss whether or not the ball in play was knocked out of bounds with a referee who is not only arguing the ball was in, but who has also been wearing a blindfold for the entire play. The blindfolded referee is keen to make his point, but you know he can’t really see what’s going on. He’s arguing with you because he thinks he’s supposed to, to establish himself as right rather than take off the blindfold to see what’s really happening. For me, at times like this, Georgia’s autism is, in a sense, like a blindfold she didn’t put on and one that she can’t take off. And while I rationally understand that, in the moment, I feel as angry and frustrated as any parent with a whiny kid who won’t stop and who won’t listen. And often I am baffled. I use up all my strategies quickly. You may be familiar with some of them – reverse psychology , ignoring, being super extra stern, giving a time-out, ending the time-out, offering a super nice alternative, attempting to distract and even avoiding triggers (“Let’s just decide to never drive by a park ever again. That’ll work.”). We often resort to the old favourite: “I’m counting to three…and then…!”(Just imagine all the things that may happen after 3). This method is a timeworn desperation tool of all parents, and based on the fact that most kids have wild imaginations and can picture a potentially very scary world “after 3”. The reality is I can count to 2876, but she’ll still be insisting on whatever it is that has hijacked her attention.
Smart people who I love and respect offer me lots of advice. A very common one is “You just can’t let it get to you” along with “You can’t react to it.” Um, okay. I’m fairly smart but don’t really get the “not letting it get to me” part. It gets to me. It really does. I want my kid to be happy and I want to be a good mom. These kinds of days make me feel like I’m not achieving either goal. Not reacting to it is not an option, when a small person is following you throughout the house tapping you on the shoulder, collapsing in disappointment, whining, sniffling, sitting on your lap and insisting “But I want Christmas TODAY! I NEEEEEED my Christmas!” (Insert Tarzan chest-thumps). Other advice is to set rules, like, “We don’t yell in our house. That’s the rule.” We’re working on it, but that’s a tough one too. And, oh yeah, sometimes I end up yelling which technically is breaking the stupid rule. *sigh* Perhaps I just need to just learn how to serve sushi for every meal, pull off Christmas in July and arrange my summer vacations for November. Come to think of it…