We started out by not rushing the morning. The birthday party wasn’t until 2:30 pm so we had the luxury of taking our time. The kids slept until they woke up naturally and then ate a leisurely breakfast. They even had free time to play before we dressed and left the house. I got to drink a cup of coffee and watch the news. It was a great morning.
Luke, my 8-year-old son with ADHD, had been taking a lower dose of Concerta while home from school all week due to snow days. He was full of energy and eating well again. The lower dose was really agreeing with him, and with the family. He was oozing personality and we found him choosing to spend more time with hands-on activities like building Legos or creating with modeling clay, rather than on an endless parade of screen time. He was even super witty and more articulate, surprising us with some pretty big words on a daily basis. I was happy, and so was he. The entire family was at peace.
We headed out of the house around 11:30 am and headed to the deli for some lunch. Luke and Emma shared chili-cheese nachos and both ate well. I only had to remind him to eat a time or two (instead of every 30 seconds). He was distracted by a table full of tiny cheerleaders any boy would have been distracted by! We even ran into Luke’s first grade teacher he hadn’t seen in a while. It was nice.
From there we visited our favorite store — Target. The kids had two weeks’ of allowance burning a hole in their pockets. They got to choose something to purchase and we picked up our usual household items. Again, no arguing, no disappointment, a positive retail experience.
Chuck E. Cheese was loud, crowded and overwhelming, but I expected that. I wasn’t sure how the party would go for Luke since he was on a lower dose of medication. This venue can typically be a bit agitating for him. I had determined that the lower dosage was great for home, but wasn’t confident it would be enough of a help in an over-stimulating environment like this.
Boy was I wrong! He was a perfect gentleman — he exercised supreme patience and restraint almost throughout. He waited for all the kids to show up before playing video games and he even stayed at the table while the other little boy (the only other boy) ate his pizza, so they could play together. Toward the end of the two hours, he began to get a bit frazzled and didn’t want to stop playing to watch his cousin open presents. Daddy and I insisted that he do it. He spoke to us in an angry tone and kept asking how much longer, but he didn’t melt down. It was a pleasant and successful afternoon.
On the way out, Luke exchanged the tickets he’d won playing games for trinkets. He chose only one piece of candy. I’ve always felt there can be exceptions to the food rules from time to time, so I allowed it.
We decided we wanted to eat out for dinner but it was too early yet. I’ve wanted to start popping into the Goodwill store on occasion to see if I can pick up some furniture and picture frames to paint. This is what we decided to do to fill the time between the party and dinner. Luke ate his candy, a red AirHeads chew, on the way to the store. Emma also shared a pack of red and blue Pop Rocks with him.
The first Goodwill store was fairly orderly. We went quickly to the furniture section and then left within 15 minutes. The second Goodwill store was larger. With one foot in the door you enter a maze of shelves and shelves of trinkets, glassware, and, for lack of a better descriptor, junk. The shelves are complete chaos and it’s overwhelming.
Emma wanted to look for a book so we headed for the bookshelves. I told them they could each choose a book or two but that we wouldn’t purchase anything else. Luke chose two but Emma didn’t find anything age-appropriate. I looked over the furniture real quick and then was ready to head out. But we wandered the aisles waiting for Daddy to return from the restroom. Luke began to find items he felt very passionate about taking home. Each one was a remote-control car without the remote. I explained that they were essentially broken without the remote.
“But is only a DOLLAR!”
“I can push it on the floor.”
“Look! The wheels still turn. It rolls!”
“No Luke. I explained to you when we came into the store that I would buy books but nothing else here. You just got toys at Target with your allowance. Those toys aren’t broken.”
He screams a fierce groan and the books hit the floor with force. “I don’t want these books!” There’s no longer any restraint in his tone or volume. People near us are pretending to look at merchandise but their eyes and ears can’t help but join our escalating dilemma.
Daddy’s back with us and it’s time to leave.
“Luke, it’s time to leave. I am happy to buy the books for you or you can choose to leave without them. We need to get in line to pay if you’d like to buy the books.”
“I don’t want those stupid books! I want a car!”
“That’s your choice,” I remind him, my voice still calm, unwavering. “Let’s return the books to the shelf where you found them so we can go.”
“NO! I’m not leaving! I’m not leaving unless you buy me that car!”
At this point, Daddy grabbed the books out of Luke’s hands and returned them to the shelf. He came back around the corner to the tight aisle where Luke had planted himself between the two cars he would gladly take home. “We’re leaving now,” Daddy said sternly and he headed for the exit.
I began to follow and found my load much heavier as Luke began to pull backwards on my coat tail, screaming in defiance.
“I want the books!”
“I want the books!”
“I want the books!”
I was able to pull enough to get outside but we were standing smack in front of the automatic doors, held open like a stage curtain for our entire Goodwill audience.
I continued to try to reason with him, explaining that his opportunity to have the books had passed, but he had already crossed the line into full-blown meltdown. There wasn’t any stopping this train now. We had to ride it to the end of the line.
I headed for the car and asked Luke to follow me. He grabbed my purse and leaned in the opposite direction with his full body. As he leaned back, his feet became entangled with mine and we began to succumb to imbalance and gravity. I am not sure how we didn’t topple to the pavement but I managed to regain physical composure. No luck with emotional composure though — anger set it.
I had been able to keep calm and remain rational up to this point. I knew that his behavior was not within his control, that he was hyperfocused on those junk cars and he just doesn’t possess the neurological skills to snap out of it and move on. But now he almost caused physical harm to the both of us, a reality I wasn’t going to accept. I grabbed his arm and physically escorted him to the car. Daddy and Emma had been inside for several minutes now.
Luke and I stood behind the car as I tried to talk him down before we got in together. He was now punching me in the stomach and repeating, “I want the books!” over and over. Tears were pouring down his face.
“I know you want the books Buddy. I wanted you to have those books too. But I can’t buy those books for you when you were so ugly to momma. I know you understand that.”
I began begging him to let me hold him and give him a big squeeze. So often proprioceptive input from a big squeeze is enough sensory input to make him feel more comfortable and safe and help him calm down. We were way past that point though and he refused all my advances, repeatedly swatting down my outstretched arms.
Daddy emerged from the car trying to use force to end the madness. I asked him to let me handle it, reminding him that I can more easily remain calm.
“He’s not going to hit you and scream at you like that. I’m not having it. We need to go.”
Daddy always chooses flight in a fight-or-flight situation. Always. That’s just his reaction. Interestingly though, fleeing would end the public humiliation but would not take him away from the problem, the rapid and disturbing melt.
He grabbed Luke’s arms and lifted him into the car. Luke stretched his arms and legs out in all directions as far as he could to try to prevent it, but Daddy got him in the car. It angered me. I didn’t appreciate the physicality of his response.
I got in the front seat and sat silently.
Luke began to kick the back of Daddy’s seat with great force, all the while crying and repeating, “I want the books. I want the books. I want the books.” On the third iteration he would scream it from way down in his throat at the highest pitch he could reach. It was like his brain was a CD stuck in a scratch, repeating the same small section of recording again, and again, and again.
Emma sat next to him in a panic. She tried to offer him everything she owned to distract him. We asked her not to interfere. We weren’t going to reward his behavior, nor allow her to.
Daddy demanded Luke buckle so we could go.
Daddy told him he can choose to be safe or not but he was going.
Emma began to scream. “No Daddy! Buckle Luke! You have to be safe. Buckle!” She reached across him to buckle his seatbelt but he wiggled and swatted at her to prevent it. She began writhing and screaming and crying. She was entering panic attack and about to melt too.
I reminded Daddy that we didn’t have anywhere to be and we just needed to wait it out. I pointed out the looping of his rant and that he obviously wasn’t in control. This was no longer a fit to get what he wanted. It hadn’t been for a long while now.
We only sat for a minute or two more before Luke’s behavior started to slowly key down. I offered him a snack and he accepted. He was thinking of something else, a clear sign he had come out of the fog. Luke buckled as Daddy retrieved the snack from the trunk. Once we were all settled and ready to go, I grabbed Daddy’s hand and squeezed it. I looked up to find tears dripping from his cheeks. Then mine followed.
Luke had melted so completely — his emotions, and all of ours, reduced to a puddle on the floor.