Full Circle

This week, both of my kids are spending their mornings at cooking camp offered by a local cooking school. It’s actually the second time this summer that my daughter has been at the camp. She did a week early in the summer and loved it so much she asked to do another week.

Toward the end of that first week, my son was with me when I dropped his sister off. Normally he opts to stay in the car when I walk her in someplace, but on this particular morning he got out of the car and said he wanted to see what the school looked like on the inside. When we walked into the school, the “head chef” of the camp greeted us and engaged my son in a conversation. She asked why he wasn’t at camp with his sister, talked to him about his favorite foods, and encouraged him to think about joining the camp another time. I remember thinking how nice it was to see him interacting with a new-to-him person in a new-to-him place, but didn’t think the conversation would have a lasting impact.

I was wrong.

Later that day, I was on the cooking school website trying to figure out if there was another week ,with spots available in camp, that would work for my daughter. When I mentioned to my daughter that I found another week she could attend, my son quickly chimed in and asked if he could attend the camp as well.  I was surprised and must have asked him half a dozen times if he truly was serious. He was. “The teacher was really nice. I think it will be fun,” he said.

Fast forward about a month to this past Monday. As we pulled into the parking lot of the cooking school, my daughter asked my son if he was excited. He responded by asking if the teacher would be the same, “Because I really liked her.” I told him that as far as I knew, the teacher would be the same.

I was wrong.

We walked into the school, and as I was signing the kids in, we were greeted by a “head chef” who was not the woman my son had found to be so nice. I looked around and did not see the chef from earlier in the summer. I looked at my son and saw panic in his eyes. As I decided how to respond – or not – to the unasked questions I saw on his face, my daughter took control.

“Come with me,” she said to him, “Let’s get our aprons and find a spot at the table.” So he did. Aprons on, they went to the table and looked for their assigned spots. I watched from a distance as fresh panic appeared on my son’s face when he realized that his assigned spot was several kids away from his sister’s assigned spot. I watched as my daughter took my son’s hand, looked him in the eye and told him, “Don’t worry. We’ll get it changed.”

I approached the new teacher, and asked if it would be possible to have my kids next to each other. She responded that they had found it was better to have siblings separated. I told her that in general, I could see how that would be the case, but in this specific case – in the case of my son who is an Aspie and struggles with anxiety and panic – it would be best for everybody for my kids to be next to one another. I watched as the expression on the teacher’s face morphed from one of a person in charge explaining something to a meddling parent, to one of a person in charge who suddenly had dozens of questions about one of the kids in her care (but that is not the point of the story).

About that time, my daughter came over to join us. She said, “He needs me. I need to be able to help him if he gets upset.” With not another question, the teacher rearranged the seats so that my kids were together.

As I drove away that morning, I remembered another first day drop off at another camp several years ago. The first summer both kids were old enough to attend morning camps for preschoolers at our YMCA (they would have been 3 and 4 years old that summer), I registered them both for two consecutive weeks. The first week the drop off went smoothly – they were excited to be doing something together and the YMCA was familiar to them both. The second week, the drop off was rough. The counselors from the first week, were not the same as the counselors on the second week. My daughter had developed an adoring attachment to one of the counselors from the first week, and when she discovered that person was not there on the second week she melted down in a way that only disappointed 3 year olds can melt down. She was inconsolable. She was never a kid who clung to my legs at drop offs, but that morning she clung to both of my legs as she sobbed and asked to leave.

That morning so many years ago, it was my son who held out his hand and said to my daughter “Don’t worry. I’m here. We can be together.” And I watched the fear disappear from her little face as she took his hand. Just like on the morning this week when I watched the fear disappear from his face as he realized she was by his side.

Full circle.

And as I have been writing this post, I have had flashing through my mind a slideshow of images over the years like this one…

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They may not always agree, and they certainly do not always get along. But they always take care of each other….through the real, raw, broken and beautiful parts of life.

A Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words…

We are in the swift downhill race to the end of elementary school for my son. Every single day there is some celebration marking the end of the class of 2017’s time at the school. 

Today that celebration was an awards ceremony honoring academic achievement. My smarty pants, loves school, never met a book he didn’t like kid went into the morning knowing he would receive an award and was eagerly excited when he woke up this morning. 

Even with that excitement, the actual act of sitting in a cafeteria full of other kids and parents was hard for him. He is doing so much better at keeping his anxiety in check, but crowds, noise, anticipation and that cafeteria all remain individual triggers. Put together, he could have been sitting in the middde of a perfect storm. At this exact awards ceremony last year, he could not even enter the cafeteria – he listened from outside the doors. 

But today he managed to get a win over his triggers and demons. Today he sat in the midst of the other kids, cheered his friends and classmates on as a couple dozen awards were given out before his name was even called, and walked proudly and confidently up to the stage when his own name was called as a recipient of the President’s Award for Outstanding Academic Excellence. In other words – he rocked it!

I took gobs of pictures during and after the ceremony. Some show him solemnly examining his award, some show him beaming with pride, one shows him with his amazingly kind and wonderful teacher, and a couple even show him goofing off with friends. But this picture is the one I know I’ll treasure most over time. 

This picture of his back (and the back of his sister’s head) tells the part of the story I think matters most. The story isn’t that he’s an excellent student with a crazy smart brain. That’s amazing, and we’re super proud of his academic achievements, but it’s not what really matters here. What matters here is the fact that he is in the room. We could tell he was about to burst out of his skin at several points during the ceremony, but he didn’t give in. He fought through the anxiety and was a true participant in a huge personal milestone moment. From our seats in the chairs behind the kids, we were able to witness him truly being present for himself and with his peers. And it was beautiful. 

I Hate That Red Wristband

This is our first full week of summer vacation. I wrote last week about how challenging the break would be this year – one kid at home trying to avoid anxiety and panic triggers, one kid at a different day camp each week, and me trying to balance both of them while also muddling through one of my busiest work seasons of the year.

The hardest thing in all of that is helping my son through his minutes, hours, days. We talked a ton in recent weeks about how weekdays would be. We negotiated, and planned, and negotiated some more. And we came up with a plan that seems solid and doable. Part of that plan included giving him this first full week of summer to do (almost) anything he wanted (almost) all day.

Last night was rough. I was talking him through the things he would “have to” do today – including coming with me to drop his sister and a friend at day camp and making up a ninjutsu belt test that he missed over the weekend. He wasn’t happy about either of those “have to” items and we spent about an hour cycling through anger, anxiety, and sadness before we could calm him down enough to go to bed.

This morning, it was as if last night never happened. He got in the car with no trouble when it was time to drive the girls to camp, and, on his own,  double checked what time we would have to leave for the dojo for his belt test. I even felt good enough about his state of mind to leave him at home alone for about an hour while I got an allergy shot and picked up some groceries.

The middle part of the day was calm. He watched YouTube videos and I multi tasked on laundry and some work emails. He seemed just fine when I gave him 60 minute, 30 minute, 15 minute, 10 minute, and 5 minute warnings for turning off the computer. I was feeling incredibly hopeful about how the day was going.

But then it was 2pm – time to turn off the computer, put on his gi and go to the dojo. And just like that, he was having a panic attack. It was bad enough that I had to give in and say he did not have to go to the dojo. That piece of information minimized his panic and anxiety, but those were quickly replaced by immense sadness and self-hatred – which for him lately are also accompanied by attempts to hurt himself and requests for other people to hurt him too. It’s ugly, and heartbreaking, and messy, and exhausting. I spent 30 minutes literally holding him down and talking to him calmly as he thrashed and cried and tried to hurt himself. By the end we were both physically and emotionally fried.

A couple of hours later, my daughter was dropped off after day camp. I was excited to hear about her day, and stepped outside to greet her, the friend and the friend’s father. My daughter went barreling past me without a word. Her friend said “We had so much fun! We both got red wristbands.” Her friend’s father said, “She’s upset that she didn’t get the blue wristband.”

The wristbands are for levels of swim proficiency. You need a blue wristband to use the kayaks in the bay. The red wristband only gets you access to a row boat or the dragon boat with an adult. My daughter had been looking forward to kayaking. The red wristband was cause for major tween drama and angst. After the afternoon I’d had with her brother, I did not have the head space, or the energy, or the wherewithal to deal with tween drama and angst. In not my finest parenting moment, I essentially told her to get over it and added that she should probably stay in her room until she could find a more pleasant attitude.

With a little bit of space and perspective, I can empathize with her frustration – especially after she told me that her stomach was hurting during the swim test. She’s been struggling with tummy trouble for a few days, and on another day she probably could have passed the test for the blue wristband. She hates that red wristband, and honestly so do I.

A blue wristband would not have changed what happened during the day with her brother, but it would have allowed her to come home in a better mood. I hate that red wristband and the added emotions it brought into our house today. I hate that red wristband for taking fun away from my daughter (even though there is still plenty of amazing fun to be had without the blue wristband). I hate that red wristband because its presence on my daughter’s arm means that both of my kids are hurting today.

Both of my kids are hurting today. Her hurt isn’t as big or potentially life altering as his hurt, but it is just as real. It is just as real, and in some ways even more heartbreaking. She has missed out on a ton of stuff this past year because of her brother’s battle with anxiety, panic and depression. She has had to be mature beyond her years more times than I like to acknowledge. She has had a really rough year, and we really want her to have an amazing summer to heal some of her wounds. Today wasn’t a great start. But there’s tomorrow, and the next day, and 71 more days after that for fun, and laughter, and healing of wounds.

But I still hate that red wristband…

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