paddling like the devil


Always behave like a duck. Keep calm and unruffled on the surface but paddle like the devil underneath.

~ Jacob Braude

After meeting Winston, we took Miss A out to lunch with us. It had been a wonderful but stressful day, and Brooke was taxed. She was mostly quiet as we drove to the restaurant, happily ensconced in Brooke-land.

As we pulled up to the restaurant (yeah, I’m going to keep calling it a ‘restaurant’ because I refuse to admit that I took my kids to Taco Bell for lunch and you can’t make me), Brooke screamed.

“MY EYE!!!!”

I unbuckled my seat belt and turned around to see what had happened. Miss A confirmed that a bug or some other flying object had apparently come through Brooke’s open window and landed right in her eye.


As Luau stopped the car, I hopped out as fast as I could, unbuckled my crying girl and lifted her onto the sidewalk. I asked Luau to grab a bottle of water to try to flush out her eye.

As we walked into Taco Be – erthe restaurant – I took the girls straight into the ladies’ room. Brooke was still crying. She didn’t want to go to the bathroom, but I knew she had to. She continued to cry as she relieved herself.

As she finished up, I washed her eye one more time as gently as I could. She was understandably on edge. Scratch that, she was understandably well over the edge.

A baby cried out from the other side of the closed door. Brooke screamed in response. The day had just been too much.

Kneeling down next to her, I did what I could to calm her down. Her breathing finally slowed a bit. She sniffled in the last of the sobs. Home stretch.

Katie began to cry.

OK, seriously .. NOW? RIGHT now?

I looked over at her. I hadn’t said a word, but my frustration was obviously telegraphed on my face.

“Mama,” Katie said through tears, “I just feel like Brooke gets way more of your attention.”

Oh for God’s sake. Now? In the effing bathroom at a restaurant – er – um – oh, Hell, whatever, yeah, it was Taco Bell. I took my kids to Taco Bell. Sue me. But NOW? Here? How many times do we have to have this conversation? How many different ways can I say the SAME GOD DAMNED THING? I get it. I do. I feel for her. We talk about it. A lot. I write about it. I think about it constantly. I do everything I can to make it better. I spend as much time alone with her as I possibly can.

But I can’t do it ALL THE TIME.

I swallowed the words that were threatening to escape. I found others.

“Yes, Katie. Sometimes she does. Even a lot of times. And sure as heck at times like this.”

She sniffled dramatically. Brooke let out a shriek.

“She’s scared, Katie. And confused. She’s had a long, hard day to begin with and now we’re in a place that’s difficult for her at best. Her eye hurts and she has no idea what the hell happened in the car ..”

“Mama!” Katie said, aghast. “You just said a bad word!”

“Yes, I did.”

“But ..”

I was struggling.

“Katie, this isn’t the time. We’re a team.” And I’m a broken record. “When one of us needs help, they get it. Brooke needs my help right now. And I’m going to give it to her.”

“Brooke,” I said, “I’m going to flush the toilet now.”

She pressed one ear into my thigh and dug the heel of her hand into the other.

We washed our hands and walked out together, both girls now sniffling and their mother feeling like a walking yard sale. As I walked to the counter to order, Miss A joined me. She leaned over and said the very last thing I would have expected to hear at that moment.

“You amaze me,” she said. “You stay so calm.”



I nearly turned to look behind me.

She couldn’t be talking to me. I was NOT calm.

I’ve thought a lot about what Miss A said that day.

Of all the words in the English language, she’d chosen ‘calm’.”

The more I chewed on them, the more pride I took in Miss A’s words. Three years ago, two years ago – hell, maybe last year – no one would have called me calm. These situations used to do me in.

Early in this journey I’d have gone straight down the rabbit hole in that bathroom. But over time I’ve retrained myself. Necessity has taught me to deny every natural instinct I have when my girl ramps up. I’ve learned the hard way that the worst possible thing that I can do when Brooke escalates is to follow her. I’ve no choice but to stay rooted firmly to the ground if I have any hope of helping her find her way back to it.

And so it is that we work in direct opposition to one another. As she ramps up, I slow down.

But as much as I felt good about Miss A’s words, they also made me realize why I am so profoundly tired. Not tired – TIRED. It all suddenly made sense … Why the tension percolates so close to the surface. Why I cry. Why I all but lose it when the noise finally goes quiet and I know the storm has passed. Why I sometimes need to get up and walk away. Why I don’t sleep. Why I write.

Because ‘calm’ takes WORK. When my baby’s scared, when she’s confused, when something is hurting her – every bit of my physiology is designed to respond. It is in my DNA. And I don’t. At least most of the time.

Paddling like the devil is tiring.

But it’s EXHAUSTING when it’s all under the surface.

28 thoughts on “paddling like the devil

  1. I agree, you have come a long, long way, but,and there is a but, you must listen to the words and the feelings that Katie presents. It will be Katie, or it won’t, who will be there, or not, for her sister, long after you and Luau are gone and she must not be made to feel resentment towards her because she feels she gets less of the time, love, and energy.
    It’s a very tough job but on the spectrum or not each child needs the same amount of it all.
    Love you,

    • i get it .. i swear i do.

      but as much as they need the same AMOUNT, it can’t always happen at the same TIME. it’s just not always physically possible, particularly when one child’s needs demand an immediate response.

      it’s why we have the conversation over and over and over again .. it’s why she has sib shop and katie day and why i try to manage to make alone time with her almost every day of the year. it’s why i took her out for a run with me on monday and to the movies on tuesday. it’s why we went browsing around the bookstore yesterday and sat in the grass doing nothing together. it’s why we sit and talk for hours on end.

      god, i sound defensive. but i get it. i promise.

  2. Jess, you nailed it. No one knows the work and worry going on 24/7 and the resulting exhaustion unless they live it. And even then we are too busy to pay attention. Be gentle with yourself. Always.

  3. You totally nailed it! I think the webbing between my toes has come undone from all of the frantic paddling under the surface.

  4. So tired, yes, I get it. My little devil feet broke the water’s surface this morning and I was anything but calm. The storm has passed because the bus took it away and I am left in it’s wake feeling like I was run over. Oh I am tired. I am working on staying calm. It’s so hard, sometimes I am just not very good at it, just like my son.

  5. Thank you for sharing all of this.

    And don’t apologize for taking your children to Taco Bell!

    It always amazes me how “glamorous” children think the things are that we adults minimize — cheap hotel rooms being right up there among them — that and really bad seats at public venues (it’s so cool to be up high woo hoo!!).

    Your writing is a gift to us; I hope it gives you some “calm moments” for yourself.

  6. This post got to me ~ it made me cry. Why? Because it hit home ~ you hit the nail on the head.

    It is hard work, we do get TIRED, and we often feel like we’re failing miserably, but we keep moving forward ’cause that’s what us Moms do ~ we fight like mad to make it better for our kids.

    Keep up the great work ~ you are amazing and doing a wonderful job!

  7. Your conversation with your dad is something that runs in my head all the time. It’s just so tough. But I was going to say that this is a great post for anyone who is a parent, really. When when we’re needing to stay calm, it takes everything we have not to respond. When Noah woke up and we thought he was choking, we called 911, and I sat there with him, trying like hell not to freak out. When my tears threatened to fall, he looked up at me in confusion & panic, and I had to – in your words – paddle furiously to remain calm to help him.
    So I think it’s is a beautifully written account for all parents – but I think you and I and so many others have to do it more often, and for a lot longer. But they are so worth it. XO
    p.s. I don’t give a crap where you take your kids. 🙂

  8. You spoke my words today, however you were much more graceful in that bathroom that I could have been. You give me hope that in a few years I will be more calm than I am right now.

    Um. I would eat Taco Bell all the time if a certain short person would eat more than taco chips. That’s right, I’m not afraid to say it 😉

  9. jess, jess, jess…you are an above average mom. Not all mothers pour themselves out like you do. i mean…some DO! but, many don’t.

    The ones that do, “get” your exhaustion…nod and tear up as you describe the timing of every need that challenges your DNA.

    You validate so many while you second guess yourself, and calm so many down as you paddle like the devil.

    It’s time to exhale now. You are absolutely strong enough to “glide” for a bit off your own propulsion.

    Thank you for your help =)

  10. Not to put more pressure on you…but I couldnt make it through the week without reading your wonderful blog!! Thank you. Thank you for helping me realize that you are right I am TIRED!! Which equates to crazy, irrational, and emotional. Luckily, there are moments or for me just one moment where someone says something like A said to you and I feel recharged for a minute. Took Emma to the bathroom to let her have a break and calm down during a dinner out with Emma’s very non compassionate, non understanding grandparents. I thought I would try for the 100th time to reason with her. While she was in the bathroom stall I explained that everyone was trying to have a nice dinner, blah blah blah. After our talk an older lady (an angel) was waiting for me. She thanked me for the wonderful talk I had given my daughter and what a wonderful mother I must be. She then explained that when she goes to eat with her grandkids they are allowed to act crazy and noone does anything about it. Ha Ha. I smiled and walked out of the bathroom as the perfect mother followed by my perfect daughter. Glad that woman has never seen us out to eat at any other time in our lives and that she caught me on a “calm” day. :)I have learned to pray just as much for God to change my behavior as my daughters. Thanks for moments of calmness.

  11. Loved this post, and yes, it takes such effort to go against our natural inclination to respond to agita, with, well agita. I loved the last sentence too. As tough as it is for Katie, she is learning so many valuable life lessons both from Brooke and the way in which you’re handling the situation. Good for you!

  12. I know it is exhausting…God I know. I was just speaking with my mom about how some days there just can’t be equal attention to D and Lyric and how bad I feel about it. All we can do is try our best Jess, it isn’t comforting to hear and it won’t fix much. You are doing all you can and that is so much more than most. Trust me I see it everyday. I am sending you the biggest hug I can.

  13. Sending you hugs and love. You know how many of us “get it” and understand the exhaustion, the conflicting emotions, the feeling pulled in so many directions…you are doing the best you can. And, yes, there will be many, many moments when Katie feels like Brooke is getting all your attention; that would happen even WITHOUT autism. Chalk it up to normal family dynamics.

    I hope, with all the paddling you’re doing under the surface,you are able to find a nice soft place to land to relax and recharge from time to time. You need it, your family needs you to have it and they need to make sure they create the space, the permission, the opportunities for you to do so…GUILT-FREE. (And, um, here, take my advice bc I’m not using it right now! 😉 )


  14. You’re doing a great job with both of your girls! Keep up the good work….. AND make sure you don’t forget to take care of the other girl (YOU) too.

  15. Hi Jess, Great post, and I firmly believe you are doing the best you can for BOTH Katie and Brooke, so please don’t beat yourself up over it! That won’t help anybody. You’re right – each child needs equal attention but it has to come in DIFFERENT WAYS, at different times, and sometimes, lack of quanity can be made up for in quality. They cant get the exact same thing all the time, there is just not enough of you to go around for that. If it is tipped in Brooke’s favor sometimes it is because it has to be. It doesnt mean Katie gets any less because what she gets of you is quality stuff. And when she is older she may understand this better. You are doing the best you can!

  16. Jess, there is no doubt that you get it. You would not be this exhausted if you were not 200% invested in BOTH of your girls. There are so many people who love you. Let them bear up your heart when it feels too heavy for you to carry alone.


  17. I do love Taco Bell. YUM. So thankful I’m not within snacking distance of one.

    Calm is a lot of work! Dang, a LOT of work! SO exhausting! And so worth it for our kids who would be sent right over the edge. I know Katie just TALKING at that moment (no matter about what) would have sent Jack right back over the edge. And you are managing both of them beautifully.

    One therapist told me this, which I really love: Every child may not get what she wants, but gets what she needs. Catchy. Should be a song. Maybe done by the Stones.

    Give yourself lots of credit, too. Recognize all that work you are doing. And doing WELL. And give yourself a reward for all that work. Meet you at Taco Bell?

  18. What keeps coming to my mind is how strong you must be getting, what endurance you must be building…resisting the water like you do all day every day.

    Sending mom hugs and praying for your srength.

  19. I am so there, so tired, so split between two children. We all have to be wing-moms. I’ve got your wing today if you will take mine tomorrow and continue your writing, or not, if you need a break, I get that part.

    Time for an adult-beverage out here in CA….feel free to join me and my wing-moms too if you choose.

  20. You raise such great issues, Jess! The only thing that has helped ease my guilt over the incredible discrepancy of time spent with each of my kids, is my belief that we all come here for certain soul lesson, and Woohoo’s must have been something to do with sharing/compassion/understanding/acceptance.

    And I’m pretty sure one of mine is patience, because I used to have zero, and now I have a tiny bit.


  21. such a tough day, yikes. and it’s frustrating, everyone gets to get upset except you and luau, you guys have to paddle through it all. the way it is, but it’s not fair. i protest.

    brooke overwhelmed, katie needing attention. too much! what’s nice is that you describe it so well…all of the chaos and hurt feelings, swirling together, your words are…as always…intense, vibrant. you: gifted.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s