In 2008, I wrote a post called Getting There is Love. It was painful to write and, to this day, I find it nearly impossible to read without being swallowed whole by guilt and remorse. As much as I don’t want to revisit it today, I can’t help but feel pulled back to that place this morning.
Brooke is fascinated by the idea of time outs. We don’t use them, so perhaps that’s why. I tried with Katie once or twice when she was a toddler, but it just didn’t work for us. I tried once with Brooke but quickly realized that, for her, it was not only pointless in terms of teaching her anything, but it was actually harmful for her in that she was confused and overwhelmed by the exercise and did not connect it in any way to whatever her “offense” might have been. Nonetheless, many of the shows that Brooke likes to watch on Nick Jr and many of the stories that she loves to read again and again include time outs. One of her most oft-repeated scripts is from a Ni Hao Kai-Lan in which Hoho gets frustrated and hits Rintoo, prompting Grandpa Ye Ye to send Hoho to time out until he can calm down.
Brooke is a visual kid. Videos help to make the conceptual concrete. So when she finds something of interest, no matter what it may be, she searches for YouTube videos of it. So that’s what she recently did – she searched for toddlers in time out. She found a treasure trove of videos — pages upon pages of videos of small children, almost entirely toddlers, being sent, nearly all in tears, to corners and time out sofas and even a My Uh Oh Chair.
I don’t know how to say this. I don’t want to sit in judgement of anyone else’s choices. I know full-well that I’m precariously perched in my pretty glass house given how much I share every day, and even what I will go on to share later in this post. I walk a very, very fine line here between revealing just enough of my child’s life (with her consent to the degree that she is able to give it) to hopefully build understanding and acceptance for and of her without sharing enough to compromise her privacy, safety and comfort. I don’t doubt that, despite my best efforts, I’ve fallen on the wrong side of the line at times. I might be, according to some, about to fall on the wrong side of that line right now. We all draw the line in different places. I get that. And for that reason, one could make a pretty good argument that I have no right to say what I’m about to say. But then again, perhaps the very fact that I wrestle with this daily makes me uniquely qualified to say what I’m about to say. I’ll let you decide.
I see these little tykes in various states of distress in these videos, on display in the most public of forums in their very worst moments and my heart aches for them. For a lot of reasons. Here’s one.
While a typical toddler’s tantrum is very, very different from an autistic meltdown, they don’t always look so different to the unfamiliar eye. Especially in a little peanut.
One is about control.
The other is a loss of control.
One is testing boundaries.
The other is not feeling safe.
One is an attempt to manipulate.
The other is a cry for help.
And I watch these kids in the videos, no bigger than a minute, their faces streaked with tears, and I wonder … What if? What if they can’t control this? What if they are terrified? What if, while they are melting down, the person whom they trust to help them is, instead, taping the whole episode on their phone because … well … why? Because it’s cute? Because they think they’ll all laugh about it together later?
But what if? What if later, when they know more, it won’t be funny at all? What if that moment will, instead, haunt them day in and day out for years and years to come because they know now what they didn’t know then?
What if they, like me, just didn’t get it yet and it breaks their heart?
This is what I wrote in 2008 …
Brooke must have been three years old. She wanted her ballet slippers. I don’t know why, perhaps she was playing dress up, perhaps the moon was in the seventh house. Whatever the reason, she had it in her little head that she needed her ballet slippers..I looked around the house but I couldn’t find them. I didn’t think it was a big deal. I flippantly told her that the slippers were a no go..I knew so little..She began to perseverate on one sentence. “I want my ballet slippers!” Over and over and over and over again. “I want my ballet slippers!” It would almost have been funny. But it wasn’t. It got louder. She got more anxious. “I want my ballet slippers!”.I explained that I couldn’t find the slippers. I’m sure I offered an alternative. She fell apart. Sobbing, shaking, yelling – you know the rest. All the while, stuck in automatic rewind. “I want my ballet slippers! I want my ballet slippers!”.I wasn’t going to stand for a tantrum. Oh hell no, not this mom. I don’t ‘do’ tantrums. Not in this house, child. I sent her to her room..I just didn’t know..I had to walk her up there because she didn’t understand what I was saying. Or she couldn’t hear me. Or both..All the way up the stairs, “I want my ballet slippers!” Jagged sob after jagged sob. “I want my ballet slippers!” Her little body shook like a leaf in a hurricane..My dad’s words rattled around in the back of my head “You’re really quite lenient with those kids.”.Oh yeah? Watch this, Pop. She will NOT get away with this kind of behavior..“I want my ballet slippers!” She could barely catch her breath, but there was no stopping the broken record. “I want my ballet slippers!”.For heaven’s sake, enough with the %$&*!@ ballet slippers. I put her in her room..I didn’t know. God, I just didn’t know..“I want my ballet slippers!” Gasp. Sob. “I want my ballet slippers!” Over the screams, above the hoarse cry, I explained that she would stay in that room until she could calm herself down..Calm herself down. Jesus. I didn’t know..I walked away. She looked so small standing in the middle of her room. I choked back my own tears. I swallowed the sour taste in my mouth. I left her there screaming, overwhelmed, confused, lost..“I want my ballet slippers!”.Gasp..Sob..”I want my ballet slippers!”.I crouched against the wall at the bottom of the steps struggling to find the right thing to do. I can still feel that wall, cool, immovable against my back. I could barely breathe. Something wasn’t right. I didn’t know what..I thought of Ferber’s sleep method – let your child know they are safe and loved but leave them to soothe themselves. I went up again. I stood in her doorway and I told her she would be free to come out of her room when she got it together. I raised my voice in an attempt to be heard over her screams. “I want my ballet slippers! I want my ballet slippers!” I told her I loved her. Then I told her that her behavior was unacceptable. I walked away again and left her screaming, her face streaked with mucus and tears..“I want my ballet slippers!” Her voice was breaking, but she didn’t stop..”I want my ballet slippers!”.I was so frustrated. I was so angry. Why wouldn’t she just let it go?.“I want my ballet slippers! I want my ballet slippers!”.I went up again. I grabbed her by the shoulders, too hard. I squared her body to mine and chased her eyes. “Enough with the God damned ballet slippers!”.God, I didn’t know. I am so sorry. I didn’t know..I thought she wouldn’t stop. I didn’t know she couldn’t stop..I didn’t know there was a difference. I just didn’t know..She didn’t see me. She didn’t hear me..I am so sorry.