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{image is a photo of Brooke at three, sitting at a child’s piano, wearing a leotard, tutu and ballet slippers}

There’s a new book out based on the Tumbler of the same name called Reasons My Kid Is Crying.

I won’t be buying it.

This is why.

Yesterday, while speaking to a group of Early Intervention providers, I shared a story that can be fairly characterized as the one story that I find the hardest to tell. It is torturous to relive. I explained that I still become flooded with guilt when I think about how I reacted to what I didn’t yet recognize as a meltdown. My daughter was three years-old. I thought she was being defiant. I didn’t know that she was in terrible pain. I thought that it was over something that was illogical and small. I didn’t know that, to her, it was perfectly logical and, in that moment, not just big, but all-encompassing.

When I told the story, the audience was silent. I had their rapt attention as I shared that a couple of years ago, Brooke asked me if I remembered it. I told them that I aid that I did and that, when I did, I began to cry. I told her how sorry I was, how very, very sorry, that I hadn’t understood. And then I told them that she began to ask me, at least once a month for the next eighteen months or so, if I remembered and if I was “sorry that I yelled.”

The reaction of the audience was … laughter.

Apparently, they thought that it was cute that she had continued to ask me about it.

I pressed on, trying to explain why it wasn’t funny. Why there was nothing even remotely funny about it. The story proved its point to always presume competence and to understand that our children, whether we believe that they are or not, are taking it all in, remembering it, storing it, processing it in their own time.

But the truth is that the laughter hurt. Not for me, but for my girl. She was processing one of the most difficult moments of her life — a time when she was not only in desperate pain but when the one person to whom she should always be able to turn for help was punishing her for that pain. And they were laughing because the aftermath of that situation was “cute.” My one thought as we moved on to the next topic was, “Thank God Brooke is not here.”

In November of 2013, I wrote the following …

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.
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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. 
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I knew so little.
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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!”
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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!”
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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. 
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I just didn’t know.
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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.”
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Oh yeah? Watch this, Pop. She will NOT get away with this kind of behavior.
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“I want my ballet slippers!” She could barely catch her breath, but there was no stopping the broken record. “I want my ballet slippers!”
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For heaven’s sake, enough with the %$&*!@ ballet slippers. I put her in her room. 
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I didn’t know. God, I just didn’t know.
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“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.
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Calm herself down. Jesus. I didn’t know.
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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.
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“I want my ballet slippers!”
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Gasp.
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Sob.
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”I want my ballet slippers!”
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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.
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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.
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”I want my ballet slippers!”
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I was so frustrated. I was so angry. Why wouldn’t she just let it go?
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“I want my ballet slippers! I want my ballet slippers!”
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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!” 
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God, I didn’t know. I am so sorry. I didn’t know. 
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I thought she wouldn’t stop. I didn’t know she couldn’t stop. 
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I didn’t know there was a difference. I just didn’t know.
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She didn’t see me. She didn’t hear me.
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I am so sorry.
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When we begin this journey as parents, we have no idea how much we don’t yet know – about our children, about ourselves, about the whole damned messy ball of wax. It’s been hard enough to have relived that moment again and again over these past eight years. I can only imagine how I’d feel — and, far more importantly, how Brooke would feel — were it all on video.
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So I guess what I’m trying to say is this …
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This is not, in any way, shape nor form, meant to be a condemnation of time outs. They are a very effective strategy for many families. I acknowledge that there are times when recording our kids, even in their toughest moments, can be necessary for sharing with therapists or others who can help us figure out how to best support them.  But …  if, while giving a child a time out to help them find their calm and gain some perspective, our first instinct is to grab our phones, hit record and put the video up on YouTube, perhaps we should take a moment to ask ourselves if we might benefit from doing the same.

 

This is the cover of the book, which has been billed as “freaking hilarious” and “laugh out loud funny.” USA Today says, “Kids cry for the darndest reasons. And now we get to laugh at them in a new book.”

 

 

 

 

 

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“Because she couldn’t find her ballet slippers” might well have been one of those darndest reasons.
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I just can’t find that funny.

 

27 thoughts on “untitled

  1. You’re so right. It’s not funny. I still feel Brooke’s pain from that day and, of course, yours, every time we revisit that story. I’m so sorry.

    Love you,
    Mom

  2. I appreciate, very much, you sharing this and everything else, so honestly. I’m not a mom, but my niece considers me her “mother figure” and I am a babysitter. It’s never easy for me to have to ‘punish’ a child; and I wouldn’t ever think to record a time where they’re crying.

    Anyhow – I appreciate you sharing this, particularly, because now if I ever have an incident occur like this, I’ll think twice. I’ll wonder if there’s more to it. Thank you.

    I can feel your pain in this story, I can feel Brooke’s pain. I seriously question how a book based on children’s pain (because tears = “something’s wrong! help”) not tears = hahaha let me be amused? there’s something wrong with that.

  3. Oh gosh this hits close to home. My older daughter doesn’t have autism, but she has a genetic condition that presents with global delays. Even with her global delays, she knows more than she can communicate. That’s been proven so many times to us. And every time we feel like she’s being defiant, there is (most of the time) a legitimate reason that we just don’t understand yet. It breaks my heart to look back at times when there was a miscommunication between us, but I’m continually learning from it. Which is the best that either of us can do. Because if we don’t learn from our past mistakes and guilt,then what’s the point of it? I hope that the EI providers learn from your presentation, even if it takes a while.

  4. You know, when those memes came out on Facebook, I viewed them and with each one my heart sank more and more. I didn’t laugh. I didn’t “share”. I wanted to cry. My son had cried over many of those same reasons…and almost every time it was not a tantrum…it was his inability to effectively communicate with us about something. And my guilt…oh, my guilt these years later now that I know. And when he perseverates on certain past episodes, well, it isn’t cute or funny. I know now that those are the ones that really stayed with him. Like you, I will NOT be buying this book.

  5. So many tears & so much guilt here, too. It’s never easy to face down things we’ve done in the past when we didn’t understand.

    I’ve had the same line about not being strict enough with my kids as well but what I usually find is that they are happier when I am not policing & questioning every action they take. There doesn’t have to be a common, neurotypically relatable reason for everything we do. I’m sure we all do different things for reasons other people wouldn’t understand. It’s the same with a meltdown. It may not make sense to you but it does to the person experiencing it.

    I try to keep this in mind when I deal with my children & when I deal with my own meltdowns. I try to always react from a place of love instead of anger & if I’m angry, I walk away until I can calm myself down.

    Thank you for echoing the thoughts in my head because I haven’t been comfortable with the pictures people take of their children crying since the first one I saw. When my kids are crying, I’m too busy trying to help them than to have the time or inclination to video it, & this comes from someone who loves her camera. There are things you just don’t do.

    Thank you. I plan to share this with my kids’ teachers.

  6. I vividly remember that post….I found absolutely nothing remotely funny about it then, nor do I now. I actually cry whenever you reference it, and especially how Brooke would continue to revisit it with you.. Heart wrenching! I am sorry they just didn’t get it yesterday…..but I know you will keep at it until they do…noones child deserves to be laughed “at”…my rule has always been that unless your laughing “with” there is seriously something wrong. Too bad they just didn’t get that memo. Thank you for pressing on through your hurt for our kids..as you do!!

  7. You move me to tears– so often!! Every time you share a little slice of your life- you are helping so many people. I like to believe that people do the best they can. If their “best” today is because you reached them through your writing– well how great is that?? Thank you for being you. So many of us benefit from your wisdom.
    Katie Amarante

  8. “I didn’t know..” So many times I have replayed that sentence in my head, trying to rid myself of the agony of guilt and shame that washes over me.

    My son with ASD is 11. Time outs were somewhat effective for both my children but used as a cooling off period for both of us at times. My question is how do you handle discipline? There are times it is clear that talking it out is the way to go but when he hauls off and punches his little sister, it’s just not okay. Any thoughts?

    • It’s so completely and utterly dependent on the individual and what will help them to understand what is and isn’t ok and to find and be able to utilize safe and acceptable means to communicate. I know that’s a frustrating answer, but I think anything else is not just presumptuous, but potentially harmful.

    • I agree, even if lashing out is done because my son loses control he is always removed from the situation. One thing I have done is role play situations that end physically. For example if my kids are sitting too close at the table my older son will sometimes shove the younger to get him away. When not in heat of the moment we role play other options (i play his brother) such as stand up and move your chair over, move your food to a different table, use words “your sitting too close, move over please”, walk away and do 10 wall push ups to get a break….. Anyway, we’ve been doing this since he was very young for different scenarios and it has helped give other options for when he is angry.

  9. Thank you so much for sharing this…my son has Asperger’s and my husband still doesn’t get it!!! He doesn’t get that Matthew isn’t doing it on purpose. He isn’t doing it because it is in his control. He is doing it because he is scared. He is doing it because he doesn’t understand. He is doing it because he is afraid. I am going to show him your post and hope he gets “it”. It’s not funny…and now I’m crying because you get it.

    • Jess, this journey with a child on the autism spectrum sure heightens our empathy, doesn’t it?

      Kathy, I completely understand! While my husband ‘knows’ our daughter has Aspergers he doesn’t get or refuses to get that her meltdowns are not defiance. Now with her being 15, that brings in a whole other set of parameters so we have to decide what’s a processing issue and what’s just ‘teen brain’. But the point is you are not alone in your situation. Hope that helps! B-)

  10. My heart cannot barely recover when I witness adults who are in charge of “our” Children and 1000% choose to be so arrogant and completely disregard the fear of a small child world. I apologize because I am not saying ALL adults who are in charge, I am saying a handful that I have witnessed treating our innocent children who didn’t choose to be born with Autism or are not of age to understand At all what their worlds are about ? Yes , we all make many mistakes , I for one I many many things I SO wish I could do over in life. Thank You Jess for educating us all , and Thank you so very much to all who are in Charge of our Children who take the Time to read, learn, study and Grow and Provide Safe and Happy environments for our Children. ❤ I realize I went AGAIN , off into another direction and I am sorry 😦 I just have so many Feelings ❤

  11. There is nothing funny about this. For me it is heartbreaking. I’ve been there. Before I knew he had autism. It was what drove me to fight for answers.
    We were at the store. Jeremiah was 3. He wanted a pineapple. So I stood there picking through to find the ripest pineapple because I knew he would want to eat it the second we got home.
    It was the 1st of the month and the store was crowded. I remember feeling stressed myself because of the noise. He had been crying in his stroller over and over that he wanted a pineapple, even though i was in the process of getting one. Somehow he escaped from the stroller and took off across the store screaming that he wanted a pineapple.
    I was angry. Furious. Embarrassed. I left the stroller, my purse, and somewhere along the way my flip flops. I’m running through the store trying to catch him. Yelling for him to stop. Begging other shoppers to stop him. And the would move to let him past. I could hear them… she really needs to get a handle on that kid… A good ass whipping would stop that…. hey lady ever heard of a belt. Their comments only fueled my rage.
    I finally caught him all the way across the store, in the garden center, hiding under a display of patio furniture. His face was covered in tears and snot and he was pulling at his hair and softly, almost silently, repeating “he want pineapple. Jeh-miah want pineapple”.
    I was so angry. I pulled him from under the table and half dragged, half carried him back across the store screaming at him as he screamed over and over about that damn pineapple.
    A sweet old man stood guard over my purse. Someone had kicked my shoes under a candy display. A little boy tried to get them for me, but I was too upset. I left the store dragging my child and pushing the stroller.
    When we got home, I spanked him. OMG I still can’t believe I spanked him.
    I put him in his room and immediately called our pediatrician. It was too much. He was doing this too often. Every single time we went anywhere he would loose it. We were sent the next day to a behavioral counselor for help with his defiance.
    That was the very first time the word autism became a part of our vocabulary.
    To this day, 3 years later, I am ashamed of my actions that day. I am devastated that I just didn’t know. I am so sorry and I can never make it up to my precious little boy.

    • Please don’t beat yourself up over your mistake. You’ve already been forgiven. We’ve all been there because we DIDN’T know. Take that mistake and do good with it: share it and what you’ve learned from it. Educate others and move on. To repeatedly feel guilt about it is difficult not to do, I know, but completely unproductive. Don’t let the past steal the joy of today. You know now. So, when you see a mom at the store some day, chasing after her little one, be a part of the crowd that steps up to say, “I get it and I’d like to help.” She will be relieved to have a friend and not another criticizer. And the reason you will be in that place where you DO understand is because you’ve experienced it yourself. And that’s what we all long for, I think: someone who “gets it.”

  12. Honestly, even as I face the teenage years with both of my kids, 1 NT and 1 autistic, I have found that usually all “bad” behavior is the result of something going on…they are tired/worn out from whatever is going on, or they are thinking differently about what I am talking about and reacting, etc. So, I have tried (oh, have I tried!) to step back at those times and try to help point out for both of us what is responsible for the mis-communication…and that’s really hard when it sounds like they are sassing me, or yelling or whatever. But once you learn that behavior is communication, you can really relate it to all people. Someone please remind me of this when I am sooo tired myself that I just want to yell back!! 😉

  13. I’ve learned that kids do cry for “silly” reasons, but that doesn’t make their pain less real, or just plain “less”. I don’t find that book / Tumblr funny either, and I don’t even have kids!

    • I should add – By “silly” I mean “reasons that don’t appear to be monumental to us, but are very important / monumental to them”.

  14. I’ve seen the meme’s on facebook before, usually without pictures, and they were funny when they were disconnected. But I don’t know how ANYONE can find pictures of children crying funny. I don’t care if the reason seems “funny”. Those emotions aren’t funny. I know I’m more sensitive because I have a kid on the spectrum, but I also remember my emotions not being taken seriously as a kis (so I go the opposite way with my kiddo – thank goodness).

    I hope that the parents took it seriously in the moment, and helped the kiddos understand. I hope they found it funny in retrospect – because otherwise, I don’t even want to think about it.

  15. Quentin’s exact “meltdown” was at 2 1/2 because he didn’t want to get out of the car and go to a baby shower in a strange house with strangers, because mommy wanted to take him in to show him off because he was just so darned cute. He screamed for an hour while my dad told me I wasn’t doing a very good job disciplining him. I didn’t know either. Think about that day every day and guilt ridden because I yelled at him the whole I time. We all have our guilty feeling moments.

  16. A friend of mine just found out her son has visual processing issue that has been misdiagnosed as a cognitive learning disability his entire school life. He’s in the third grade. He is receiving vision therapy and is improving. He understands why he hasn’t been able to read or write as well as expected all these years. He just shared with her that he remembers being in Kindergarden at a phonics work station and that none of the letters made sense to him. He began to cry and for some reason unknown to either of them, the teacher took his picture. He still remembers it vividly. His only question now is “why, mom? Why did the teacher take my picture when I was at my worst moment?” My heart broke for him.

  17. I remember when I was a kid and I’d be having a meltdown and adults would laugh at me. It just made me cry harder because it meant that me being afraid and hurting was funny. Me crying harder would just make them laugh harder. Then there were other times when people would get angry at me for crying (this still happens) because they considered it my fault that little things would upset me. And then I would just cry harder. And they would just get angrier. It was very confusing.

    I learned, when I was little, that how I felt inside, or whether or not I was hurt, had absolutely no bearing on how other people were supposed to act towards me. That if I were in pain, it was my fault, and it was a flaw that I was supposed to correct. I think this is especially cruel to autistic kids because we aren’t that great at understanding others’ intentions/culpability in the first place. When figuring out that someone else’s actions caused your pain is inherently difficult, assuming that pain is always your fault is the easiest option. It just makes more sense.

    I remember once I read part of a book about a very famous case study involving a girl who was raised in an extremely abusive home situation, but was eventually found and removed to a safe environment. And they described how, when she would have a temper tantrum about something happening, it was really confusing to the people working with her, because all she would do is hurt herself. I remember reading that and thinking “That makes perfect sense to me. I don’t think that is supposed to make sense to me. Uh oh.”

    I’ve always been secretly jealous of Brooke for how much support and love she gets from her parents when she’s struggling. Everyone has their learning curve, but as far as I know, if there’s a right way to do this stuff, you and Luau are doing it. Thank you for writing this.

    • Oh, Em, this means so much to me. Thank you for sharing. I’m so sorry that it was so hard. I’m so glad that you’re now seeing that it was never, ever your fault. Hugs.

  18. That brought tears to my eyes. I couldn’t imagine how you feel knowing now what you didn’t then. My heart goes out to you. It brings a lot of perspective to me as a mother who is fairly young (25) and pretty much parenting alone. My daughter is not autistic but reading your blog has helped me a lot. It probably doesn’t mean much but you are reaching people and being heard. Thank you to you and Brooke for telling your stories. And for what it’s worth I will not be purchasing that book because I don’t believe that any tantrum or a hurting child is a laughing matter. And taping my child? I could never invade her trust or privacy like that I think it’s wrong.

  19. Maybe when we’re dead we could be ghosts like the girl from The Ring who haunt parents that ignore their crying kids. I know how your daughter feels.

    What most people find funny is Marilyn Manson helped me feel less afraid, yes the guy who tends to scare most people helped me not be scared. I guess there’s something about horror films or people who try to evoke horror imagery that validates our fears.

  20. This post is something I wish I could shout from the rooftops. It’s always been troubling to me to witness someone video taping their child melting down; and sharing it because it’s (in some way I don’t understand whatsoever) “cute.” I want to say: imagine if, you (adult) came to me crying over something. and I, for some reason, found your tearful moments “humorous” and taped them, and put them out there on the internet for everyone to laugh at. To see your pain. And to laugh at it. I assume you wouldn’t be happy with me; in fact you may be pissed at me. You may not even want to be my friend for awhile. So, why on God’s Green Earth would you do that to a child?

    Whose basis of communicating with you is (sometimes) tears, possibly a fit. They are communicating with you the way they know how and they sure don’t find the way they feel cute. So even if we do find their little “meltdown(s)” cute (I don’t even like putting those words next to each other) maybe, we should just keep it to ourselves. And keep a video with our brain.

    And instead of reaching for the camera, reach for the child trying to communicate with you.

    ^ wow. I didn’t realize just how much I’d bottled up the way some of those videos and memes had made me feel until I let it all out. Glad I’m not alone.

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