Small Offshore Coastal Occurrence: This was one of those weeks where fatigue created a small offshore storm in our daughter’s special needs life involving a missing DVD and a whole lot of texting. Our daughter had requested that we purchase the DVD for the movie Dolphin Tale as her final, and I mean final, gift of the holidays. Unfortunately, to save a few pennies, I chose the less-rapid delivery system, USPS, and the snail, with a seven to ten-day ETA, lost the package. Our daughter had begun her series of texts (“when will it arrive?”) early in the process, coming to me with that ding of the iPhone while I was sleeping, working, driving or socializing. In other words, whenever she had a texting opportunity. Perseverating is the word that the special needs community uses to describe this type of behavior, which doesn’t easily respond to “redirection” or reasoning and is characterized by an urgency and anxiety not commensurate with the nature of the issue. And contagious, at least for this mom.
Texting While Sleeping: And so it was that I found myself texting while sleeping. This is probably a common occurrence in the dream states of younger folk, who would rather text than talk, and at last I understand the reasoning when a friend texted me while at the beauty salon “covering her gray” so that she could share some very private stuff in the presence of hair dryers, hairdressers and “social spies” who love a bit of gossip, even when provided by a complete stranger. Duh, no one can hear you! Got it. With our daughter, secrecy really is not a requirement but she has absorbed her peer culture and madly texts away. I responded to her texts using my uncoordinated digits making numerous errors which are further compromised by laughable substitutions (please iPhone, don’t try to read my mind or my digits) and finally reverted to the default position and called the gal, in the hope of placing a stop-gap to the compulsive texting. In the case of the missing DVD, a phone conversation alleviated nothing.
Lunatic Mom: Thus, in between texting and working, I was spotted wildly driving after a UPS truck (desperately and mistakenly) which I flagged down two blocks north of our home to inquire of the package’s whereabouts. The driver, checking his clipboard, assured me that the problem was likely our postal service. An hour later I invited our local UPS driver into my home office to view the tracking information on my computer screen who confirmed his colleague’s diagnosis: it was USPS, not UPS. Three phone conversations later with a local postal worker named Heidi and a kindly gentleman from Amazon’s help line did not resolve the mystery of the traveling DVD. Only late that evening, returning home in darkened surrounds, did I find the aforementioned package in our mailbox, probably delivered by a neighbor who wrongfully received the precious parcel. Desperate measures for so small a prize, lunatic mom.
It’s Always The Mom: What, you ask, makes this woman so neurotic? Well, many things personal and historic but one is certainly the contagious quality of our daughter’s anxiety and the pressure that I feel to reduce said anxiety to relieve both of us. The silliness of the ordeal – after all, we were not awaiting responses to college applications or emergency medical supplies – speaks to my inability to redirect our daughter or myself. This was a movie about a dolphin who sadly lost its tail, a movie she had already viewed on the big screen. And even though there is the lure of Harry Connick Jr. playing a staring role in the film, we had just seen him on Broadway in On A Clear Day, in the flesh. The next day, after delivering the item and having a delightful lunch with her, my fears that this would be a hell ride for a bit longer were allayed. However, on Friday at 3 P.M. I received a text, “I am exhausted”, and when I followed up with a call, our daughter burst into tears describing a helpless state of fatigue and other sundry problems that I couldn’t decipher over the phone. A subsequent conversation with staff went something like this: “She was fine until she spoke to you. I don’t know what happened. She seemed just fine.” So it’s me, mom, the trigger, the button pusher, the problem. Or is it me mom, the maternal permission slip that lets loose all the pent-up feelings of exhaustion and pressure built up in the child’s person? I do think it is the latter in this case. As I reminded the staff, a lovely young woman who is not yet a parent, “Moms bring out this stuff in their kids.” In other words, I didn’t create the problem, I just stepped into it.
Sleep Is The Answer: Blessed by the need to work for the next three hours into the evening, I did not view the following two texts assailing the staff person who was applying the stiff upper lip approach to our daughter, which tends to backfire. In the protective custody of my office chamber, I was unable to respond and by the time I exited at 7 P.M. to attend a friend’s birthday party, the last text was three hours old. I neither called nor texted that evening. I later found out that our daughter thankfully slept for twelve hours straight that night as well as the following night. Our conversations returned to normal, the feverish texting ended and our daughter took pleasure in her weekend activities which included the first session of her Pegasus’ Horses and Me Program, an unmounted winter program where students learn to groom horses, clean stables and receive education on horse health and anatomy. She loved her first class. She also regaled me with a hilarious description of her visit to a local cutting edge contemporary art museum, which she described as “BORING!” and puzzled aloud why a bunch of bottles stuffed with something would be called art.
Riding Out The Storms: Could there have been a better way to handle our daughter? I think so but I have never found out what it is. Is it me? Partly because my indulgent character is probably not an asset in these situations. Is it her? The difficulty with redirection is a characteristic of many children/adults with special needs and the added factor of exhaustion exacerbates greatly the behavior. For the last two decades I have ridden out these storms to the best of my ability. Whether our daughter resides in our home, four hours north at her boarding school, or in the next town, when she is in the throes of these obsessions she finds me, or staff finds me, and together we take that ride. Normal strategies backfire or intensify the situation. But one thing I surely have learned: I will never order anything from Amazon using USPS again. That’s what my UPS driver taught me. He said, “It just isn’t worth the few bucks you save.” You can say that again.
©Jill Edelman, M.S.W., L.C.S.W. 2012