My boys struggle with the unexpected. It’s difficult for them to cope with changes and setbacks. It’s also difficult for those of us who have to help them adapt to these changes and setbacks.
Yesterday, I drove Alex and Ben up to Milwaukee to their latest Feeding Clinic appointment. The appointment went very well. They have both had some things to deal with that I thought would interfere with their progress, but they’d both stayed on their growth curve. I was especially surprised to discover that Alex is over 60 lbs! Wow! He’s come a long way.
Unfortunately, the drive home did not go smoothly. It wasn’t anything to do with the boys. It was the car. For some reason—we’ll probably never know why—the engine failed while we were on the Interstate. I had just enough warning to pull over to the shoulder, but not enough to get anywhere.
So there I was, stuck on the Interstate with my two autistic boys. The car was stopped. But we weren’t in a parking spot or a driveway. We weren’t anywhere. But the car was stopped. This is not the way it was supposed to be.
It took Alex a few precious moments of quiet to realize we weren’t going to be going anywhere any time soon. He started to freak out, thrashing in his seat so hard that it rocked the minivan. The engine was smoking and I worried we’d have to get out of the car, lest it catch on fire. On the shoulder of the Interstate. Me and my two autistic boys. I waited, indecisive. Which was the greater risk: Would the car give up enough warning to get out if it caught on fire and decided to explode or something or would the Interstate be more of a danger?
Luckily, the car stopped smoking shortly thereafter…just about the time Ben figured out we weren’t going anywhere any time soon and decided to unbuckle his seat belt. Luckily, my mother-in-law had acquired a cell phone for me, for just such an emergency, though it was more about my drive down to Chicago for school than appointments in Milwaukee. I had it with me, it was charged, and it had the Road-Side Assistance number in it. It did not have my Mom’s work number, so I had to call my husband to get that.
Long story short, my Mom left work to pick us up, and the car was towed to a service station that determined from my report that it was problem an engine failure—a $2,000 – 3,000 fix, on the cheap side.
The long part was the twenty-five minutes in between, with me between Alex and Ben (they sit in two different rows in the minivan and on opposite sides), with both of them pinching and grabbing at me. Between trying to keep Ben buckled and safe and trying to calm Alex down, my nerves were a bit jagged.
The important part is that we made it. We’re safe. But it’s hard being the one they take their frustrations out on—both of them at the same time with no way to separate them any further than they already are and no way to immediately fix the cause of their frustrations.
In class, on Wednesday, I was discussing the subject matter of the short story I’m working on for school, and one of the things that came up (an experienced parent and I were discussing some of the issues we’ve faced with the mother of a 14-month-old) was how, no matter that there is a part of the mother that’s panicky, the mother doesn’t have the luxury of giving into that. In expected situations, the mother has to keep it together. Sometimes that means searching for a child who has wandered away, and staying calm; other times it means sitting between two frustrated, anxiety-ridden kids and doing your best to calm them down in turn, while trying to stay calm yourself.
It’s a hard job. It’s hard being that person. But it’s worth it. Safe and sound. We made it through. That’s the part we’re all working towards.