Cleveland has a wonderful theater district, and we went to see Mary Poppins yesterday. The show was great. Riley and Seth were mesmerized. Three years ago Riley could not handle a middle school production of The Pirates of Penzance. Today she was fine with the special effects. The loud applause. I was positively giddy with how far we'd come. The play was fantastic. The crowd gave a standing ovation (for a matinee)!
The theaters are quite ancient here, and the exit plans are not the best. Traffic becomes very congested in the huge lobby as people file out. I've found this out myself on several occasions, so thought it best if we remained in our seats until the place cleared out a bit. I wanted to save Riley the jostling and sensory overwhelm of the masses.
She went nuts.
She assumed all of the people leaving were pointing at her, making big imaginary L's on their foreheads, knowing she has Asperger's, knowing she can't handle crowds, thinking she's "a baby." At this point the crowd was thick, the lobby would be sardines by now, and she was already upset. We continued to sit. We tried to talk her through it, but she just wailed louder and louder. Seth sat in his seat, nonchalant. Todd and I kept speaking softly to her, reassuring her, and then, I lost it.
The plummet from so high, to so low was too much for me. 999 times out of 1000 I can handle whatever she throws my way, but not this day. I was done.
"Riley. We have had such a good day. No one knows or cares why we are sitting here. If you are embarrassed, you are the only one drawing attention to yourself." I felt my blood start to boil. I was so sick of this. "This is such a stupid thing to be upset about," I snarled through gritted teeth.
Instantly, I hated myself for chastising her. Who is to say what is valid to be worried or upset about? I do not live in her body. I'd throttle someone else if they said that to her. And then I just stopped talking and felt my throat tighten. I willed myself to knock it off and get it together, but I felt the tears welling up. All the old familiar, I hate my life, I hate this, I'm so sick of this, why, why, why can't we ever just have fun feelings came bubbling up to the surface. Biting my lip, I tried my best to hide my face from the kids. I dabbed at my eyes quick with a greasy napkin Seth had used for his pretzel.
Todd looked at me confused. I routinely diffuse much tougher Riley moments, with one hand tied behind my back. His concerned expression begged the question, "Tears? For this?"
Finally we got going.
In the lobby it was still packed and Riley, a bit calmer now, reflexively reached for my hand. I honestly didn't feel like taking hers. Todd and Seth were in front of us. I wished we could trade kids but it would be too obvious. As we slowly made our way through the people she looked up at me, and asked,
"Are you okay?"
Looking straight forward, I nodded.
We walked a hundred more paces through the crowd and she asked,
"Are you sure you're okay? You look sad," she said sheepishly.
I nodded again, not willing to talk about it right then in the throng of people. Later, I would marvel that she noticed my emotion, showed concern, and asked about it twice! She never considers the effect her meltdowns might have on anyone else. At the moment however, I just felt mad. I held tight to her hand. I'd save her from the crushing mob if need be, but I didn't have to look at her.
And you know? Eight hours later I can see it more clearly. I thought we'd come so far, and then her meltdown at the theater felt like it was all a joke. Maybe she really hasn't come very far at all? Maybe I haven't either.
But now I see it for what it was. A mom getting angry at her kid. Like most moms are allowed to.
You do know parents of kids on the spectrum don't feel allowed to get angry at their kids,right? Because their kids can't help it? Plus, there is so much residual guilt from the times I lost my temper before I knew what was going on with her when she was a toddler.
Maybe I can let myself get mad at her because she now does have the capacity to understand she has an effect on others. She does have some control.
My intentions in deciding to stay in our seats were only to help her. I'm not proud of what I said to Riley, but maybe, just maybe, it doesn't have to mean we're not making progress.
Or maybe I'm just full of crap.
Mary Poppins, you might be "Practically Perfect," but I'm not.