The Three Times my Son Cried

I don’t think my son cried more than three times in his life.  Yes, there were times when he  screamed often from either unexplainable pain or frustration.  It was hard to witness his distress, even more so because nobody knew for sure what had caused it and how to help. Very hard.  But there was nothing harder than seeing my son cry. I am not counting his baby cries. He cried like babies do.  There was nothing special about those cries and I don’t remember them at all. I remember those three times he cried after he turned 2,

1. Robert cried the night after he had gotten lost in Boston Commons.  ( Don’t Blink) It was only an hour or less, but for his sister, his dad, and for me, it lasted for eternity.  He did not show any signs of distress when he was found  close to the huge playground he remembered from previous visits.  He walked with me trying  to skip and to wiggle out of my hold.  He seemed happy although, he did not appreciate his movements being restricted. It seemed that the whole experience did not have any effect on him.  But that night,  his cry woke us up.  It was a cry of a lost , abandoned, scared soul.

2. He cried another night, just a few years ago.  He shed the same kind of tears of being scared and abandoned.  Maybe he had a nightmare.  Maybe he experienced something during the day, he was not able to share.  Maybe he missed his father who after loosing  job in Massachusetts, worked in California.  Maybe he missed his sister who was studying in Oregon. I did not know.  I still don’t know.  I just held him in my arms until he stopped and  fell asleep.

3.My son’s most excruciating cry was of my doing.  He was twelve years old.  My husband and my daughter went on a two-week long  trip to Mexico.  I don’t remember exactly what had happened that in ther end resulted in my son’s uncontrollable sobbing.  I know  that his crying was preceded by some  OCD behaviors.  I remember  that two different parts of the house needed my immediate attention as there was a leak from the toilet and a broken glass somewhere.  I know that Robert tried to fix everything in his own way which scared me even more.  I remember him going to the garage and getting a plunger.  I  know that I had a feeling of immediate danger.  I was running from one end of the house to another attempting to prevent something.  I don’t remember what it was, but I was exasperated.

And I showed it.

I am not trying to excuse the rumbling which followed by telling that I was exasperated.  I think there is hardly anything worse than showing a child – typical or with special needs – that you are exasperated with him or her.  Nothing worse.  But I was exasperated and I showed it to Robert.

I started rumbling like an angry victim or a prosecutor accusing a criminal. I was like a psychologist coldly diagnosing someone as a psychopath, and thus being beyond redemption.  I was not even  loud but I showed my exasperation in the worst way.   And that was when Robert began to weep.

It was as  if the dam was  suddenly broken and the tears gushed not just from his eyes but straight from his heart.  As if all the emotions, he could not express for the first 11 years of his life, suddenly became unbearable. and broke through iron and concrete fortifications.   He was crying as if he was telling me, “I don’t know how I should live.  I don’t know how to move.  I don’t know where to go.  I don’t know what is my place in this world.  I don’t know who I am. ”

Even now, 10 years later, I still cannot get over that cry.

I am not always sweet mother to him.  I am not afraid to say, “No” to Robert, refuse him something.  I do tell him that I am angry when I am angry and I tell him why.  He is, more or less, tolerating that.  Sometimes, he negotiates his own way, sometimes he accepts my decisions.  Sometimes, by making groaning sounds he shows me that he is angry too. Sometimes I am still exasperated.  But when that happens, I either avoid showing my feelings to Robert, or I tell him precisely  which of his actions made me angry.

I don’t  ever show my EXASPERATION WITH Robert.  Mainly, because I am never exasperated by him. I carry his cry with me all the time.  I understand that everything Robert does, no matter how it looks to those who don’t know him, comes  from his understanding how the world works and his efforts to fit in.  That might be a wrong understanding and it might cause some problems but it is never, never  malicious.

Replays

Three days ago, I watched Robert running down the stairs. He slipped on one step, lost balance, regained it without falling, and ended up standing two steps below. Instead of continuing his journey to the basement, he turned back, climbed two steps up, and reenacted his misstep.

Well, not exactly.

He bent his left knee and with the right foot he gently traced his previous movement  leading the foot through the edges of the two steps. He did not risk another slip up.  He had full control of the movements.

It was not the first time, I watched Robert replaying such bumps.  Whenever I observed Robert tripping  over something, I also noticed him repeating the incident in a well controlled manner.

I remember that long ago, when we once bumped our heads as we were reading a book, Robert gently placed his forehead on mine as if he were saying, “This is what has just happened.”  I understood the communicative intent then, because he was talking to me.

On the other hand, when I observed Robert replaying his missteps, I considered that behavior to be a form of magical thinking.  Since nobody was around (I was either behind, or in another room.), Robert was not talking to anybody.

Because I also witnessed Robert repeating the faulty step three times (Slipping on dry leaves in Moose Hill Park .), I suspected that this behavior was a manifestation of obsessive compulsive disorder.

This time, three days ago, I was struck by a realization  that the reenactment was a  way Robert was  telling  himself what  had just happened.  He was communicating with  himself… without words. The fact that in the park, he replayed his slip-up three times, probably meant, that he couldn’t get it right on the first two trials.  He wanted to be exact and to understand the incident correctly.

I have been trying to understand the  ramifications of Robert’s reenactments for the three days now. I am concerned.

The fact that Robert communicates even with himself without words, is not to be taken lightly.

Negotiations

The only thing that Robert disliked more than throwing old and broken stuff  away was buying new items.  He didn’t mind going to the store and trying on new shoes, but he would not allow us to take them to the cash register, pay for them, and bring them home.  Since we (the parents) didn’t feel we were able to handle major tantrum at the shoe store, we developed two stops shopping.  First, we would go to the store with Robert to find a right pair of shoes but refrained from buying it.  Then, we would return without Robert and purchase that pair.

Now, we just had to convince Robert to wear these shoes.

Well…

We knew that persuading Robert to wear the new shoes  would be a major challenge so we  waited until the weekend to deal with the problem. On Saturdays, Robert used to go for a long walk at Blue Hills and then to his favorite Outback Restaurant.  So making this outing contingent upon wearing a new pair of shoes seemed like a good idea.  If he wanted to go for a walk he would have to put on a new pair of shoes.  Robert complied.  He put on a new pair and then immediately took it off returning to the old one. “No walk.” I said.  Robert took the old shoes off  but was clearly in distress.  He was getting more and more upset.  He made a series of heartbreaking noises, and those sounds  melted both my husband’s heart and his resolve.  He wanted to give up. Robert sensed his father’s weakness and quickly put on old shoes again.  We already had struggled for 40 minutes or more, and now, my husband’s hesitations convinced Robert that his chances for winning this battle increased significantly.

I have to say.  I was mad.  My husband and I talked about this before and we both decided that we had to be firm. I knew it would be difficult  and now  I felt betrayed. My ally was changing his position in the midst of the fight.  Discussing the situation at this moment would be disastrous. We couldn’t show that we disagreed with each other. I felt that we couldn’t back off either.  I took a deep breath and relatively calmly persuaded my husband to leave it to me. I asked him to go to his computer and wait until Robert is ready.   Jan withdrew to his office.  That didn’t make Robert happy.  He already knew that his dad was easier to convince (manipulate). So without him Robert was even more distressed, sad, and mad.  He put his old shoes yet again.”No walk.” He took them off just to put them on  again. “No walk.”  He took them off.  Next, he brought the pair of his mountain hiking shoes.  “No walk” .  Then he brought one old, one new shoe.  “No walk”  He was negotiating with me by trying to find a middle ground. He was furious that I didn’t accept any of the suggestions he was making.  When I think about this today I feel that it was a very funny event. Yet at that time it was a real struggle. It lasted over 2 full hours.  Finally, Robert gave up.  He put on his new shoes and his father took him for a walk and to Outback.

During this walk Robert felt defeated and was not happy about that.  From time to time during the walk, he let Jan know, that it was not his choice to part with the shoes which seemed to be as significant and important to Robert  as parts of his own body. Every few steps he  made   sounds expressing his suffering.  Outback, however,  helped to cheer him a little.

But the next day and every day after that he didn’t have any problems with wearing these shoes.

I have to add that the shoes were comfortable, fitting Robert better than the old pair.

Even more importantly, from that time on, five minutes sufficed to convince Robert to wear any new pair of shoes.