To trust children we must first learn to trust ourselves … and most of us were taught as children that we could not be trusted. — John Holt
It’s time for dinner when he suddenly throws himself down on the kitchen floor at my feet without any warning. Not the usual whining, or irritated build-up so I can brace myself and prepare to use my carefully curated bag of behavior intervention tricks. Just BAM! He’s down, ready to go.
It’s two weeks before Christmas. Nearly 6pm. I’m at the stove.
Another tantrum. My twelve-year-old son’s on the spectrum. And he’s not just a little on the spectrum, he’s solidly on. Holidays. Noise. Change. Parties. New food. Wrapped up packages. The unknown. It’s just too, too much. Not that he has to have a holiday to have a tantrum, but it does seem to help.
He’s down on the floor starting to flail.
My inner alarm bells are going off. All I can think about is snuffing the tantrum out so we can have a peaceful dinner and evening together, so the other two kids can get their homework done.
My heart starts to race a little. He’s really upset this time. Then the, “NO, NO, NO, NO’s!!” burst out from his lips … and the, “I’M SO FRUSTRATED!”
I take a deep breath and feel down into my own body, through my own hurry-up and get-everything-done energy, my keep-everything-under-control energy. My I’m-so-glad-we-don’t-have-company. I breathe past that and down into my feet. I realize I haven’t felt my own feet all day. All my energy is up in my head, spinning around, like this little disembodied administrator running around checking off an endless to-do list, which will still be half a mile long even after Christmas, and most likely even after I die. That stopped me in my tracks.
Turning down the burner, I watch him for a moment without saying a word. It’s just occurred to me to do something I almost never do: Pause.
Looking down at him on the hardwood floor, with tears in his eyes, I’m overcome with a sense of compassion. I feel like I’m looking at myself, the difference being that he’s allowing himself to feel what he feels, and feeling it in his body.
What’s Needed in this Moment?
My usual go-to would be to point to his behavior chart, to coach him, to calmly remind him of the privileges he’s about to lose, about the goodies he’ll get to keep if he behaves in ‘expected’ ways. To point out that he’s way out of the green zone, nearly red now, and that the orange ‘Mom is Busy’ side of the sign on the fridge is showing — and he knows he’s not suppose to interfere with me when the ‘Mom is Busy’ side is showing, especially before dinner on a school night. I may have normally said something like, “First you get up off the floor, then you can play basketball for five minutes before dinner.”
All of the structures we’ve set-up, all of the visual and verbal cues and supports and positive reminders of ways he can keep his cool and be a part of the group of neurotypical people, all the parent training I’ve been through, and even facilitated with other parents, it just doesn’t seem right in this moment. Reinforcing it somehow seems almost unkind, in spite of how much that structure normally helps him and me.
I’m just pausing. Feeling into it. Asking myself, with some fear in my heart and head that the whole evening will be ruined, “What’s needed in this moment?”
It hits me.
I walk over to the sign on the fridge and flip it to the green ‘Mom is Free’ side. The relief ripples through me from head to toe, making a stop at my heart.
He notices, but keeps floundering.
Then I half-whisper: “Me too,” not even sure he can hear me.
He looks up at me, still spinning around on his back with tears running down his face.
“Me too,” I say again louder. “I know how you feel!” I add for clarity’s sake.
He pauses. Sits up. Looks at me deeply with his big blue eyes, his thick sandy-blonde hair standing up in the back like Dennis the Menace from rubbing on the floor.
“Really?” He asks.
“Yeah, really,” I say.
Then I do something I’ve never done before, not because I think it’s a good thing to do, or that it will teach him to behave better, or that it’s what a thoughtful parent would do… in fact, it’s pretty illogical, but it feels right.
I lie down on the floor with him and start kicking my legs, shaking my fists in the air and making weird noises while tossing my head from side-to-side and doing horse-lips. The other two kids come running out of their rooms in shock. They’re staring at us on the floor with mouths half-open. But we don’t get up. We pound the floor with our feet, nash our teeth, crawl on our bellies and howl like wolves. I beat on my chest and make Tarzan noises. He starts barking. His autism service dog gets involved and starts nuzzling him with his big, wet, black nose, tail wagging.
His younger brother is standing in the kitchen doorway looking on in disbelief, torn between joining us or videotaping us for his YouTube channel.
I don’t know how long we rolled around on the floor that night two weeks before Christmas last year, but we just kept going until we felt done, until the yelping and frustration turned to laughter.
Then we stopped as suddenly as it all began. He rolled across the floor without getting up and asked for a hug. We lay there on the floor for a minute embracing when finally he said, “Does this mean that I can still have dessert after dinner?”
“I think so,” I said, “Do you think I can still have dessert, too?” I asked.
“Yeah, of course, Mama,” he answered, “You didn’t do anything wrong.”
Bring the Man to Me by Hafiz
A Perfect One was traveling through the desert.
He was stretched out around the fire one night
And said to one of his close ones,
“There is a slave loose not far from us.
He escaped today from a cruel master.
His hands are still bound behind his back,
His feet are also shackled.
I can see him right now praying for God’s help.
Go to him.
Ride to that distant hill;
About a hundred feet up and to the right
You will find a small cave.
He is there.
Do not say a single word to him.
Bring the man to me.
God requests that I personally untie his body
And press my lips to his wounds.”
The disciple mounts his horse and within two hours
Arrives at the small mountain cave.
The slave sees him coming, the slave looks frightened.
The disciple, on orders not to speak,
Gestures toward the sky, pantomiming:
God saw you in prayer,
Please come with me,
A great Murshid (teacher) has used his heart’s divine eye
To know your whereabouts.
The slave cannot believe this story,
And begins to shout at the man and tries to run
But trips from his bindings.
The disciple becomes forced to subdue him.
Think of this picture as they now travel:
The million candles in the sky are lit and singing.
Every particle of existence is a dancing alter
That some mysterious force worships.
The earth is a church floor whereupon
In the middle of a glorious night
Walks a slave, weeping, tied to a rope behind a horse,
With a speechless rider
Taking him toward the unknown.
Several times with all of his might the slave
Tries to break free,
Feeling he is being returned to captivity.
The rider stops, dismounts-brings his eyes
Near the prisoner’s eyes.
A deep kindness there communicates an unbelievable hope.
The rider motions-soon, soon you will be free.
Tears roll down from the rider’s cheeks.
In happiness for this man.
Anger, all this fighting and tormenting want,
God has seen you and sent a close one.
God has seen your heart in prayer
And sent Hafiz.
We’d love to hear about a moment in time where you ‘corrected’ yourself … or at least gave yourself a pattern-interrupt from a different place; a place of presence in the feeling body. Maybe it worked, maybe it didn’t … but leaning into that pause or that moment of authentic self-connection can change everything. Share in the comments below.
We love you and see your struggles and your remarkable courage.
We see you as FREE.
Dorothy Kolomeisky is the director of the Bet Lev Foundation and facilitates classes in Conscious Parenting, which point toward the understanding of the body, mind and spirit as one integral system. We explore how bringing this awareness impacts us as individuals and in relationship with others. Regardless of past experiences, or traumas, each person is seen as a whole, resilient and innately well being with the potential for living a life of joy and fulfillment. For more information on classes, feel free to contact Dorothy at: [email protected]