Did you ever have one of those moments where you just KNEW something wasn’t right? Several months ago I was driving home from work. I’d been experiencing a few little glitches with my van, but nothing major. Sometimes it would stall at red lights. Sometimes it seemed to kind of sputter a little when we drove along. The engine light was on and the mechanic couldn’t figure out why. All things considered, on this day the van was sailing along fine when it suddenly made a horrible, awful CLUNK. Then quit accelerating for a second. Then every warning light on the dashboard seemed to light up as it clunked along for half a mile more before just stopping. Right in the middle of a huge intersection.
Turns out it was my transmission. A tow truck, two weeks without a vehicle, and an entire income tax return later, and we were back on the road with a new knowledge of how things can go horribly wrong, and how to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
It was kind of like that with my little Munchkin too. There was never a major issue with him. There were some little things…he tantrumed a lot. He didn’t make transitions well. He had occasional meltdowns over small things. And he was certainly a little quirky. But overall, he was a happy, intelligent, charming kid who was pretty easy to handle. Just like with my van, we could continue “driving” him in spite of the little things that weren’t quite right. Just like I knew to give the car a little gas at a red light so it didn’t stall, we knew what to do to keep Munchkin running too.
Then we had that “Oh no, something is majorly wrong here” moment with him. The moment when we got stranded in the middle of a major intersection and had to call in the big guns.
It happened on our first-ever family vacation. On the first day of our family vacation. At one of the very first stops on our family vacation. (Nothing like setting the tone for the whole vacation, right?) We went to Disney World with the extended family. After arriving and spending our first night in Florida, we got up at the crack of dawn to have breakfast with Winnie the Pooh, and Tigger too. We were absolutely sure that 3-year-old Munchkin, a Disney channel junkie, would love meeting his favorite friends. No–he was scared to death of all of them. Clung to mommy and hid his head when they tried to talk to him. But he did enjoy watching them talk to the other guests (from a distance) and joining his sister and cousin in the parade around the restaurant after breakfast. (Small warning light, still running ok, keep going.)
Then we entered the park and got on our first ride. Ah, the joy of sailing up in the air with Dumbo! Lots of smiles and giggles. (Running good again, smooth sailing down the road.)
Next stop was a 3D Mickey Mouse movie. At this time in his life, Munchkin had been to one movie. It was not a successful event, but neither was it a total disaster, so we had no reason to expect the total breakdown that was about to occur. I had never been to Disney before myself. I was not prepared for the full-on sensory assault that is everything Disney, so I could not prepare my son for what was about to take place either. I had also never seen a 3D movie before (I know, I’m so sheltered!) so I didn’t quite know what we were getting into.
From the moment the lights went down, he started panicking. (“It’s too dark Mommy!”) When the music started, the hands covered his ears and he started crying. (“I wanna go!”) When Donald Duck leaned into his face to talk to him, the 3D glasses flew across the theater and the screaming began, “(No! NO! Let’s go out!”) And when water splashed on screen and we got misted at the same time, we had a breakdown. Full out, in the middle of a major intersection, car won’t move and everyone is honking and yelling at you, kind of breakdown.
Of course, since Disney herds you in to every show like cattle, and warns you that “For your own safety and the safety of those around you” you may not get out of your seat during the show, we were trapped in the middle of a long row of people and couldn’t get out. So I wrapped myself around my little guy the best I could–hugged him tight, covered his ears with my hands, buried his face into my shoulder, and assured him over and over and over that I knew he wanted to leave and it would be over soon and we could leave in a minute. It was like sitting in that broken-down car in the middle of that busy intersection with everyone wanting you to do something (get out of the way!) and being completely helpless and at the mercy of someone else to fix the problem.
Except the “problem” was my petrified little Munchkin, and my mommy heartstrings were breaking in that theater. Because there was no denying, at that moment, that we had a major problem. This was not just fear of a new experience. This was a major sensory overload that had pushed my little guy over the brink, and there was no bringing him back. It hung over and around us for the rest of the vacation. Every time we walked into a building, Munchkin started to panic–”I don’t want to see a show! I want to get out of here!” Every ride–”I don’t want to do it!” Every restaurant–”It’s scary!” Not that he didn’t have fun: we just had to convince him that it would be ok every step of the way for the rest of the week. And stay the heck out of the shows!
Fast forward to present day. My van is still running a little weird. It still stalls from time to time. And now I have the knowledge of what can go so horribly (and expensively) wrong hanging over and around me, so I panic a little every time it happens.
My Munchkin is still a little quirky too. And now we have the knowledge of what else is going on with him (ASD, SPD). But I don’t panic anymore. He still hates shows of any kind–Disney may have scarred him for life in that regard. But the other day we went to the Planetarium. I bought tickets for the IMAX theater and told him in no uncertain terms that we were going to see a show. I told him it would be a little dark in there, and that the movie might be too loud, so he could cover his ears. I told him if he didn’t want to watch, I would hold him and cover him with my jacket so he didn’t have to see. But I told him he had to come in with us, because this is what we were going to do. You see, just like I can’t stop driving out of fear of maybe breaking down again, he can’t stop living out of fear of the unknown. There are things in life that you just have to do! We’re learning how to help him cope with his sensory overloads, and he’s learning what he needs as well.
So we went in to see the movie. And it was a success, at least by our standards! He sat on my lap and pressed my hands over his ears. Then he put his own hands on mine and applied steady pressure throughout the whole movie. His body tensed up a few times–he would push his head into my chest really hard when this happened. By the time the movie ended, my hands were asleep and my arms were shaking from being in that position and being pressed on for 20 minutes. The back of his head was sweaty and his hair was matted from pushing on me. My shirt was wrinkled and wet. He was exhausted and ready to go home. But we made it.
No breakdown this time–keep driving along.