Today we went to a park with the J-Man’s classmates and their families. It was an absolutely beautiful day here, and there were a lot of other families there soaking it in with us. The J-Man loved the swinging – as always – but he really didn’t care one whit that he needed to share the swing with other kids. I took him out of the swing, and the rest of the couple of hours we were there went completely downhill from there.
None of the other playground equipment (and there’s a lot of cool stuff there) mattered to him; the paved nature trail had zero appeal; I could barely get him to sit on the bench and eat anything. He walked with one of the teachers along the trail for a few minutes, but after that, it was seemed pretty much like one unending melodrama with some occasional fits thrown in for good measure. If I wasn’t holding or carrying him, he kept whining and crying and even sometimes screaming while trying to climb all over me.
If this were a one-time thing, I could deal with that. But nearly every time we go on anything resembling a ‘play date’, it goes down like this. He’s big, he’s strong, and when he’s singularly focused on something, he’s almost immovable. When he’s in social situations, all that gets amplified 10 times. Overall, it’s getting bit by bit easier to reel him back in when he’s overloaded, but in situations like today, once he’s lost, he’s pretty much gone, and it feels like the battle for survival is on.
It’s not any one single event like today that gets me; it’s the cumulative effect of them over the weeks and months. It makes me viscerally aware of how hard things are for him. I know that sounds ridiculous given our daily lives and our constant awareness of where his challenges are. But after a while, you get into a groove, you have a great week of progress, you start feeling on top of things, and then you get one of these giant reality checks.
We got home, decompressed a little bit, I ate, and then I took the car keys and told Mary I was going to run errands, despite the fact she wasn’t officially off work for two more hours. Yeah, I was a total, selfish ass. But I felt like if I didn’t get out of the house by myself right then, I was going to completely fall apart.
I spent the rest of the day trying to figure out what my own personal meltdown was about. This is about all I could come up with – I want one, normal, somewhat calm play date where I can spend more than 10% of my time sitting down and watching him play from a bench while he explores the different playground equipment and can play for a few minutes at a time on his own. I could talk to other parents for a couple of minutes without having to be holding him while I do that. The rest of the time I’d be overjoyed to guide him through the various parts of the playground and explore them with him.
I guess in other words, I want a ‘normal’ day at the park like the other parents get. It’s selfish, unfair, and short-sighted on my part and completely missing the larger point of life, but for the moment, I don’t really care.
Right now, these sorts of outings just feel like physically-exhausting ju-jitsu. Some combination of him yanking on my arm or some wrong move on my part pulled something way out in my left shoulder. If I turn it wrong, it feels like someone is stabbing me. Really, this is probably just the latest of a half-dozen other times I’ve pulled that same part of my shoulder over the last couple of months. It’s starting to become like the ‘magic thumb’, my now almost unsprainable right thumb after having been injured so many times.
I know my nearly unbroken string of 18-hour days going for weeks now has left my body susceptible to these sorts of things. But I realize I also tend to avoid these sorts of social/play opportunities because they end up being so physically – and of course, mentally and emotionally – hard for me.
And I know all this is really about my own personal and emotional stuff, and it’s something we as parents have to be aware of and taking steps to work through, which I am. This is a marathon, and marathoners know about taking care of their bodies and minds and pacing themselves through the miles. I’m completely aware that I’m terrible at that, but that’s an issue for another day.
To keep with the running metaphor, I’m pretty much in a constant state of bonk these days. I realize we have a lot going on and a baby due any minute – enough to peg out anyone’s engine – but like we do with the J-Man, sometimes you have to sense how things are starting to go out of control and take steps to calm life down before everything melts.
The old saying “it’s a walk in the park” is meant to express that something is both easy to do and has an assured outcome. If there’s a metaphor farther away from what today felt like, it’s hard to imagine what it might be.
I’ll do my self-indulgent, pity thing a while longer and move on. Writing this out helps. I still do dream of one of those walks in the park, though.