Staying Conscious & Mindful Through Meltdown

(Another post where I just walk you through my thought processes during a particular day.)

I pull up in the driveway expecting an evening at home, but my son is already in the driveway asking me to take him to the park. We throw some things together and head to the park instead.

He has already made a plan in his head. His plan involves me using chalk to draw him roads to drive his scooter on, on the big asphalt basketball court.

This is not the plan I would have chosen for my afternoon. I talk it over with myself in my head on the way there. I am tired from work and it is hot outside. I really don’t want to touch chalk, a sensory thing I hate. I think it over while we go to the park.

My son asks me to wear a slap bracelet so I will match him. I do for a few minutes but then take it off because I can’t tolerate how it feels on my wrist. He says “because it hurts your skin, Mom?” I agree.
I think about how I can’t guarantee that no other kids are using the asphalt. I assume that if someone else is, there’s a significant chance he will melt down. I make plans for how to cope with that including an exit strategy if needed.

We get there. The park is empty.

First I have to put on sunscreen. Another sensory thing I hate the feeling of. To try to mitigate how much of my internal resources it depletes, I try to apply it with my palms instead of my fingertips as much as possible, because in my own body (and for many people), my fingertips feel extra sensitive to textures I hate.

My son thrusts chalk into my hands and begs me to draw him a road. I think about how I could do this in a way that meets his desires and my desires too. I take a wet wipe from our travel backpack and wrap it around the chalk so I’m not touching it directly.

That works for about 5 seconds before the chalk breaks into too small of a piece for me to use with any kind of guard. Sigh. I just pick up the chalk and draw for him while musing on how this activity feels much more tolerable when *i’m* the one who chose it. I think about urging him to draw what he wants to draw but instead I keep my words to myself. I know that he’s usually maximum tapped out after a school day and I’m not so tapped out that I can’t do this for him.

About halfway through my drawing him a road, he jumps in and begins drawing the features that he wants. I think about how the skill of “initiation”, beginning a task or activity, is one of the executive functioning skills that develops later in life than earlier ones. I think about how, while he’s already tapped out, it was probably tough for Apollo to imagine how to begin making the road he wanted—but it was easier for him to jump in alongside me once I got it started for him. I quietly appreciate myself for doing my best to help him today. I wipe my hands vigorously with wet wipes to deal with the chalky feeling.

Meanwhile, my other kid is struggling with a pile of sensory things but none of them escalating to a level where we’re in crisis. She doesn’t want her helmet on over her braids (fair). I won’t let her ride her scooter without her helmet. I help rearrange her braids, but she gets distracted for awhile playing in a nearby sand pile. She takes off her socks and shoes, but then she wants to ride the scooter again and I still won’t let her without a helmet and doubly won’t let her barefoot. We go back and forth on this several times but our conversations are always at conversational volume, with me just empathetically explaining that I can’t let her ride without safety things like a helmet and shoes.

She tells me that she’s mad because she wants to ride her scooter, and I affirm that I understand and that if she wants to put those things on then she’s welcome to ride it. I physically move the scooter a bit away from her so that she can’t just impulsively jump on and ride away, so that I won’t be put in a situation where I can’t physically help her with this boundary.

She asks me to put on her socks and shoes for her. Her socks are inside-out and half-buried in a pile of sand, so I tell her I’ll help with her shoes but I don’t want to mess with her socks, because by now sand feels like too much to deal with. She takes the socks and flings them at me (not angry, just seems to be assuming that if the socks land on me then I’ll help her with them). I take a deep breath and set them aside and let her know if she wants to put on her socks then I’ll help with her shoes. (Crucially, she *is* capable of both independently.)

My son starts to get annoyed that my daughter is looking at him. I decide that it’s probably getting close to the end of anybody’s tolerance to be here and that we need to go soon, but I don’t want to leave in the instant that he’s upset and escalated. I remind myself to watch closely for the next moment when we’re all good, and in that moment I give everybody a heads up that we’ll leave in a few minutes.

Unfortunately, there is no next minute when we’re all good. I didn’t notice the point where we tipped past into inevitable meltdown, but we did. Leaving the park goes badly. As I’ve written about before, once you’re already in crisis mode, there’s nothing left to “fix it” but to survive. For us, this time, survival looks like a combination of things. Sitting on the ground holding a sobbing child. Setting a timer to watch count down (because that’s something they love right now) in hopes of it helping us settle and take deep breaths. They do, in fact, love watching the timer, but they launch right back into meltdown right after it’s over, which tells me we’re just too tired and this is only fixable by sleep. We limp our way home (metaphorically and a little bit physically as I struggle to carry a kid and a half, and two scooters, and our backpack and…)

I get the content kid inside, hand them off to my husband. He’s ready to tag in for me with the melting down one if I need. I consider it, check in with myself. Right now, I’m not at my end, and what I want more is for the melting down kid to know I’m not just handing them off like radioactive material, but that we’re in this together. I go back to the melting down one and reassure them that they’re safe. I carry them inside like a baby. I launch straight into bedtime.

The only thing I do for myself in this process is take a moment to wash my hands. It takes away some of the sensory and mental cringe I’m feeling, it gives me a tiny bit of resources back. A tiny little “feel-good” strategy that only took a moment to snatch for myself.

They’re utterly exhausted. Every little thing is too much. The only remnant of our bedtime routine I keep is toileting related. Everything else is unimportant right now. No toothbrushing and they go to sleep in school clothes. We all survive.

I get the other kid to bed, too, then I sit down and check in with myself again. I drink a lot of water and take deep breaths. I think about my former evening plans and I take some stuff off my list. I wanted to make myself food that would have required standing at the stove, so I change my plans to eat food I can put in the oven and sit down. I eat a handful of peanut butter candy while I wait so that i can get some quick energy and protein. I wanted to put away the laundry, but it can wait until another day.

In the near future, when my kids want to go to the park after I get home from work, I’ll know that it doesn’t work right now. They have showed me that it doesn’t work, so we’ll wait awhile, til everybody’s in a different stage of development. That happens like every couple of months with kids. I won’t blame them or shame them aloud about it. I’m not mad about it right now. Sometimes it’s just a bad day or bad circumstances, and that’s all this was. We all survived and I made a thousand careful and conscious choices along the way, that’s all any of us can hope for.