I was sitting quietly on the bed when the crying started. This wasn’t part of The Plan. The Plan had been agreed upon and rehearsed several times the night before: Mommy would wake Kiddo and kiss her good-bye before leaving for her appointment; Kiddo would go back to sleep; Nana would hang out in Kiddo’s room to keep her company and be close by if she needed anything. Like all plans we make these days, this one had lots of input from Kiddo herself. We do this, because it helps to cut down on the anxiety that typically leads to meltdowns. And it usually works.
Yesterday, there was a glitch. Maybe she wasn’t able to handle being woken so early. Maybe she couldn’t get back to sleep. Whatever the case, she started to cry for Mommy. At first she just called out for her and I, in my kindest Nana voice, reminded her that Mommy had gone to her appointment, but would be back soon. She turned to glare at me and said, “Shoo!”
This wasn’t a gentle or cheerful shooing. This was almost a growl, it came from deep within. The Plan was over before it began.
I skedaddled, but not too far. I went into the other room and settled into the rocking chair, just in case she changed her mind. I could hear her even if she called out quietly. Unfortunately, she could hear me too.
“Go away! Go downstairs!” I looked in at her. “Is there anything I can get you?”
“Hisssssss!!” Good choice. Hissing. She knows I hate snakes. Very effective, Kiddo.
I went across the hall to my room. There I could still monitor the situation and be close by if needed.
After a few minutes, I heard music from her room and then sobbing. I couldn’t help myself, I went to check on her. More hissing and a final yell, “Go back where I put you!”
In her mind, that was downstairs, so down I went. By now it was clear that any further attempt on my part to interact with her was just going to push her closer to a full-blown meltdown. I reminded myself that she was safe, comfortable in her room, and actually doing a pretty good job at soothing herself with music. Crying because she wanted her mom to be home with her was fine. I didn’t need to stop the tears. Let her express her feelings honestly. Go make a cup of tea.
When my daughter texted to say she was on her way home, I went back up to pass on the good news. She was playing a game on her iPad, but looked up to yell, “Oh, no, not you again! Hiss!!!”
Later, she told my daughter that I had been pesky and had hissed at her. Nice try, Kiddo. We all know who does the hissing in this house. They called my phone from the bedroom. She wanted Mommy to stay with her and me to bring her up some breakfast. I told her I couldn’t because she had said I had to stay downstairs.
“That’s true. You can bring it up and I’ll hiss at you and you can go back down.”
It’s our new thing. Her mom has another appointment this afternoon. Kiddo asked if she can go, bringing me to wait in the waiting room with her. “Can I hiss at her in the waiting room?”
My daughter’s wise answer: “If you want to hiss at her, it would be better to stay home and do it here.”
Living with a special needs child can be challenging. Love doesn’t always look the way you expect it to. Still, I know my granddaughter loves me. She happily hangs out with me other times. She sits on the arm of my chair and leans against me, just like I used to do with my grandmother. We talk about books and movies and fairies and dragons. I also know that when she wants her mother, I’m no substitute, so loving her means giving her space to express her anger and sadness. It means letting her know I’m here for her, while respecting the fact that, even at six-years-old, she might prefer music to my company. It means letting myself be hissed at until it becomes a game. And it means making sure that she knows that even when she sends me away, I’m still close enough to bring her breakfast when she’s ready.
(I was just informed that she has decided to stay home today and is eagerly looking forward to reading Harry Potter books with her aunt. “I’d never hiss at her.”)