You might have wondered what on earth was going on. We stopped briefly to get cupcakes for Alex to share with his friends at school for his birthday. I zipped up an aisle to get some flour to fry up some morels and Ben lost it. I wasn’t sure what the trigger was, but since we had what we needed, I hurried to the checkout lane and tried to distract Ben, which didn’t work. At all.
I debated the best course of action and decided that Alex deserved the cupcakes I had promised him, come hell or high water.
I herded Ben over, hoping to contain him in the lane, but that didn’t work either. Ben kicked Alex, angering him, then lashed out at me.
We managed to get our things paid for and tried to leave, but Ben froze.
I wound up wrapping myself around him, hauling his 85 lb. thrashing frame across the full parking lot to the van, where Alex waited, having gone ahead.
Ben’s meltdown lasted the 10 minute ride home, then a solid half hour (possibly longer) once we got home.
I found out when we got home that Ben had spotted birthday cakes in the aisle with the flour and wanted to choose one for Alex.
Had I known I would have just let him.
If you’re wondering why I didn’t punish him, it’s because it doesn’t work. Did you happen to see the movie “Rainman”? If so, maybe you’ll remember how upsetting it was to Rainman when Charlie got angry. It doesn’t work, it doesn’t help, it just escalates an already out of control situation.
If you’re wondering why I didn’t just walk out, I knew when I walked in that there was a certain likelihood of Ben having a meltdown, it was a calculated risk, and I walked in prepared to follow through and get Alex’s birthday treat.
If you’re wondering why and how I stayed calm, it’s from years of practice, and because “low and slow” is what keeps things from getting worse. I will admit that sometimes it’s harder than others to keep my cool, and that sometimes I don’t, but when possible, it helps.
If you’re wondering if there was something you could have done, that’s a very good question. Maybe. Sometimes an unexpected occurrence, like a stranger stepping in, aborts the meltdown, but it’s equally possible that it could have escalated things.
If you suspect that I’m a crappy parent, some days I am, and some days I’m a pretty stellar parent, and most days I’m fairly decent, just like most other parents. My parenting isn’t the cause of the meltdown though, those are a complex combination of factors that I only wish I could control.
If you think he’s always like that, he isn’t. Ben is a complex and dynamic human being. Sometimes he has meltdowns, sometimes he’s so sweet he melts my heart, sometimes he’s feisty and funny, and there are oh, so many more adjectives could describe him. You saw a snapshot. Just like you can take a photograph of an attractive person that catches them in an ugly moment, you caught a rough moment in time. He does have those, but they don’t define him.
If you feel sorry for him, us or me, please listen. Compassion and empathy for a challenging situation are welcome, but we don’t need pity. We need acceptance and pity won’t get us there. We need to keep giving Ben opportunities to go out because the less he does it the harder it gets. So we’ll keep taking these chances and sometimes he’ll do okay, and others he’ll have meltdowns. For his benefit and everyone else’s, we’ll keep going out, because isolation isn’t an option.
Here are some photos of Ben on happier days. And when you look at them I hope you see how worthy and treasured he is.
Read more from Alethea at Ben’s Writing, Running Mom.