It started out as a hard afternoon. My son got off the school bus, and I could tell something was not right. Usually, I was the one who could make it right again. I was positive. I was calm. I was a Zen mom. OK, that was pushing it. But I was learning more and more how to be a Zen mom—a Zen special needs Mom.
I had to be. My son has autism and often struggles with challenging aggressive behaviors. All the therapists we’d worked with warned me about staying calm and not reacting to provocation. I don’t even know how the fight started that day. He didn’t want to listen to anything I was saying. Knowing that he was probably hungry and it wasn’t doing him any good, I tried to give him his afternoon snack. But he was being stubborn there, too, and grew frustrated about not being allowed cookies until after he’d eaten his fruit. This was the usual routine—fruit before cookies—so I knew he was looking for a reason to unleash difficult emotions. And then he did. He flew at me, arms flailing, and slapped me. Next he started tearing pages in a book I was reading. When he started going for the other books nearby, which happened to be library books, I lost it.
I distinctly remember through my tears running away from him with the books in my arms. I was bringing them somewhere safe from my son who was now in full meltdown mode. He proceeded to run after me raising his hands to slap me. He missed two times, and then the third time whacked me hard on the back. And that’s when I lost it for a brief second.
My tears stopped as rage filled me. How dare he attack me! I was in charge! Not him! I yelled at him to get away from me or I would throw this book right at him. He ran back to the couch but started laughing. And then, almost by its own volition, I saw my hand pick up one of the softcover books I was holding, lift it up in the air, and throw the book directly at him on the couch. It hit him on the arm. The shock on his face must have mirrored mine. Then I saw his fear.
“Mommy, you threw the book at me!”
I was shaking, not only because I did indeed throw the book, but I wanted to do it again. I was out of control. I became angry at myself for having lost my restraint, and angry at him for driving me to it. The tears started flowing again, and I began to sob. I retrieved the book and through my tears said, “I’m very sorry, but I’m also very upset. I need to go calm down in my calm corner.”
We had tried to establish calm corners when he had meltdowns. It was clear I needed one for me now. I went to the only room with a lock on the door, the family bathroom. I went inside, cried my heart out for the next 15 minutes or so, and just let everything out. I never lost it with my son again.
Motherhood brings out all your strengths and shortcomings. It helps you grow stronger if you let it. I have known many special needs moms, both close friends and others, who have confessed similar mommy meltdowns to me. One friend told me how when her son stomped hard on one of her feet she did the same right back to him and felt a great satisfaction when he howled in protest, then was ashamed of herself. Another friend told me that she would scream at her little guy until he began to cry, and then she would feel terrible and begin crying. I have heard stories from mom friends who have neurotypical children who have also lost control and slapped their kids, then put themselves in a timeout.
Let’s face it ladies: We’ve all had moments when we’ve lost control. We’re human beings. But I think as long as we use these experiences as learning ones and find anger management techniques for ourselves, we can actually serve as good examples of calm in the face of the storm for our kids—special needs or not. I know for sure that I let that bad moment remake me into a person who now handles my own complex issues with honesty and compassion.