This therapy thing is such a journey. Such a long exhausting journey. And it has the power to give me the highest highs and the lowest lows. And for a lot of this therapy. For a lot of the steps to recovery, it is darkest before the dawn.
These therapists are no joke. Especially Renee. She knows her craft. She’s perfected it. She believes in her therapies and the kids that she works with. And her spirit, you can’t help but be affected by it.
It was right around this point that I was starting to think this whole therapy thing was a breeze. That a simple brushing made him speak. That eye contact was as easy as a game of Peek-A-Boo. I had this idea that each session would be marked with some beautiful “Aha!” moment that I would later blog about. And for a long time it really was that way.
I was watching my boy come to life. I loved that his hugs were intentional now. That his heart was experiencing love and warmth. And that words were spilling from his lips in the most beautiful angel voice I’d ever heard. I loved having him finally join our family. An active participant instead of just a passive observer. But as Lucas’ abilities broadened, so did our experiences. And there were times, when the challenges of his new experiences prevailed over the progress in his development.
Now, our therapy was switching from making Lucas a part of the world to helping him navigate his way through it. Our sessions start out with Renee asking us about our week. And how Lucas did. And then she “fixes” whatever it is we dealt with.
I had a playdate with a new friend. I never use to do playdates. Really. Lucas is too much of a lose cannon. And it’s easier sometimes to just walk this life with him alone. But I’d made up my mind to try it. To put no limits on his abilities. And for this first time, we met some friends at a playground by our house. The one we go to every. single. day. The playground that my boys love. And play on for hours. I knew this playground. I knew my boy at this playground. And I was suddenly feeling wildly optimistic for this adventure. What I didn’t anticipate was what I didn’t yet know. The friend’s kid we were meeting with. He wasn’t mine. I didn’t know him and I especially didn’t know how Lucas would interact with him. I usually protected him from other kids. Or, should I say, protected other kids from him. But this time it had slipped my mind. I was distracted with the prospect of my time with my friend.
So how did this turn out? The playdate was an utter disaster. And moment after moment, Lucas became more and more dysregulated. While I was off trying to have adult mom conversations, my boy was falling apart. And where Lucas’ coping tactic had always been flight, he was busting out fight. He slid down the slide to find his new “buddy” sitting at the bottom, He panicked. I think he thought he was stuck. Forever. And he proceeded to go ape shit. He practically mauled that poor little boy just to “un-stuck” himself from the slide. And the sand. Dear Lord. The SAND! He was holding a bucket and this new little boy started shoveling sand into said bucket. Normal kid-play, right? Not for Lucas. Because God forbid some sand get on his arm. He drop kicked that bucket half way across the playground. I mean, my first reaction to this was,
“Damn kid. That was impressive.”
Followed quickly by,
“Ok, momma better get a handle on this.”
And the cherry on top? He took his water bottle and threw it with the strength of an MLB pitcher at his new friend. Or should we say “frenemy”. Time to go home.
Epic fail. I had never even mentioned to this mom about Lucas and what road he walks. I didn’t want to. I just let it be. I still don’t know if that was the right thing to do.
And that was a typical experience that I’d come to Renee with.
When she showed up at my door a couple of days later. She was met by me in tears and frustration.
What had happened?
Sweet Renee. She took the whole hour to be my therapist. She never even worked with Lucas that day. She sat and talked me through it. And I’d slowly feel better. Or — at least — less alone. For starters she walked me through talking about my boy. And encouraged me to get out there again with him and be an open book to others about where he is in his development. She was right. Why did I do that? Was I embarrassed? No, I think it was denial. But even that, the idea that I would deny something that his 100% him, saddens me. I think people are lying when they say, “I wouldn’t change it for the world.” Seriously? How could I not want everything for him? And that’s what I had to come to. There’s a massive difference between denial and hope. And It had become time to stop denying and start living in hope. And she continued to talk about all of the things I did wrong. Which strangely made me feel a lot better. It could be better. I could do better.
So, the next five sessions we met at the playground. And Renee tackled every single issue we had. And she gave us both therapy. She taught Lucas how to work through these moments of panic.
Renee would “accidentally” get sand on him at the playground. She would “accidentally” miss the bucket and drench his arm with sand. And, as the panic started to sink in, she would teach him. She would show him how to brush the sand off. She would reassure him.
“See. Brush. Brush. Bye bye sand.”
“Now, Lucas. Deep breath. Squeeze Squeeze.”
She would instruct me too.
“This is where you squeeze him. Notice his eye contact. Notice where he is looking…. look at how fast he is moving. His cup is full. You have to see it first.”
I have to anticipate where he is. Help him.
She taught me to regulate him. The best way to do this at a playground is to swing him in the swings. And to sing a song. Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. Or to count slowly and evenly. Monotone. To ten.
And just swing him. And wait for that eye contact. That angel voice — that I so love — to return. And when it does. We go back to playing.
“And remember that we did not empty his cup. We just stopped it from overflowing.”
She reminded me.
She taught me how to watch him. How to know where he was. As a momma, I already think my love for him is at full capacity. But, the more I understand this boy my love continually grows. It doesn’t even seem possible. And I love Renee for giving that to me.
As soon as he was back in the game, she would get back to work with him. She would park herself at the bottom of the slide. And teach us all over again.
“Lucas, say move please. Lucas use your words. Say move. And scoot out.”
And she would stay parked. And let him panic. And it was always one of those moments where I wanted to physically move her for him. But I had let her teach him. I let her panic my boy. And then I’d watch her calm him down.
“Lucas. You can get out. Just say move.”
She’d help him scoot off the end of the slide and around her body. With the most loving hands I have ever seen. Gentle and strong all at the same time.
And as the weeks went on, she started to help him not just navigate his world but other children. And she taught him to speak to them. Something entirely new to us.
“Hi, my name is Lucas. What’s your name?”
And all of this was done with love and protection of my little boy. She always had Lucas’ comfort level in mind. She always used her body between him and the other kids and only stepped away after Lucas relaxed.
These sessions changed his life. Changed my life.
And now, we go to playdates all the time. And Lucas loves the playground and his friends. And this world he is living in is getting bigger and better by the minute. He’s simply a better navigator.
This was a hard point in our therapy. A hard mountain to climb. Renee pushed him to a point that I had to hold back the momma bear instinct in me that wanted to attack her. The wild beast that wanted to rip her limb from limb. Because I had to stop and remember that she LOVES him. That she was not the one fighting for him — that was my job. What she was doing was even better. She was the one teaching him to fight all by himself. And, eventually, it wouldn’t feel like a fight. It would feel natural. Effortless. And sometimes, she had to create situations that were painful to teach him how to get through it. To reprogram his brain. To show him that what he thinks is scary, is not. That what he anticipates as painful, really won’t be. And that what he’d learned as bad, was not bad at all. It might even be good. I’ve been so grateful to watch that pain reverse. What used to hurt, has turned to joy.
The main thing I learned, which I believe all parents of young kids can use, is to write scripts for your kids. Help them navigate their world.
Renee always tells Lucas what to say in situations. The exact words to use. And for a long time he uses those same words she does. And, one day, they just become his own. And he builds on them. Makes them uniquely him.
I use this with Brooks all the time. I say,
“Brooks you could say, can I play with you?”
“I don’t like it when you call me that.”
Just guiding them little-by-little is everything. Giving them your words as a foundation teaches them so much more than what they would do just coming up with the words themselves. It’s your opportunity to shape them — with your experiences — and the way that they think and interact with others.
This world is big enough to these littles on its own. They shouldn’t have to navigate it alone.