Somebody loved the train at the park yesterday!
Henry was doing so well when we first got to the park. He watched Calvin ride the little kiddie boat ride. He was all right as we waited in the long line for the train (well, as long as Mama was holding him). And he was so happy on the train ride! He sat in the seat next to me like a big boy instead of on my lap. He smiled and laughed as he looked out at the park going past, felt the motion of the train and listened to the hum of the engine. He likes things like that: soothing motion and white noise.
He seemed so happy that the thought popped into my head: maybe just **maybe** we’ll make it through the day without a meltdown!
Oh but that thought was too good to be true.
After the train ride, we went to the playground and Calvin went off happily to dig around in the sand and ride the bouncy dinosaur. Henry got fussy as soon as I tried to put him down in the play area. I tried to pacify him with a snack, but it didn’t help. James picked him up and walked around with him and he did start to calm down a bit. I had suggested that they check out the musical play area which had bells and chimes. We used to go to a park back in California with bells and chimes and Henry usually liked it… But this time we were at a new park and it turned out that the bells in this park were much louder than Henry liked. The clanging bells set him off and he started crying and yelling and arching his back.
The absolute hardest thing about Henry having a meltdown is that James and I feel so helpless. No, we can’t calm our kid down. No, we don’t know what to do. We will try everything we can think of, but in our experience, there’s no simple solution in these situations. It’s not like giving a pacifier to a baby. Best I can tell, what’s going on in his brain and body is complicated and there’s no quick fix to help him feel well and calm again. He cannot tell us what’s wrong. And every time it’s different. The only thing that consistently seems to help is time. He needs time. And during that time, he’s thrashing and crying like he’s trying to fight his way through something. It’s exhausting.
We put Calvin in the stroller and booked it out of the playground. I carried Henry, singing to him, shushing him, holding him tight. I could feel James’ stress rising. He suggested that we just do an early dinner and maybe Henry would calm down to eat. We got to a quieter area of the park. Henry was able to calm down once we sat down and he saw the food. Whew. We were able to have a nice picnic dinner after all.
After dinner, we rode the carousel, which Henry also loves. He loves the motion and the music. He laughed and laughed as we went round and round.
As we walked out of the park and made our way back to the car, I said to James, “The next time we get through a family outing without Henry having a meltdown we should buy ourselves a cake.” And James said, “I think it should be the other way around – every time Henry has a meltdown, we should get a cake!”
Episodes like that at the playground are why I so rarely take the boys to the park by myself. I’m too scared. That feeling of helplessness – not being able to help Henry calm down – it frightens me. And the thought of going through it in public, while also being responsible for Calvin… well, it keeps us in the comfort of our home most days.
But those moments of joy: a train ride, a picnic dinner, a spin on the carousel – those are really important! And we wouldn’t have those if we never left the house. I wish I could say that bringing Henry on outings will help him grow out of the meltdowns, but I doubt that’s true. The only thing I can say is that maybe the happy things make the hard things worth surviving.