Ezra,  Health, Wellness, & Self Care,  Motherhood,  Special Needs Parenting

When you’re discouraged and don’t know what to do, take a walk

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I am frustrated as I back out of the driveway, perhaps even a bit angry. But that’s not why I’m leaving. Not really. At this exact moment, my own emotions are pushed down, buried in that deep place I keep them when the numb calmness of a mom holding it all together is what is needed the most. In these moments I breathe more than I talk.

It’s been a rough day to end a rough week. Special needs parenting has been kicking our family’s collective butt, and none of us are immune to the pain. One child, the pain of being less-able-than-usual to focus on the everyday tasks that need done and the pain of being constantly in trouble. One child, the pain of having his own BIG EMOTIONS and trying navigate them as any typical threenager needs to – with the aid of exhausted parents in a home full of conflict. One parent, the pain of being rejected, disrespected, ignored, and attacked by his child over and over and over. And me…the pain of trying to deal with it all.

After multiple meltdowns, I am shutting down. I hear the screams and the yells while I sort through music scores for church, calmly writing song names on manila folders. Finally, said child is in his room and said father looks to me.

“I don’t know what to do anymore,” he says. His tone indicates that I need to handle it.

“What exactly do you want me to do? Because I don’t know what to do either,” I reply.

He replies with frustration and negativity and the tension between us grows.

I grab the lukewarm coffee that he had fixed me about 20 minutes earlier and walk up the basement stairs, grabbing a pair of Ezra’s shoes from off the steps on the way. I open Ezra’s door and put the shoes on his bed. “Put your shoes on,” I say decidedly.

“Where are we going?” he says.

“Just put your shoes on,” I say, this time more tersely.

I don’t answer his question because I don’t have a clue.

We are in the car when frustrated dad leans his head in the door and gives yet another “talking to.” Everything he says is true, accurate, and needed, but I know it’s not helping. I let him finish anyway.

I take a right, then another, then another – racking my brain for clarity. I recall the conversation I had with Ezra’s after school care provider – who works with Ezra three days a week after school and LB four days a week in a preschool environment. She’s the closest thing we have to a therapist at the moment. She’s great at throwing ideas at me. But when I inform her that we decided to back Ezra down to two days a week instead of three, I can see the concern in her face. I tell her what we told Ezra, “It’s great that he’s making improvements in his social skills and playing with LB. But he’s not listening to us at home. And if he is going to practice listening at home, then he needs to be at home.” 

She had nodded with understanding and compassion. Her recommendation was surprisingly not more behavior charts or token economy systems, but rather more one-on-one time – each parent with each child. It’s a no brainer, but how often we forget.

At this exact moment, dad and son can barely be in the same room together for two minutes without a fight erupting. So for now, this mantle falls on me.

I drive aimlessly, lost in my head while Ezra talks about…something. I can’t even remember now. I ask him to stop talking and just be quiet. I think think think think think, trying to come up with something to do. It can’t be a “fun place,” because I don’t want him to feel rewarded for his negative behavior. I don’t want it to be too busy or loud or stimulating, or some place that would involve spending money (of which we are sorely lacking).

After a few more turns, I make a tentative decision and begin circling back. I park the car at a parking lot about a mile from our home that sits at the trailhead of a greenway. These trails are so close, but we don’t walk them nearly enough. This particular part of the greenway we have never even been on.

I take one last swig of the now-cold coffee, throw on my sweatshirt, make sure I have my phone and keys, and we begin to walk.

I ask him to hold my hand while we walk and he replies, “I don’t feel like holding your hand right now.” I don’t push it.

I feel torn, as though I’m expected to talk now – to somehow communicate the same truths that Dad is somehow failing to communicate, but with a mother’s loving touch. I feel the weight of it, like somehow Mommy Magic can fix it. I can’t seem to make Dad understand that there’s no such thing as Mommy Magic and that I’m just as lost as he is. I search my head for the words but come up blank – not because there’s nothing to say but because it’s already been said thousands upon thousands of times, to no avail.

So instead, I stay quiet, save for the safety redirects that are needed like, “I don’t think that branch will hold you,” and the refusals to climb up soggy hills because “I wear these boots to church, and I don’t want them to get muddy.”

We stop many times along the path for him to look at this and that. He is in awe of everything and full of plans on how to cross the creek. I tell him he will get wet and cold but he forges on anyway.

special needs child walk creek bridge

special needs child walk creek bridge

We curve along the greenway trails in complete solitude. We are close enough to hear the cars passing by on the major roads that hem in this portion of the greenway; but if not for that sound, it would seem as though we were on some trail in the mountains. I know pretty much exactly where we are and where we are headed, but there’s still an aura of mystery as we walk. I quietly snap pictures while he runs, hops, and chatters endlessly. I try to gently prod him down the path without him knowing I’m doing so. I want him to feel free to roam while still watching the sun sinking lower behind the trees and keeping in mind how far we have to walk to get back to the van.

I ask myself over and over, “What does he need right now?” and come up with no real answers, other than to let him roam the creek beds with minimal interaction.

special needs child walk creek bank

special needs child walk creek bridge logs

He insists that if he goes down the path, crosses the bridge, and goes down the bank on the other side of the creek that he will be able to cross it back to me. I tell him, again, that he will get cold and wet, but don’t stop him.

special needs child walk cross creek rocks

I sit on the edge of my side of the creek, enjoying this particular portion of nature. The water is a bit deeper and flows over rocks, sounding a bit like a waterfall. It’s soothing as I follow his grey-and-bright-blue jacket across the bridge, down the creek bank, and out onto some rocks. As I predicted, he is now wet and muddy, but quite pleased with his accomplishment.

special needs child walk cross creek rocks

special needs child walk cross creek rocks

special needs child walk cross creek rocks

The piece of “driftwood” he had used to get out to this particular rock floated away and now he declares himself “stuck” and in need of rescue. I tell him that he got out there, he can get himself back. He calls to me that the water is too loud and that he can’t hear me, and that the current is too strong and will wash him downstream.

**for any of you worriers out there, it was calf-deep water**

I sigh and walk down the path, headed for the bridge. I hear him start to cry, as though for a moment he thought I was leaving him. I cross the bridge and he is out of my sight for a few moments due to the slight curve in the bend of the creek. I feel slightly panicky. The only way for me to get down to the bank is through a section of thorny woods and muddy dirt. The thorns grab and scratch at my legs through my stretchy pants while Ezra remains out of sight for the briefest moment.

This is a metaphor for what it’s been like to parent him, I think to myself. Hard, thorny, uncertain, painful, scary. 

I round the corner and make my way down the bank to him. I hold out a limb to him and pull him safely to shore. We make our way back up to the trail as he starts to whine about being cold and wet. Surprise surprise. And yet when we are back up on the trail he still wants to walk in the opposite direction of the vehicle. To keep going. To check out this. To look at that. Finally, we reach a place where we have to turn back.

We are on the other side of the creek now, on a paved portion of the greenway. I think this will lead us back to the van more quickly, and I tell him so. He asks, “Are you SURE this way will get us back faster?” I’m only about 80% sure, but I say, “Just trust me.”

The other 20% of me had noticed a man walking on the path along the other side of the creek. We walk the same direction, parallel. It’s still light out, but nearing dusk. My senses are heightened. I’m not scared but definitely nervous enough to stay on our side of the creek regardless of where the trail leads. I pull out my phone in with one hand and my keys in another, my right hand holding my car key in between my index and middle finger as a kind of dagger – just in case. I’ve watched too many episodes of Criminal Minds, that’s for sure. 

We pass one of the bridges connecting the two paths and the man continues on his path and we on ours. His path veers out of sight, and I breathe a bit easier that he’s not a serial killer about to follow us. Our paved path leads into a neighborhood, one with which I’m familiar because it’s where Russell’s grandmother lives. I try to figure out how these streets connect to where the van is parked by looking at the map on my phone, and I realize that they don’t. We will either have to backtrack back to the trail or walk back up to one of the more major roads. My brain is thinking once again and I once again field questions like “Are you SURE this is the right way?”

A part of me secretly hopes that maybe just maybe my mother-in-law will be at my grandparents-in-law’s home. She takes them dinner a few nights a week, and it was that time of night. I am weighing that faint possibility against walking back to the van on busy main roads, backtracking to the trail (admitting my error to my son after assuring him that he could “trust me” and risking being murdered by a serial killer), or calling my husband for rescue. As we rounded the bend, Ezra recognizes my grandparents-in-law’s home and I breathe a silent prayer of thanks when, in a moment of pure God-given serendipity, my mother-in-law’s car is parked in the driveway.

We walk into the kitchen with our muddy boots. I’m greeted with a warm hug and Ezra gets cheese balls. We watch golf on mute and field questions from the elderly grandparents who can’t even hear our responses. I use the bathroom. My mother-in-law once again comes to the rescue and drives us back to the van.

On the short drive home, I again wonder if I should give Ezra another talk. Instead, I tell him that when he gets home he needs to go straight to the shower. He says that first, he needs to apologize to his dad. I tell him that apologizing is good, but more than that, he needs to apologize with his actions. I tell him an on-the-fly anecdote about what if he went to school and every day he was tripped on purpose by a boy, who then said he was sorry and wrote him an apology note. The next day, the same thing happened – day after day it happened. He was tripped, but then the boy would apologize and write him an apology note. I told him that eventually, he would get to the point where he would ask the boy to stop apologizing and just stop tripping him.

I don’t know if it gets through to him, but it’s the closest I can muster to a lecture.

We return home wet, muddy, and hungry. I’m still just as lost as to what to do to help him. I’m discouraged, yet somehow a little bit refreshed from our adventure walk. I hope and pray that he is too.

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