March 30, 2010. Spring Break has always been a dangerous terrain for Peter but I was hopeful this year would be different. I’m sure parents of other special needs kids feel the same. There’s no school and therefore no schedule. Although some camps spring up to fill the void for working parents or vacation-less families – like the horse camp Sophie’s attending – 5 days aren’t enough for Peter to acclimate to an unfamiliar environment. So he languishes with too much time on his hands and little to nourish his fleeting, limited attention. Arranging a four-hour play date with a school chum does nothing to quell his unease yesterday. He’s like Tigger, bouncing around directionless until he collides with someone, something or more frequently, some rule. He’s not allowed to say words like stupid, idiot, butthead or moron, but I could hear him listing off the litany in the playroom because he thought I was out of earshot. The funny part is that no one’s ever out of earshot when it comes to Peter; he has great difficulty modulating the volume of his voice and almost always errs on the side of amplification. “Stupid, stupid, Sophie you’re stupid. Butthead boy, stupid Sophie, stupid butthead Sophie boy.” It’s unrelenting, really, and not something anyone should have to endure. I made him come upstairs, first once and then again and yet again and again, to calm down. If it wasn’t echolaic attacks on Sophie, it was hitting and spitting and screams of “no don’t” as Sophie ran upstairs to tell. “I hate this day!” he implored, banging his fist against the side of his head. I’m sympathetic but I know I can’t show it. Later maybe, but never in the moment. Sympathy, when he’s not in a place to receive it, is easily used to manipulate and almost always flung in my face. To pierce the chaos of his mind, I have to be hard and firm so that he feels, almost anatomically, my unshakable resolve and ability to maintain control. I don’t like disciplining him in front of other children but experience has taught me to recognize the brief window in which I have to act before the situation deteriorates beyond recovery. “You have ten quiet minutes in your room,” I said, pulling him to me so I could whisper in his ear, “and if you slam the door, throw you body around, or pull any other tricks, it’ll be twenty.” He knew I meant it but I wonder whether he knew how much I too hated that day for him. His “friend”, who is really my friend’s son, gave me a knowing nod and ambled off to join Sophie and his sister in the bounce house we keep in the playroom. The weather was cool and drippy and unsuitable for playing outside, where Peter would have felt less claustrophobic and boxed-in. There’s no doubt he’s felt the stress of the last week. Sophie has too. The hushed discussions and whispered phone calls, the poorly disguised outrage, the red swollen eyes, and the conspicuous tension. Stress, outrage, grief – these should not be the emotions that hang heavily like smog over the ambiance of childhood. In addition to the lack of schedule, I’m sure the situation with the school is contributing to Peter’s rapid decompensation. Today, and for the rest of this week, I have to do better. I can’t let our troubles with the “we know Peter better than you do people” pollute our children and color my outlook a minute longer. I need to treat them and this manufactured incident like the insignificant blips that they are. So today I pledge to give Peter a better day, to guard his equilibrium more fiercely and to encourage both my children to fill this annual stint of free time happily and productively. They’ll be up in just two short hours. I better get planning!