Sometimes the meltdowns are like massive thunderstorms in the summer heat. They build up, the tension mounting, the atmosphere more and more uncomfortable. And then, when the pressure is too much to bear, the storm breaks in a wild, howling stream of blows, words, noises. No-one is the target but anyone in the way can be hurt. And then, just as quickly as the storm arose, it’s over. Calm returns. All is forgotten (quite literally) and we move on. And so does he, not understanding what has happened or why.
We were away for a few days. A short family break. It all went well. The unfamiliar places. The absence of routine. Especially the hotel swimming pool open all day. Even the steam train breakdown provoked no serious reaction. Neither did the long queues on the motorway in a traffic jam. Corfe Castle and Old Sarum which might normally bore were tied joyfully to school lessons about William the Conqueror. Even a noisy, crowded Pizza Express wasn’t a problem. We had a great time.
And then, as it can, it all fell apart.
We got back home with no problems. But the next day there was homework to do. And that began the problems. Some tears. The protestation that ‘I hate school and I’m not going again’. Or ‘I want to go back to my old school, that was better’ (that’s primary school and no, it wasn’t, not when a meltdown was brewing). Somehow, with difficulty, homework got done as it had to be. But the storm was coming.
The next day it was the swimming pool, normally a favourite and a way to take the edge off. Not this time. The water was too cold. It was too hot. ‘I HATE the swimming pool and I HATE swimming’. An hour went by and it didn’t get better. Getting changed back into clothes was a major struggle. And the atmosphere was tense until he fell asleep.
And still tense Monday morning before school. So dressed early (with some shouting and struggling), out early with the dog and to school early. I heard later from school that it was a ‘bad day’. He couldn’t sit still. He couldn’t concentrate. He chewed up pens and pencils. He got detention for being rude to a teacher.
And then when he got home after school, the storm broke.
We had to drive his brother to theatre. They got in the car and I went back to pick something up. And he went into a deep, terrible meltdown. The dam broke and the wave of emotion tore through. Sitting in the back of the car kicking the seats, kicking his brother, punching, screaming, sitting, howling. The unbearable pressure inside his head releasing itself in the only way he knew how. Then his brother crying, shouting, hitting back. I manage to stop it, but only by restraining him and shouting, yelling myself. It’s a bad scene. The worst for a while. But it has broken.
The mood is awful while we drive to theatre. Then into the town centre. Suddenly he’s quiet. He’s a little sad. He doesn’t understand what he’s done. Why he’s done it. He doesn’t seem to remember the worst. ‘What were you thinking?’ ‘I wasn’t thinking.’ ‘What did it feel like?’ ‘It felt bad inside my head.’
And it was done. He held my hand as we walked to McDonalds. He smiled and played on the new tablets they’ve put in. He hugged me and told me he loved me. And I hugged him and told him I loved him too. It was finished, the storm and passed and a peaceful calm was restored.
Until the next time.
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Note that there is a difference between meltdowns and tantrums that must be understood.