After three days of outstanding behavior, I had high expectations for today with Liev. The past few Fridays, we’ve had enormous success with outings. Today, when Live became clingy, I reacted with irritation and disappointment. His behavior change baffled me.
We started our outing to the mall with the usual complaints and requests to stay home, but with the aid of gummy letters, we made it into the car and out of the driveway. Most outings, we push through variations of this scene.
Once past the prelude of protests, obsessive questions, and general mischief, our outings become pleasant. Liev’s anxiety threshold varies, so each outing, I am prepared to brave bellyaching to reach the payoff of an adventure. Today, he complained more than usual, and I should have been more concerned.
Adjusting to Liev’s inattentiveness and persistent disapproval of my suggestions took work. An inquisition in the car over digital and analog clocks frazzled me as I drove through dense traffic.
I took deep breaths at the mall, working hard to ignore glances from the mothers of The Calm Children. During one of those breaths, I noticed Liev relaxing. Last week at the mall he ran, wild-eyed and cackling past glass-fronted clothing stores and shabby kiosks to the elevator. He managed to board it without me, causing me to visualize a Fox News interview over the mayhem he created before I could catch up to him. Instead, he glided over to his favorite mosaic of compass, cheering, “Norf!!! Souf!! Eassst!! Wessst!!!” smiling and racing up to touch me between directions.
As we walked to the food court, Liev pointed out sale numbers in store windows., he became so transfixed I needed to scoot him along. He trotted a few steps behind me and waited with surprising stillness as I ordered our meals. Seated overlooking the big mall clock, we inhaled our respective chicken nuggets. He gobbled up all of his chicken and fruit.
We negotiated a trip to the bathroom—no small feat considering how motorized hand-driers roar at jet-airplane volume. In our bathroom stall, Liev hopped in circles and chanted, “Let ME flush away the PEE!” The mall toilets flush with a whooshing, echoing slurp that vibrates the floor so I noted his bravado with pride. Next, we shouldered our way to GAP Kids to select summer t-shirts.
GAP Kids is a fine store. With generous neck openings, their shirts are soft, tagless, and sensory-friendly. Oh! And their dressing rooms feature two-foot-tall numbers on them. A definite treat for Liev! Unless the Gap has its music to set to “Stupefy.” Once inside, Liev darted about, rubbing rows of folded shirts and clattering racks of pants on hangers. He zoomed past a teetering septuagenarian, making me gasp as I scurried behind him. Was his secret plan to mortify me into removing him from the too-loud store? Clever boy!
At my request, the sales lady turned off the music, and Liev recovered enough for me to nab a few shirts. It took two gummy rewards for patience, but he assented to the purchase of four shirts. As I checked out, he pleaded for a frilly yellow skirt. I replied that he could choose frilly things in high school, but for now, he wears pants. My syrupy delivery elicited a smile from our cashier. As an additional treat, T picked out two pairs of skull socks for mastering the art of pulling on socks. I considered looking for pants but discounted the idea, whizzing out of the store for a battery of Liev-pleasing escalator and elevator rides.
After enough elevator rides to confuse me over which floor we were on, we exited the mall. Liev begged for a Toys R Us visit. The warehouse-like building, fluorescent bulbs, and blaring music seemed too hard to face, so we dropped by Barnes and Noble for a snack at the quiet Starbucks area. Other patrons winced as we selected our seats since Liev hopped on to a chair and exclaimed, “Tada!” I remained calm, reminding Liev that only home chairs are for standing on. “But why?” he huffed. “Other little kids don’t have your good balance, and if they see you and try, they might hurt themselves,” I said. Liev pondered this and frowned. “Of course.” He stepped down with caution lest any preschoolers were looking. Nearby Starbucks patrons on laptops and phones relaxed.
Since Liev still wanted to look at toys, we dropped by the Toy Spot, which is usually empty and quiet. Not today. The store was holding an unexpected “Going Out of Business” sale. Teeming with manic kindergartners and their bargain-hunting mothers, the Toy Spot transformed into a riotous marketplace. I half expected monkeys and macaws for sale next to Melissa and Doug. Not only was it loud and crowded, but they reorganized the shelves and merchandise in a new and chaotic manner.
Dumbstruck, I spent a few moments too many in the store to leave gracefully with Liev. He fixated on a “100″ poster, which we already had one at home. Liev was too overloaded to think straight. I was overloaded too. We took a break in the car for the crying to subside and returned to buy a “make your own board game.” The staff seemed shell shocked as I paid. Saddened, I tried to think of kind things to say but I came up empty.
Liev perked up in the car, and we set up a pretend race between papa and us to see who got home first. Our evening was unremarkable except for a bedtime meltdown. Liev is rarely tearful at night, so I felt guilty for overstimulating him during the day.
I wonder when to push Liev and when to retreat. So, I beat myself up, agonizing over my decisions, and fretting that I made the evening difficult for the whole household. I can’t be perfect all the time, but I will be more mindful of Liev’s stress level.
Is it odd that I expect perfection? A perfect day without meltdown or conflicts? Consider our home. It sparkles–almost white-glove clean and so organized it is almost serial-killer creepy. I expect myself to be perfect.
Perfectionism helps me self-analyze. But why do I struggle when others flow? Is something not right with me? I have trouble understanding other people in real-time. Most of my social skills have a 30 minute to three-day delay timer on them. Why do I have to think so hard, reviewing past experiences and questioning myself instead of having intuition? Maybe I am not too far from the autism spectrum myself.