Thursday, March 18, 2021

Stow's Phone Call

Small changes can result in major dysregulation, so I've come to refer to Daylight Savings Time as Devil's Stolen Time. We knew that this week would stink, but we have to keep parenting anyway. Parenting during DST should come with a warning label: Enter at Your Own Risk.

On Tuesday, like most days, Stow didn’t want to stop watching YouTube to do his schoolwork. I’m pretty sure this happens in every household. What is less likely to happen in other households, though, is that when we insisted he stop (after setting a timer and giving him plenty of warning), his fight instinct kicked in. We haven't seen a lot of meltdowns lately, but Devil's Time has a way of screwing things up, killing our vibe, messing with our rhythm. Since I’ve written about Stow's meltdowns in the past, I won’t go into details now other than to say that even after we took his Chromebook, he was still highly dysregulated. And, that's when he decided to “call the police.”

I tried to grab the nearest handset and dial another number before he could punch in his, but I didn't make it in time. And, even though I explained to the dispatcher what happened and that all was fine, 15-20 minutes later an officer showed up. By then, the meltdown had fizzled out--after he spent some time swinging a tennis racket at snowballs (and my car) while wearing flip flops in the snow--and Stow was quietly playing with his LEGO. When the doorbell rang, he ran to get me, color drained from his face, "The police are here!"

Later Stow asked me what would have happened if I just didn't answer the door, and, to be honest, that was my first instinct. But, I believe in facing my consequences, and this time I felt like I deserved this visit because I hadn't managed to outthink my kid and his meltdown. The officer introduced himself, asked if we were ok, asked if he could come in. He wanted my full name and Stow's full name as well as our birthdays. He talked to Stow for a bit and seemed to study me and my reactions. Stow cowered behind me and was barely audible when I made him answer the officer's questions; after all, he called 911, not me. Finally, satisfied, the officer left. 

I did not want to invite him in or give him our information, not because I think law enforcement officers are bad nor because I somehow thought this guy wasn't just doing his job. I know that if someone calls 911, the protocol is to follow through and make sure no one is being held against their will. People I care for deeply are or were law enforcement officers. So, of course, I believe that police officers should be respected and that their jobs are important. Of course, I would like to believe that all law enforcement officers are good people who do their jobs well.

But, I have also read many, MANY stories about autistic or mentally ill people being arrested or injured when police have intervened, and I have in the forefront of my mind the story of one of our Asian American students who lost her brother this past Christmas when they requested police assistance in handling his mental health crisis and the officer put his knee to her brother’s neck. While our local police officer was visiting us, 6 Asian women were being murdered in Atlanta. And, as I worked to put into writing my feelings about this, a sheriff deputy described the white shooter of those Asian women as having "a bad day." So many stories about the unevenness of how people of color or neurodiverse people are treated compared to their white, neurotypical peers illustrate that we are so very far from where we should be. 

I wish that the incident with Stow could have been just a lesson about why he shouldn't use 911 in a non-emergency, but instead, it was a lesson for me about my own hidden trauma. What would have happened if Stow called the police when I wasn't home and Ren couldn't clearly explain the situation? What would have happened if the police officer showed up in the middle of an aggressive meltdown? Stow's phone call could have gone very, very differently, and I doubt I will ever forget the fear it caused me. I long for a time when we have centered neurodiversity and non-whiteness enough that if our freaked-out kid calls 911, our worry doesn’t have to be about his safety or whether he will be taken away but instead can be about how to best help him navigate this world.

*****

After the visitor left, Stow insisted we play Jenga, a game we haven't played in years. You guys know I'm a sucker for a metaphor.

Postscript 1: Every day since the phone call, Stow asks me another question about it. He doesn't want me to bring it up, and he doesn't want me to say anything more than the exact number of words necessary to answer his question. He has grasped that he should never call 911 in a non-emergency again, and he is also very sorry about his choice. Autism sucks because good choices are hard to come by in the middle of a meltdown caused by dysregulation.

Postscript 2: We have asked the school to block YouTube on his computer. I know that makes us the worst parents in the universe, but I'm willing to accept that distinction.

Postscript 3: Up until very recently, my most-read blog post (by far) was the one titled: “My Secret Life as a Japanese Housewife,” and analytics made it pretty clear why I was getting those hits. (As an example: I had to turn off ads because they were clearly pitched to people who weren’t my intended audience—eww.) Recently, my post about Hand Foot and Mouth Disease has outpaced the Japanese Housewife one. It’s harder for me to explain why that one is so popular. (You can see the list of my most-read posts in the column to the right on the desktop version of the blog). 

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

This is What Happens When You Try to Do Something Nice

I took the car for an oil change today. Since Ren has a colonoscopy tomorrow and can’t consume anything other than clear liquids and diuretics, I decided to stop for something to eat on the way home. Very rarely do I take myself out for a meal, even less so during a pandemic. Since I had a Starbucks gift card, I decided to get a sandwich there, even though it wasn’t directly on my way home and Starbucks isn’t exactly known for its sandwiches.

When you are an overthinker with social (and other) anxiety, even the simple decisions can lead to a lot of second-guessing. As I waited to pick up my food, I wondered if I should have gone to this Starbucks or the other one? I worried that the person coming into the line from the other lane would think I was trying to cut them off (who designed this drive thru anyway?). I debated whether I should have gotten a coffee (even though I didn’t want one), so it would be less weird for me to get a sandwich. This is what my mind does all day, every day; it’s why I am often distracted.

It’s also why I had absolutely no idea what to do when the guy at the window told me it was my lucky day because my sandwich was free. He didn’t explain why it was free—simply handed it to me and told me to have a good day. What!?!

I don’t know what people who are not me would do in this situation. People who are me, though, panic. I didn’t know what to say, so I awkwardly said thank you and then drove off. I’d heard about people doing these kinds of random acts of kindness at Starbucks (why is it always Starbucks?), but I’d never been the recipient of one. In fact, since the guy at the window didn’t tell me why my sandwich was free, I wasn’t sure WHAT had happened.

I pulled into a parking space a few stores down and texted my friend. Maybe she’d know what to do.

This is how it went:



(Please ignore grammar issues; I was distressed).

I finished my mediocre sandwich during the course of this text exchange, and while my friend made me feel a little better about failing to be a decent human being, I still felt pretty bad about not responding graciously and effusively and then offering to pay it forward by buying the next person’s lunch. Obviously, this must be what the situation required of me.

So, I decided to call Ren. Ren is a kind and helpful man, but he is also more frugal and and more rational than me. Surely he could make me feel better. When I told him what happened, though, he couldn’t get over the fact a random stranger paid for my lunch. “Why would someone do that?” he asked, incredulously, thinking it must be some strange American custom he hadn’t heard about before. I explained that it’s apparently something people do from time to time, and that I was pretty sure that I should have done the same for the car behind me, but that I panicked, and I didn’t know if I had enough money on my gift card to pay for someone else’s meal. “That’s ok, isn’t it?” I asked. “It’s ok that I didn’t pay for someone else’s meal, right?”

There were many possible "right" responses Ren could have given here, but instead, he said, “I mean, I guess...”

Gah! He guesses?!?!? Now I will NEVER know if I am the worst human on the planet or not. Though, I’m pretty sure I am because instead of being grateful for someone else’s act of kindness and paying it forward, I did nothing and then worried that the Starbucks window guy must think I’m a huge jerk. Worse, I felt kind of mad that someone else made themselves feel good at my expense! How could I possibly enjoy my sandwich now that it was laced with so much guilt?

See? This is what happens when you try to do something nice for an overthinker with social anxiety. You end up ruining her day and pretty much ensuring she will never go to Starbucks again.

*****

PS: I showed a draft of this post to my friend, and she said, “You did the person behind you a favor by not continuing the cycle. Basically you’re an American hero.” We should all have friends like this who know just what to say when we’re freaking out about a random act of kindness.

PPS: Thanks to the person who bought my lunch today. I really do appreciate it even though I had no idea how to behave in response.

PPPS: For those of you who know me in real life, I hope you know how grateful I am for all that you do, even if I AM all awkward and inappropriate about it.