Illustration by James Callahan
Saturday was a tough day for The Boy. For starters, I was working away from home all day, which he was peeved about because weekends are supposed to be Mama Time. Then, as if that wasn't enough, he had a stuffy nose, which is never fun. Oh, and at lunchtime, he lost a tooth!
Tad saw that things were deteriorating, so he suggested some soothing after-lunch YouTube surfing. That usually mellows The Boy right out. Only for some reason, last Saturday, YouTube changed their color scheme. Mind you, all of the features were the same. All of the saved searches, bookmarked favorites and lists of accounts he liked remained in place. The background had just changed from white to blue.
Armageddon, people! He wailed. He howled. He sobbed as if it were his last day on earth. When Tad tried to comfort him, he snapped and snarled. He threw his beloved stuffed bunny on the ground. After making his displeasure known to all within a three-block radius of our house, he stomped up to his room to sulk, declaring on the way up the stairs that he would "never be OK ever again." Tad did the same thing he does whenever The Boy has an over-the-top freak-out about something completely random and insignificant. He shook his head, pointed at me and said, "That is all you."
He's absolutely right. The Boy and I share a constitutional inability to deal gracefully with change. I have gotten a little better at it over the years, thanks to therapy, meditation and being teachable enough to realize that: 1) change happens, 2) I can't stop it and 3) freaking out is only going to make things worse. The Boy hasn't gotten to this point yet. He hasn't had to deal with enough change in his life to know it's inevitable. When it happens, he reacts with all of the grace and dignity of a cornered raccoon. With rabies. Who is also sopping wet and has maybe been maced. It's impressive.
I don't want to give the impression that this is an everyday occurrence. I can count the showstopping fits that The Boy has had on the fingers of one hand. Fortuitously, the only public one was at preschool graduation (talk about change). The grand flip-out is his last line of defense when he absolutely cannot handle life on life's terms for one second longer. Usually, there are a lot of chances to talk him down before he reaches the melting point. But Saturday wasn't one of those times.
We decided to let him sulk. Eventually Tad went up to see how he was doing. I thought things were going swimmingly until I heard fresh shrieks. Tad came down the stairs, defeated.
"I was calm, I was even-tempered, all I did was try to talk to him," he said, throwing his hands up. "And he was awful. Everything I said made him madder." I sighed and headed up the stairs. I knew exactly what was happening. After a certain point in the sulk, you realize there's no way to gracefully unsulk yourself. You can't just suddenly cheer up, because that is like de facto admitting that you were overreacting in the first place, which gives you a whole new reason to sulk. It's a vicious circle. I've been trapped in it more times than I care to count. I knocked on his door.
"May I come in?"
I went in anyway, because I knew that deep down, he wanted me to. I put my arms around him and he dissolved in tears. I rubbed his back and kissed him on the top of his head. He eventually came to a snuffling near-silence.
"I'm jammed," he whimpered into my shoulder, "and I don't know how to get unjammed."
"It's frustrating," I agreed, and he wiped his tears on my sleeve. I handed him his stuffed bunny, which I had brought with me as backup. "Sometimes when I'm jammed, a car ride helps me unjam. Fluffy Bunny has never been to the new Kroger, and we need milk. Would you like to bring him along?"
He nodded and hugged Fluffy Bunny tightly. I took him by the hand and led him down the stairs. Tad shook his head but reached for the car keys.
Sometimes you have to let an expert handle things — and fortunately or unfortunately for Tad, he is married to one.