Sometimes I sit and watch Josh and I wonder what is going through his beautiful little mind. What are his thoughts, why does he like things done a certain way, why must I sit in this exact spot that he’s selected. Most of my days revolve around second guessing with Josh; his moods, his needs, what he’d like to do. The unpredictability of everything can be incredibly draining.
One aspect of Josh that can be dropped on you out of nowhere for reasons so random you couldn’t guess or predict them if you tried, are his meltdowns. Many people say their kid is having a meltdown when they’re having a tantrum; it’s a phrase of speech, one that we all use particularly when our two year olds are kicking off because you gave them the wrong colour spoon to eat their yogurt with. They can yell as to why they are cross, they have a level of understanding as to what has got them frustrated. You can get down to their level and attempt to reason, have a conversation. When a child like Josh has a meltdown it takes a whole new meaning.
Only myself, my husband and my parents in law have really seen Josh’s meltdowns in full effect. For me as his mother, it’s distressing. As I say, they blow up with ferocity and from nowhere and escalate quickly. The fact he isn’t able to speak to me properly, voice his frustrations, only adds fuel to his raging fire. He will cry with such intense emotion it is heartbreaking, he hyperventilates and struggles to get his breath which also adds to the situation. Seeing him shake, unable to listen to my reasoning to calm him in that moment he’s engulfed in is horrible. Once he’s at that point I’ve kind of lost him for those few minutes – he will lash out, become aggressive, fling himself to the floor or to the nearest object, a piece of furniture or a bush in the garden, without any realisation he may hurt himself. Even if he does hurt himself I don’t think he quite realises or cares in that moment – he just sees red and more often than not, I am the one to be punished for it. I am the one who is hit or kicked or has hair pulled out. I have to remain as calm as I can and remind myself this isn’t his fault, I just have to help him through, just like others have helped me through a panic attack in the past. I hold him as tightly as I can, I offer him some milk to help him focus on drinking and therefore getting his breath back, I reassure him over and over, I put a blue toy within reach. I do whatever I can to pull Josh back to me and out of that moment.
One of the things I worry about a lot is this happening if I take him and Holly out somewhere by myself (as in without Sam), to meet friends or go to soft play. It’s my reason for often declining kind invitations we get to go out. My friends must get a bit sick of asking me and me saying no but it’s because physically I cannot restrain Josh, attempt to calm him whilst dealing with Holly too if these meltdowns take place. He’s a strong boy, and although my way of calming him in these moments is to remove him from the situation, that is easier said than done when you’ve got a six month old to deal with too. My friends are amazing; they are so kind and encouraging and forever reminding me they are there to help me out. And I’ve no doubt, they are. But they’ve never seen Josh go full scale. I think they’d be shocked, and realise quite why I am so hopeless at braving social events with the two of them.
It makes me sad at times. I see many of his little friends his age being taken to toddler plays or interactive classes. I am having to accept that for Josh that just isn’t suitable or enjoyable for him. And I have tried; at Christmas before Holly was born, I took him to a little hour long festive pantomime with my best friend and her little boy. Thankfully they were very accommodating because there was no way Josh was going to sit and watch, enthralled like the other children, and join in the actions or songs. He was determined to find the exit and spend the hour making his escape, or seeking solace in staring at the fairy lights that decorated the corridor. Thankfully in that instance there were no major tantrums, but it was made clear to me this sort of activity wasn’t for him. My boy can’t cope with that level of concentration yet, and that is one of the many areas we are working hard to help him improve on so that he can then enjoy typical events kids of his age take part in.
When we do go out I have a changing bag full of things that are my go to in case the proverbial shit does hit the fan! For the most part it’s blue and red blocks or cars. From around the age of 1 Josh had a real obsession with blue toys, blue objects. And you will rarely see Josh without something blue in his hand. It’s very rare for him not to be carrying around an object in one of his hands. Just the other day we were out and he saw a child drinking from a blue cup. In his little mind it was simple; blue – mine – want”. Of course I wasn’t about to let him go and take a complete strangers cup and regardless of what he is experiencing, I am determined Josh will learn and understand right from wrong. As he thrashed around on the floor crying due to Mummys unreasonable behaviour of not letting him take this kids cup, I tried to explain “not Josh’s”. This is where it becomes frustrating for me because as hard as I am trying I have absolutely no idea what level of understanding he has, if any, when it comes to me explaining things to him and disciplining him.
The main focus of each day with Josh is trying to keep him calm, comforted and enjoying life. He is a very happy child; he is often smiling and laughing. He loves his books, he loves being outside, he loves to run around, he loves to play with bubbles. As time goes on I learn more and more of what he enjoys and what he finds comfort in. This helps me; many an occasion has a blue brick or a blue car diffused a potential meltdown situation and distraction is also key! I often feel like Mary Poppins when I’m out and about with my laughably overpacked changing bag bursting at the seems full of various cars, toys, comforters and cups of milk. But the thought of not having these things with me makes me feel as panicked as he probably feels when he can’t find them!
Somedays are such a success I want to sing about them from the rooftops; it can be the most simple thing that many other Mums have had the joy of experiencing for ages but for me it is a milestone. When he started to copy me as I counted to 10 I think I told everyone I saw that week from my family to the checkout lady at Tescos; no he wasn’t pronouncing the numbers entirely correctly but the intent and attempt was there! When he kissed my mother on the cheek we were stunned; he loves to cuddle but has never really kissed any of us before. These minor things are such proud moments for us, such breakthroughs. And I have to remind myself of them cause when we have bad days, they are tough.
I’m not ashamed to admit I’ve had days where I’ve cried and cried. I’ve felt at a loss. I spend so much time and energy trying to get into Josh’s mindset, in order to understand his way of thinking and help him but sometimes it feels like everything’s against us. Very little is simple; when I set up the paddling pool and he showed an interest we had a wonderful morning splashing around, carefree. But after a while his obsessive behaviour appeared; he wanted me in that paddling pool, knelt down, in a particular spot. If I dared to move away, get out and tend to Holly or go and answer the door, he went ballistic. I didn’t want it to spoil the morning for us as it felt like progressing encouraging him to do something different, so I played ball and did as he wanted as much as I could; I brought Holly outside in the pram and wheeled her within reach and was able to rock her whilst knelt down where Josh so badly needed me to be. Multi tasking is an invaluable trait in our house! But it can all feel like you want to give up at times. Having taken on board advice from Josh’s first observation from the local Speech and Language therapist, I’ve been trying to do a little activity every day at home to get him to concentrate and put his focus into. Today I set up painting; it wasn’t anything fancy, just one of these ones where you wet the paintbrush with water then the colours appear as you touch the paper. I wanted him to enjoy and sit with me just for 5 or 10 minutes. That’s all he needs each day then I let him do what he wants and follow his lead. But today he wasn’t having it. He got irritated quickly (he’d lasted less than one minute), threw the paint brushes, whacked me, threw himself on the floor and cried. I wanted to cry too. But I can’t; I’m his Mother and I have to be strong.
It’s not always easy being the strong one. I feel myself recently more and more doubting myself and if I am doing everything I can for him. I try every day to do what he wants but to also do things to engage him, get him focused on me and one activity at a time. It can be exhausting when he doesn’t want to cooperate. I am ashamed to admit I feel a bit jealous sometimes of my friends who’s kids of the same age, or even younger, are getting through those big milestones that two year olds tackle; potty training, sleeping in a proper bed, eating at the table. For Josh, I try not to rock the boat; he sits in his highchair (albeit only for dinner really) and eats fairly well, he sleeps like a dream in his cot, and he’s unable to communicate adequately enough for me to even consider potty training. For us these things are working, so I won’t go against them until it feels like it is the right time and he may understand. I hate sometimes that I allow my emotions to play such a part in things; I feel embarrassed when a big group of us get together with the toddlers and I meekly ask for a highchair for Josh whilst the rest of them sit up at the table,good as gold, or if we’re out at a play group and Josh kicks off as he did the other day over the blue cup. I become convinced that others are looking at me as I grapple with a toddler who is giving off major “I hate my Mum” vibes whilst kicking me as I try to get him and Holly out of the place to the relative safety of the car where I can cry as I drive home and distract Josh with something from my changing bag so he forgets what has just irritated him. For someone who has always been quite confident, I now worry too much of what others may be saying about me and Josh in these circumstances. Maybe it’s because I can’t give a reason right now. I can’t say exactly what is wrong with him, no matter how much I suspect it. I am not a doctor, it’s not my place to label it.
And of course the grass is always greener. There is every chance those care free Mums are fighting their own toddler led battles behind closed doors; I suspect I am not the only one crying into a chocolate bar whilst hiding in the downstairs toilets some days. We ALL have our challenges to face. Josh is not a challenge but our situation is. What we’re up against is. I think I just wanted to write all this down, possibly more for me than anything else. I find comfort in writing and it reminds me when I have it down on paper that I’m actually doing a pretty good job.
Several times every day Josh will hug me. He gives the best hugs. From a young age he’d wrap his podgy little arms around me and we’d sit, I’d listen to his calm breathing and play with his beautiful curly hair. I don’t know if he realises how much life those hugs give me, how much love I feel in them. I don’t know if they’re his unspoken way of saying “I know it’s tough some days but I am so glad you’re my Mummy even if I do test you beyond belief and occasionally launch the TV remote at you because I don’t know how to express myself”. Whatever the reason, even if for no reason at all, those hugs remind me of why I wanted to be a Mum. And what an absolute privilege it is to be Josh’s Mum. He’s taught me more about myself and what it is to be a strong Mum than anyone ever could. I am so proud to be his Mum and I am so proud that he’s my boy.