What is more chilling to the heart of a parent than to see his or her child trying but never within reach of happiness? Even as I’m typing this, Calder is in his bedroom sobbing. Oh, it has been so long since I heard him sob like this. His sobbing makes me sad. It seems like sleep is going to elude him for a while.
Calder is consumed by the distressing thought that he has spoilt his new water bottle. And he is at fault for flinging his bag onto the floor in anger. The new orange water bottle in his bag was smashed and water leaked from its broken bottom. I’m thankful that Calder had on his own developed the habit of removing his piano books after returning home from piano class. Otherwise, it’d not only be the water bottle, but his score books that are spoilt as well. When Calder is upset, he will start listing the things he has spoilt and the things he has lost. The orange water bottle is a new one after he lost his yellow water bottle in school two weeks ago. For days, he kept asking me where his yellow bottle was. The phrase subsided after I gave him the orange water bottle and told him there’s no need to look for the yellow water bottle any more.
What is the cause of today’s distress? It started from a metronome that Ethel’s piano teacher just gave her. Since Calder finished his supper before his sister, I asked him to go play the piano instead of dragging my trolley here and there. And so Calder went to play the piano. The next thing we heard was a strange humming sound. Calder must have seen the new metronome and proceeded to press its buttons as he is apt to do with any machine with buttons.
The next thing that happened was Ethel marching in to rescue her metronome. She questioned him, “Oh, Calder, what sound is this? Have you spoilt the metronome?” And Calder did what he always does when upset – put his finger into his mouth. This time, he thrust his face very near to Ethel while said finger is going into the mouth. And Ethel cried out, “Go wash your hands!” The unraveling gained momentum from here, because Calder came out of the room ready to smash things. And the victim turned out to be the orange water bottle that he cherishes, hidden in his haversack. Before throwing the bottle into the bin, Daddy showed him the crack at the bottom of the bottle. Oh, Calder's heart must have cracked too, for he had added yet another item to the things he spoilt.
He began chanting about turning off a light (I have no idea why) and I decided to go into his bedroom to comfort him.
I asked him, “How are you feeling?”
“Happy,” he gave his usual answer to such a question.
“Are you sure?” I asked. He realized he’s actually sad and his eyes puckered, ready to cry.
“Oh dear, Calder is so sad. Why are you sad?”
I admonished, “Next time, cannot throw things when you are upset, ok? Also cannot put finger into your mouth.” “And cannot put your face so near to Mei Mei,” I demonstrated. “Come, Mommy hug.”
Calder continued sobbing. “Calder, it’s ok. Tomorrow Mommy will find you another water bottle. So Calder, don’t be sad anymore. Remember the book we read about being sad? Throw the sad thoughts away!” And we prayed for him to go to sleep nicely.
Since Calder’s anger was triggered by Ethel’s shouting, I thought there’s something I should teach Ethel, without making her feel it’s her fault. So I put Ethel on my lap and told her, “Mei Mei, God put us together in this family to love and protect one another.”
“Mommy, I didn’t think Calder would throw a tantrum.”
“Yes, it’s been a long time since he’s like that. God has given us peace for a while, isn’t it? Mommy is sad because Mommy doesn’t want Calder to be so sad he cannot sleep. Shall we pray for him?”
Even as I type this sentence, I’m so relieved because there’s no sound coming from Calder’s room anymore. Perhaps he has fallen asleep after all. If yes, I’m glad he has improved his emotional control, to be able to gain comfort from the logic that Mommy is going to replace his water bottle, and that indeed, everything is “ok”.
Dear Lord, I must remember too that because you are with me, everything is “ok”.
Brenda Tan is the author of “Come into My World: 31 Stories of Autism in Singapore” (www.come-into-my-world.com). She has 2 children: 8-year-old Ethel and 11-year-old Calder who has autism.