We’re going on a camping trip this weekend. We planned it… oh, I don’t know. Months ago. Last camping trip of the year, before we put the trailer back behind the house and cover it up and then, two weeks later, I will discover I need something from in there and have to bat my eyelashes at Otto to get him to go out back, undo the cover straps, venture into the cave-like inside, and retrieve it.
We don’t do as much vacationing as a family as I would like, and as the kids get older it only gets worse. Their time is limited. Rather, I should say Chickadee’s time is limited. She’s branching out into The World That Is Not Us, and that means she often has somewhere “better” to be, whether that is something educational or with her friends or whatever. And, of course, we split their free time with their dad, so that’s a constraint, too.
I want us to have more time to just enjoy being a family together, having fun.
So we’re going camping.
But we almost decided not to go camping, because Monkey was escorted home yesterday by not one but two school officials. They smiled a little too brightly and assured me that “everything’s okay now” and they’d email to let me know more, and Monkey slumped against me and cried, as he does after a major blowup, to “just go to bed.” He went, and rested, and reset whatever mechanism it is in his brain that sometimes seizes and takes him away from us. In its place it leaves a hitting, spitting, kicking ball of fury, angry at whatever perceived injustice has made life unbearable to him in that moment within the confines of polite society.
After, he spat out the story in disjointed bits and pieces, and I waited for the email.
And even though I know—even though it’s happened before, KEEPS happening—the email still chilled me to my core, set forth facts I would love to be able to dispute, to say, “No, not my kid!” to. Because this is my kid. My kid, my loving, sensitive, sweet, funny kid. My kid who turns into a raging animal with no warning, who disappears and leaves fury in his place, then lies about it, after (whether because he believes his story or is deeply ashamed, we often don’t know). Who seems further and further away from me, the older he gets.
We had an IEP meeting this week, and it went well. The team assured me he is making progress. “We see a real improvement over last year,” more than one of them said.
“I disagree,” I said. “He is melting down less, but with greater ferocity when he does. The anger is getting worse. The unpredictability is worse.” And it was commented that “this may be the start of puberty” and I responded with mock-but-only-kind-of anger that the speaker should “shut her dirty mouth” and we all laughed and deep inside I thought to myself that if this is the beginning of puberty, and this is what puberty shall do to him and to us, I don’t know how we make it out to the other side.
“What should we do, Monkey?” I asked him, finally, last night. He’d given his version. I got the story from school. Otto came home early and we sat together trying to discuss the irrational and incomprehensible like reasonable people, even though there’s nothing reasonable about it.
“You should just kill me,” he cried. “All I ever do is cause trouble. The only solution is to kill me.”
I assured him no one would be doing any such thing. His face twisted with anguish and I kept mine a mask of calm and encouragement until later. After he went to bed, I was free to weep for him until I was empty.
Do we reward terrible behavior by taking him on a vacation? Or do we ruin everything for the entire family because of something he did, further cementing his belief that all bad things stem from his intractable brain? Neither option is good.
So we’ll pack up. Move out. Spend the weekend in the woods. Play board games. Make s’mores. Laugh in Monkey’s delight over every bug, Licorice’s excitement over every squirrel, Chickadee’s insistence that it’s too early to get up no matter what time it is. Ketchup will squirt out of the bottle in the wrong direction and milk will be spilled and we’ll hold our collective breath, wondering if THIS will be the thing that sets him off, then exhaling, gratefully, when it’s not.
We will go sleep in the crisp night air and hope that a break from routine will somehow make it all better. Make us better.
It won’t. But maybe it will.