photoHow can a happy-go-lucky, hakuna-matata-loving, chill, tip-toe-running, cheesy-grinning, giggle bucket transform into a wailing, my-heart-is-being-wrenched-from-my-body screeching child? The mystery of what stimuli or combination of stimuli and sensitivities tips the balance in Jackson’s mind still eludes me, but I feel responsible somehow for dragging him into it today.

Shoving a double sit-stand stroller crammed with three boys like prisoners on Alcatraz, I sport my red cape and my I-am-wonder-woman-and-will-try-anything-once attitude. I walk fast so Jackson cannot step off and escape. A momentary pause to wave at our girls in the small town walking parade sends him ducking under the handlebar to yank a thick grassy stem off a resident’s front lawn…perfect for flapping. Maybe the frantic grab for a flapper should have been my first clue that Jackson was not as excited as the rest of the town about celebrating our heritage.

Weaving through bodies like Dale Earnhardt (driving an stretch SUV), I apologize brusquely when our stroller grazes a munching man’s heal. I concentrate on continuous forward movement now. The whole outing is endangered by a 45-second pause in momentum as we wait for the dance troop to pass. Agitated sounds errupt from Mt. Jackson, and with a jerk of my head, I yank a daughter from the procession. She’s already shot me a questioning look, based on the noises. We confer briefly, and I bark directions over my shoulder while I rudely push forward past the scurrying viewers. Must keep this vehicle moving.

Too late. Jackson’s eyes compress angry tears into rivers which careen down cherry-red cheeks. His upset squawking competes with the blaring speakers. We wheel wildly around corners, attempting to find emptier streets and a faster way home.

Stares follow us across the main street. His arm is raised now, harshly pointed finger demanding beans from the nearest familiar house, whose pantry was observed to hold a can which evidently had his name on it. The litany of upset fall-back words that express nothing meaningful, except emotion and a desire for comfort, tumble out smashed together like one new word invented in this moment just to let mama, brothers, and all of 6th Street know just how cruel the world is to my boy: “waffleourhousebobthebuilderpandashower-beeeeeans!!!”

The litany continues for 14 blocks. I am glancing over my shoulder for a local patrol car or random CPS van to sidle up to us and investigate the disturbance. I say calm, soothing nothing’s for the sake of the younger brothers…but mostly for my own. The inner sanctuary must remain for another few blocks, for another few frantic moments as I fumble the lock, mind already blocks ahead trying to grope for the key, the magic distraction, that will break through Jackson’s mysterious inner hurricane and hush the turmoil before my own sanctuary crumbles…I feel it shake and shift already as I force myself to rationalize who is the most likely to win the Nobel Peace Prize at our house today: “Which music? What song? Bob the Builder or Po the Panda? Swing or shower?”

Quickly now…walk faster…youngest brother’s sanctuary has tumbled down, and his wails join Jackson’s. Their dueling screams rise and swell reaching unbelievable heights, feeding the crescendo.

My blood pressure finally pushes past the calm roof, I choke as I try to answer the older, wiser little brother’s “Why, mommy? Why is Jack so upset? He wants his beans?” Ignoring my unintelligible failed attempt to answer, he acknowledges his own more reasonable one, “Oh, I know, Mommy; he doesn’t like the Festival.”

My own eyes turn traitor and let steamy tears escape. They race down to wipe out all peaceful facades. I open the door and point inside. “Go.” I choke out. Gathering the wailing toddler I quickly calculate a simple list of guaranteed solutions that will ease his wilting spirit: food and a nap.

While settling little brother into his high chair, I realize Jackson has taken his survival into his own hands, retreating to his own world to re-enact his favorite 30 seconds of a 1990’s, low-budget, self-care DVD…over and over: “Why do we take a shower?” (Shower turns on, muffled lines, scripted singing, shower turns off, splat, splat, splat) “Why do we need to use the potty?” (Flush, more unintelligible lines, splat, splat, splat…line, shower, line, toilet routine X10).

Normally I’d stop him. Help him not get stuck. Enforce ONE shower today, but I’m not. Today, I’m throwing good-parent-ology out the window. Right now my boy needs to retreat, withdraw, leave this cruel, heartless, upsetting, demanding world and take ten showers. He’s rebuilding his sanctuary. I sigh, turn my back on the bathroom door and the frustrating mysteries, the what-could-I-have-done-differently’s. I’ve got ten 30-second scripts to get myself together, I’d best get on with rebuilding my sanctuary too.

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