Before I start talking about Simon’s first experiences with therapy, I want to tell a few stories about him, just so you all can see what he was struggling against.
The first one happened at Eleanor’s preschool. Eleanor went to school in the mornings, from 8-ish until around noon. When I would go to pick her up, I couldn’t leave the boys in the car (obviously), so I would have to unload them and haul them in with me. George was still small enough to be in his carrier, but Simon would walk in with me.
Once inside, I would set George down and Simon would play for a few minutes while I got Eleanor’s things together and got her signed out for the day. One day, Simon had a confrontation with one of the teachers there.
Remember I talked about his OCD tendencies? Well, one of them at the time was doors. Doors had to be shut. If a door was open, he would close it. That’s just the way it had to be for him and, usually, it wasn’t a big deal at all. At the preschool, the door to the kids’ bathroom was left open when no one was in there and Simon would often close it. Most of the teachers there knew Simon and knew that he had some challenges and they didn’t mind the little odd things he did.
This particular day, however, there was a new teacher there and she didn’t know about Simon and doors. The bathroom door was open and Simon went and closed it. There was no one in the bathroom at the time and the kids were all outside playing. The teacher was standing there and she opened it again. He closed it. She opened it. He started to cry and closed it again. She opened it. He went to close it again and she put her hand out to stop him. So she was holding the door open while Simon was pushing against it, trying to close it, and getting more and more upset. I was across the room trying to get Eleanor’s things and I just kept calling over “Just let him close the door, it’s fine” and was being ignored. Keep in mind that this all happened in less than a minute or so. Simon started to scream and I ran over. I said to the teacher, “He just wants to have the door closed.” She looked at me like I had grown an extra head. He was sobbing as I helped him close the door and picked him up to cuddle him. He was only around 19 or 20 months old! I said again to the teacher, “He’s got a thing, he likes to have doors closed. Don’t make an issue out of it.” And then, for the first time ever in relation to Simon, I said the words, “He’s special needs.” Oy. That hurt. Part of me died inside when I said that. She replies back to me, “I didn’t want him to pinch his fingers.” Really? Now I was frustrated. Simon was crying, George was starting to cry, and I was going to start crying soon. “Well,” I said, “If he pinches his fingers then maybe he’ll learn a lesson. In the meantime, let him shut the god damned door.” And we walked out. What kind of teacher gets into a power struggle with a toddler over a door? Seriously?
The next couple of stories are all somewhat related and involve my dear friend S. I have known S for years; we worked together before I left to have the babies. She and her husband, T, had helped us plan our wedding, move into our first house and she was one of the first people to meet Eleanor after she was born. She has kids of her own, including a boy just 6 months younger than Eleanor and another boy just 3 weeks younger than Simon.
When we were moving into our rental house after we sold our place, S and T offered to watch the Bigs (Eleanor and Simon) for a few hours. I needed to be at the new house for a furniture delivery and didn’t need to have crazy kids running all over, especially since we didn’t have toys there yet or gates for the stairs. I dropped the kids off without incident and was back as quick as possible to pick them up. Els had had a great time and Simon was happily chilling in a playpen with their younger son. He started fussing a bit when he saw me, but S said he had done fine the whole time. Yay, I thought!
A couple of months later, after we dropped Eleanor off at school, I took the boys over to S’s house to visit for a bit one morning. It had been a rough morning for a long list of reasons and I was horrifically on edge and was looking forward to just hanging out and talking with a friend. When I got there, I first unloaded Simon to take him before I got George and some other things out of the car. As I walked up to the house with Simon, he started to cry and scream. Remember, he had been here before, he knew S, so I didn’t know what the problem was. I left him with S long enough to grab George. When I got back in, he was hysterical. I was able to calm him down with offerings of chicken nuggets and SuperWhy on the TV, but he hung to me the whole time. If I tried to put him down, he would start screaming, and after about 45 minutes, we left. I felt horrible for all of us, but S was very understanding and concerned.
Then, a month or so later (the months are all blurring together right now; if I can get the timeline sorted out later, I’ll update), S and T were having a small get together at their house. They, too, were getting ready to move out of San Diego county, and this was their going-away party, kids always welcome. There weren’t that many people there and some of them the kids had met before, including another dear friend who would occasionally babysit so Adam and I could have a date night. I was nervous, though, and not sure how Simon was going to react.
When we got there, I carried Simon in. I also had a bowl of spinach dip in my hand, so Adam offered to take Simon while I went into the kitchen. As I walked off, Simon started to cry and fuss. I put the bowl down and took Simon back. He just clung to me, sticking his hand down the front of my shirt as he often does when he needs comfort (more on that later).
Eleanor went off to play and Adam had George, so I walked around carrying Simon, who continued to cry. I took him over to a quiet corner in the playroom with his counting book and tried to get him to calm down.
Over and over again. For almost half an hour. He would start to calm down and would even climb down off my lap to go check out a toy before running back to me. I thought everything was going to be okay. And then….
S’s husband, T, came in with their little boy who is just 3 weeks younger than Simon. Now, T is awesome, but he’s also very, very tall. Very tall. Simon knew him, but the man can still be intimidating, ya know? And he picked up his little boy and started tossing him in the air, as parents are often wont to do. Nothing malicious in it, of course, and no one, NO ONE, could have anticipated how Simon was going to react to see that.
Simon froze. His eyes went all wide. He didn’t cry. He didn’t scream. He froze. He clung to me and I could feel his heart pounding. And then he started hyperventilating. He was having a panic attack! I am no stranger to panic attacks myself, so I was able to recognize it for what it was. He just clung to me, wide-eyed, and hyperventilated. Most people, I think, would wonder why I didn’t pick him up and leave, but, honestly, I was afraid to move him in that moment, not knowing how he would react and not wanting to risk making it worse.
T, bless him, saw what was going on and quickly exited stage right. Adam came to check on us and I briefly told him what happened. I held Simon and counted and counted and waited and, after 15 minutes or so, he began to relax. And then he voluntarily got down off my lap and we went outside and he ran around and played happily for another couple of hours.
It all worked out in the end, but the fact still remains: a child that young should NOT have panic attacks!
Another quick story about S and her family…
During the time all these other things were happening, S asked me to watch her youngest boy, D, for the day while she went to a very important appointment. Remember, D is just 3 weeks younger than Simon. No problem, I said. D is a sweet, outgoing little dude. There were no problems watching him, at all, but a few things stand out in my memory of that day: 1) Simon wanted nothing to do with D. He just wanted to play on his own; D and Eleanor played together all day. That made me incredibly sad. 2) That was the first time really observing Simon next to a neuro-typical peer and it was… eye opening? Saddening? Scary as fuck? Pretty much all of those. As I’ve said before, we’ve gotten so used to Simon and what he’s like that it’s very jarring, I think is the right word, to see what a “normal” 2-year-old is like. 3) S and T came to pick D up around the time Adam got home from work that day. We were all standing in the living room talking and the kids were all standing with us. Except for Simon. He was off by himself, watching the credits on one of his movies. All by himself.