September 10, 2012 by whirlyjoy
Every September I look forward to back-to-school as a time of peace, when Aida can return to a much-needed regular schedule, Mimi is busy and tired enough to not be looking to push my buttons all day, and I can sit at my desk without distraction and churn out the corporate translations that pay our way through each month.
Denial is my very favorite coping skill – and I’m pretty sure the only non-drug-based strategy available to humans that is occasionally effective. I have a black belt in denial, a gold medal in selective vision (“Your honor, I enter these two ex-husbands into the record as evidence…”). That means I’m freshly, virginally stunned each September by the stress of reentry, when every phone call, scheduling decision, registration form, application packet, request for services and other task that could or had to be postponed during the summer comes to roost on my desk all at the same time, squawking for attention without the slightest concern for the state of my nerves, leaving their droppings all over my to-do list and following me around pecking at my soft tissue when I try to ignore them.
I’ve learned to preserve some sanity over the years by immediately deleting or throwing away all school paperwork that falls into the following categories: volunteer requests, letters from principals, anything containing the words “spirit” or “anti-bullying” or “pledge” or “fund drive”, anything that takes up more than one page OR is printed on one of those half-sheets that always slip out of the stack, and anything printed on sheets of darkish blue or purple paper that can only be read under industrial-strength lights.
This triage is quite helpful, but still leaves a huge batch of scruffy stuff to deal with, and there are days like today when I am not coping well.
As all this bears down on me, so does what I call the A-Team: Aida’s staff of autism specialists, behaviorists, home care providers and “companions” (my personal term for Aida’s babysitters, who are not dealing with a baby and never get to sit). These people are fantastic, devoted to Aida and her many needs. They are also, of necessity, intimately involved in our daily life and part of the whole intricate planning mess that towers up in September. One or more of them are in our home every day, and sometimes keeping my emotions in check around them is just too much effort.
So today I’m introducing the Maternal Core Meltdown danger index, pictured above. Like the forest fire danger index that inspires it, the MaCMe (let’s pronounce it “make me”, shall we?) danger index indicates the degree of risk that a small spark – in the form of, say, a simple question such as “are we out of Aida’s cucumber for snacks?” – will set off a conflagration that consumes everyone (and all chocolate) within reach and leaves nothing but scorched earth and acrid smoke behind.
Maybe I could add a form on Behaviors of which staff should be aware, like the one I just filled out for Aida to participate in the “Special Populations” after-school club. It would apply perfectly to me with just the slightest modifications: What types of noises, activities or situations bother your child? (“Any unexpected or unplanned situation will be perceived as overwhelming and threatening”). What are his/her reactions? (“Extremely agitated behavior including self-injury”). What positive behavior reinforcement is helpful? (“Remove her to a quiet space and allow her to calm down”).
I can print out the index and prop it up on the kitchen counter, along with all of Aida’s picture schedules, behavior record charts and medication lists, maybe next to Mimi’s post-it with her household chores for the day. It will fit right in, and the whole home team will thank me for it.