The words, as they always do, avoid any pretense or shades of gray. They offer raw, utter, unvarnished truth, and they cut like a knife.
“But I thought mommy and daddy could always fix anything!”
Upon hearing this from Ryan, Veronica and I make eye contact and share a quick non-verbal communication. One that says, “Did you hear that? Did it hurt you as much as it hurt me?” It is a conversation without words, the type that is so difficult for Ryan to understand.
The words hurt because Ryan is having a meltdown and we cannot fix the cause of it — a lost computer document. I am not angry about the meltdown or its cause. I am disappointed that I can not repair it. That I can’t come through for my son with a simple computer repair. It is the only thing he needs from me at this very moment, and I have failed to deliver.
I have spent the past twenty minutes trying anything and everything I can think of to recover the document, which he accidentally overwrote with a blank file. The document’s contents — some sort of hybrid NHL/NFL standings comparison that Ryan created — don’t matter. What matters is that Ryan has lost his work and is caught in the vicious loop of ever-increasing aggravation, sort of like Clark Griswold trying to get left on a London roundabout. Ryan’s logic goes something like this: I am angry because I have spent the past hour working on this document and now this document is gone which means the last hour was a waste of time which means I could have spent that hour doing something better than typing a standings file if I had known I was going to lose the file because losing the file has made me angry.
He ends right where he began, and sets off on another lap around the unwinnable argument, his anger growing with each circuit.
While I search through Windows temp files and perform a system restore, Veronica speaks calmly to Ryan, trying to talk him into stepping away from the cycle.
The situation is made worse by the setting: we are visiting Veronica’s extended family and there are seven other kids between 10 and 16 in the house, all of whom are happily engaged in group play while Ryan, the third-oldest, screams and cries and slams his fists into the furniture over a lost computer document containing made-up sports standings.
Every so often he takes a deep breath, regains a little of his composure, and asks me if I have been able to retrieve the document. Each time that I have to tell him “no” makes me feel a little more inadequate. He is holding out hope, saving the worst of his anger for the final confirmation that the document is gone forever.
Once the inevitable calming occurs, a few minutes after the meltdown crescendos, we see something new from Ryan. He is embarrassed. He knows he has overreacted. The presence of the other kids in the house probably has something to do with this. As his mind calms and rational thought returns, he is in an analytical mood.
It is then that he tells us that he believed we would always fix anything that bothers him.
He believes this because we tell him so. When fears over a change in bus drivers or school schedules prevent him from falling asleep, we tell him, over and over, that if the school tries to change things, we will fix it.
His mind is linear, governed by all the rules he has come to apply to every life situation he has encountered. His mind does not allow for situational substitution. If mom and dad tell me they will fix something at school that is causing me anxiety, then they will fix anything that is causing me anxiety.
I both love and fear that he trusts us so implicitly to “fix” anything in his life. I love it because he trusts us so completely. I love it because many meltdowns can be prevented if he believes that mom and dad will make everything all right in the end. I fear it because we quite obviously cannot “fix” everything that troubles him. I fear it because of all the things I don’t want to do to either of my children, disappoint them is at the very top of the list.
In the end, I will take away this from the episode: My son has the words to tell us what is bothering him. We are so very thankful for that.