Don’t forget that you’re human. It’s okay to have a meltdown. Just don’t unpack and live there. Cry it out and then refocus on where you are headed. ~Unknown
Parents of children with disabilities have extraordinary moments. We witness our children’s ups and downs. We go through experiences that are breathtaking, as they achieve outcomes that once seemed impossible. At other times, we have the wind knocked out of our sails.
I recently had an experience that took me some time to accept and understand. I was up early one morning, getting a head start on my housework. I even had time to start vacuuming. Once my son, Hunter, was awake and getting ready for school, I moved the vacuum cleaner to the corner of the kitchen where he wouldn’t trip on it, but it would still be easily accessible to me once he left the house. As he entered the kitchen, just for a moment, he began to have a verbal conversation with the vacuum, mistakenly thinking it was his guide dog.
I had to ask, “Who are you talking to?” We both laughed and I made light of the situation until he left for school, but for the rest of the day, I could only stare at the vacuum at the bottom of the steps and think, “How in the world did he mistake this object—a vacuum—for his guide dog?” The emotions I needed to deal with that day were many and allowing them to happen, allowed me to move forward.
The initial shock
I was sad and scared, wondering how Hunter had honestly thought the vacuum cleaner was his dog. I looked for common features, but there really were none. I tried to recall times that I myself had mistakenly viewed an object out of the corner of my eye and thought it was person or something other than what it was. It does happen, right? But I had trouble remembering an example.
I wondered if his vision was deteriorating more quickly than I realized. Keep laughing, I told myself, but my laughs quickly turned to tears of sadness.
Then I thought, “How dare I sit and stare at a vacuum and feel sorry for myself? Hunter made a split-second error that could have happened to anyone. Besides, many people face much more serious challenges. He is not medically fragile. He is successfully making progress on his path of transition, continuing to reach his goals, and advocating on his own behalf.” I felt I had no right to be so sad, but I was.
I also felt guilty because my initial response to the incident had been to laugh and make a joke. Had I been disrespectful to my son? Had I unintentionally embarrassed him by my reaction? I think I had. Would discussing it further help or only make him feel worse? I didn’t know what the right or wrong thing to do might be. I had no one to ask, no plan to follow. I could only work through my emotions on my own. I began to cry.
Coming to grips
I needed that cry. At the time, it was essential for me to feel sorry for myself and also vital for me to realize that there was no particular reason why Hunter mistook the vacuum cleaner for his dog in the first place. It was just something that happened. The experience, however, gave me an opportunity to reflect on how I and other parents constantly endure both the challenges and triumphs that go with having a child who has a disability and our own totally human reactions. I had a meltdown and it was okay to do so. It did not mean that I was a weak or crazy parent. Hopefully, it meant just the opposite.
I had one last thing to do and that was to ask my son for permission to share this experience. He gave a little laugh, and simply said, “If it helps you Mom; it’s okay with me.” It did help me and now I am refocused and back on my own path.