I don’t do math. And I really don’t do science. In high school, geometry was the only math class I actually aced – the ONLY math class I ever aced. In college, in order to fill my course requirement, I opted for “Basics of Mathematics” assuming it would be an easy A. Or with my record, probably a B-. Except the whole stinking course was nothing but word problems. Stupid, stupid word problems. Things like, “A prince is trying to rescue his princess locked up in a castle surrounded by a 20′ moat. The prince has two 19′ boards. How can the prince rescue the princess?” Seriously?!
Math and science kind of go hand-in-hand, so not understanding math made science a bit difficult for me too. I was well on my way to completely failing my high school chemistry class until I started tutoring with the teacher. Working as hard as I could, I barely pulled off a C. I just did not get it.
I say all of that to give this caveat: I have no idea if what I’m about to say about physics and nuclear meltdowns is remotely correct. If it’s not, blame Wikipedia. 🙂 But it makes a suitable analogy for today’s post, so bear with me.
Living in the world of autism, I am very well-studied in a different kind of meltdown. In autism, a meltdown occurs because there are a number of factors either present or lacking. A child may be over-stimulated or experiencing a lack of sensory input that, when triggered by something as small as, say, a goldfish cracker dropping on the ground, causes a meltdown. During a meltdown, the child may act out physically or verbally against themselves or others. When Sam was a toddler, he would thrash around on the floor, repeatedly banging his head against the cold ceramic kitchen tile. He is now 9 years old and no longer bangs his head; he does, however, act out with words. Angry words. Hurtful words. And he always cries and screams.
The main difference between a typical tantrum and a meltdown is that a tantrum seeks attention and typically fizzles when deprived of such, whereas a meltdown is the body’s neurobiological reaction to the trigger. The brain essentially goes haywire. Neurons are firing and back-firing, signals are being mixed, and the child is left in a state of confusion, unable to rationalize or stop the overflow of radioactive material now spewing forth from their arms, legs, and tongue.
A basic understanding of what happens in a nuclear meltdown is an accident resulting from severe heating and a lack of sufficient cooling at the reactor core, occurring in different stages.
Within the nuclear family, the child with autism could be considered the “reactor core” in a nuclear power plant. According to my incredibly limited research just for this blog post, it is absolutely critical to keep the reactor core cooled. Essentially, a nuclear meltdown happens because the core lost its cool. But it doesn’t happen from one little trigger. It happens from a chain reaction of triggers. First, the coolant supply is depleted. Then the reactor boils off all the water until the fuel rods immersed in that water are exposed. The fuel rods melt, and the radioactive fuel surrounds the reactor core. If left unattended, (or not cooled down,) the reactor core melts and explodes, and every living thing dies from radioactive material. Except, of course, for cockroaches. Pretty scary stuff!
Back in the days of the Cold War, fallout shelters became popular as families attempted to create a safe haven from an atomic attack. JFK even appointed a guy who was tasked with building enough fallout shelters for everyone in the US. (He retired three years later because it was the most “unappealing, unappetizing, and unpopular” jobs ever created. I bet!) My only frame of reference to a fallout shelter is the infamous 90’s movie, “Blast From the Past” starring Brendan Fraser and Alicia Silverstone. Sometimes I wish I had a real one – just so I could have a place to recover from our own meltdowns. Or hide.
This past week, my husband and I became unwilling participants in such a nuclear family meltdown in our home. First, you should understand that we have three children. All boys. Ages 10 and under. Sam is the middle child and he is our reactor core (according to my little analogy.) His older and younger brothers act as the coolant supply. If his brothers are happy, or at least not bothering him, he’s fine. But once his brothers start to lose their cool, everything heats up. Fast. It doesn’t take long before the fuel rods melt from the incredible heat (my husband and me), and that reactor core explodes.
If you’re following me, Sam’s brothers – specifically his little brother Josh- lost his own cool, and set in motion the chain reaction toward a nuclear meltdown. His behavior frustrated and completely exasperated his father and me. He refused to calm down, which only made it more difficult to remain calm ourselves. But upon Josh’s continued outbursts, Sam started to lose it. Attempting to keep the reactor core cool, I walked Sam to his room, closed the door, turned his fan on high, his radio up loud, and made him wear his noise cancelling earphones.
Little by little though, that coolant supply (Josh) drained, and the fuel rods ( us parents) started to melt. The reactor core (Sam) blew. Radioactive material spewed everywhere. Nuclear meltdown. Afterward, all that remained were three emotionally spent boys recovering in their beds as they fell asleep, and two utterly drained parents recovering in the “fallout shelter” (the living room), the glow of TV reruns reflecting off their weary faces.
We were doing our best. We really were. But sometimes our best isn’t good enough. Sometimes we crack under pressure and we lose our cool. When we lose our cool, we risk the reactor core melting down. Parenting a child with special-needs is not easy. We are constantly in maintenance mode – making sure the coolant supply is plenty and the fuel rods stay immersed. Because heaven help us if that reactor core is exposed.
Of course, all of these components are housed in one location – the power plant. (Can you tell where this analogy is headed?) On our own, we are unable to maintain the coolant supply. We need the power of the Holy Spirit to keep everything running smoothly. We may not be able to control every component surrounding the reactor core, but we are able to control our reaction to the dysfunctional components. And even in the midst of a meltdown beyond our control, we have a fallout shelter under the shadow of the Almighty.
Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” Psalm 91:1-2
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