I could hear the screeches and crying ringing from upstairs. I sighed deeply and headed toward the stairs. As I was going up, my youngest son (8 years old) was making his way down. I paused and asked, “What happened?” hoping for some insight in order to assess the situation before getting there and trying to figure out what sent him over the edge this time. He replied, “He’s upset.” as he continued down the stairs without even pausing. Oh, the vastness of the depths of the fountain of knowledge…
It was actually a very minor issue that caused such a ruckus. Although, of course, to Sam, it was a very MAJOR issue. The problem is that we never know what is going to set him off. Sometimes we anticipate a huge reaction to “big” things that actually elicits a calm response, and vice versa.
As I ran up the stairs passing my son who was rushing down, my heart pounded and I considered the realm of possibilities of what I might find upstairs. Then an image flashed across my mind. It reminded me of when there’s a fire in a multi-level building and the people are running down the stairwell trying to get out as the firefighters run up – toward the fire.
Firefighters live at the fire station when they are on duty. They sleep there. They eat there. They hang out together there. They maintain their equipment. And they are always on call. They have to be ready to go when they hear the alarm go off. And they have to be fast. They can’t say, “Let me just finish the rest of my lunch first,” or “I don’t feel like it right now,” or “5 more minutes” and turn over in bed. There is no snooze button on the fire alarm.
They may have some information about the type of fire before they arrive, but they still have to assess the situation when they arrive on the scene. They need to know of any people trapped inside who need to get out, as well as the severity of the possibly compromised structure itself. They use different equipment for different kinds of fire. They need access to a fire hydrant. And they need bystanders to get out of the way so they can do their job.
I’ve heard of parents with special-needs kids compared to combat soldiers. Firefighters are a different kind of soldier. They don’t fight people. They fight a force of nature that can be unpredictable, uncontrollable, and relentless. What may start as a small seemingly contained brush fire can quickly get out of hand and turn into a massive wildfire. And firefighters don’t get to quit until the fire is out and the area is deemed safe.
Do you feel like this sometimes? Always waiting for the alarm to sound? Rushing past those who are trying to get away and heading towards the screaming or sounds of loud thuds against the walls and doors banging? How many assessments have you made in less than half of a split second? Not only did you have to make assessments, you also had to make a judgement call on what you were going to do once you arrived on the scene of the meltdown.
I don’t know about you, but sometimes I find myself in my closet with the door closed and locked crying to myself and sometimes even calling my husband, “I don’t know what to do. I don’t want to do this. I can’t do this.” as the fire continues to rage upstairs. I hope against irrational hope that someone will come busting through the door and rescue me. And my son too. That I’ll get a reprieve and a free pass.
Then all too quickly, a certain realization hits me hard that I do have to do this. I don’t have a choice because I am the parent. But you know what? I do know what to do. And whether I feel it or not, I tell myself, “I CAN do this.” Either that, or my husband tells me over the phone. Sometimes, we need someone to call out our name, tell us to get a hold of ourselves, and get on it. When the fire is raging, there is no time to analyze feelings and get to a place of peace about it first. That is the time for action.
Firefighters sign up to put out fires, volunteering their service for the good and well-being of others and their community. Maybe I didn’t sign up for autism. I know you didn’t either. But I did sign up for this child. And autism or not, with confidence in myself or not, I care for my son however I need to and whether or not I feel like it in the moment because I love him and it’s for his good. I know you do what it takes because you love your child too. And I know sometimes it’s hard.
I know the feeling of cowering in the corner of my closet trying to drown out the sound of the alarm, not wanting to suit up. I know what it’s like to feel unequipped for the task, despite my previous “training.” I know what it’s like to try using every hose on the truck to put out the various types of “fires” triggered by autism, never quite sure which one is going to work or when. If you know these feelings too, you’re not alone.
But parent, when the alarm sounds and you consider heading to the closet instead of the stairs, if you don’t have someone in your life who will say it, I will:
You know what to do. You’ve done it before, and you’ll do it again.
You don’t want to? Suit up anyway, whether or not you feel like it. (Because honestly? This isn’t about you right now.) You’ve done it before, and you’ll do it again.
You CAN do this! You’ve done it before, and you’ll do it a thousand times more.
So when the alarm sounds, go. Get on it. Trust me. If I can do it, so can you.
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