The day started off like most of our school day mornings do. We wake up and while I warm up milk for the kids and make myself a cup of coffee, the boys brush their teeth and dress in the clothes that I laid out for them the night before. We make our way downstairs and Jay gets onto his bus, then I drop Ace off at school on my way to work. Our morning routine takes us 35 minutes and is a well oiled machine. It works for all of us – Thanks to my Grandma and Grandad who taught me very early on the value of being organized and following a routine.
In the evening, we have a routine too. I pick Jay up from his school at about 5:20. We have an hour and a half (which is plenty of time) to get back home before Ace gets dropped off, at our front door, by his Boys and Girls Club bus.
On this one particular day, I went to pick Jay up and as he always does, he came running to me with a smile on his face. I noticed that his jacket was not zippered so I made the move to do it for him. He jerked back and said “My turn. Jay do it.” Now, understand that Jay is fully capable of zipping up his jacket. He does it just about every day by himself. For whatever reason, on this day he was having a hard time. One side kept slipping out of the other when he made the attempt to pull the zipper up. I waited patiently.
I watched as parent after parent came and collected their little ones and those little ones zipped up their coats and they left.
Jay started to run out of patience and would let out a groan every time the zipper didn’t do what he wanted. I offered to help but he flat-out refused. He was determined to get it by himself. So I waited.
He eventually sat down on the stairs – but kept trying.
I eventually sat down on the stairs – and he kept at it.
He got more and more frustrated and was getting louder and louder with each failed attempt.
We had been there for about 30 minutes with Jay getting more and more angry at this damn zipper when I decided that it was time for us to exit the building – zipped or not. I did my best to minimize the possibility of one but I braced myself for the impending tantrum.
I told him that he could try one more time but then it would be time to go. He turned his back to me and ignored me as he worked on his zipper.
I took a deep breath, held his hand and asked him to stand up so we could go. He yelled at me …
– I know baby, but we need to go. Let me help you.
No. My turn. Zipper. Zipper.
I physically picked him up and he yelled and fought me all the way out the building and to the car. I felt terrible, but I didn’t know what else to do. In the car, he yelled and kept trying to zip up his jacket.
Once we were home, he refused to take off his shoes or hat or anything else. He wanted to zip up his jacket. I put away his lunch box and checked his back pack as I do every day. I thought to myself, Thank God he doesn’t have homework today. I sat on the couch and waited.
When it was time, I let Jay know that I was going outside to wait for Ace. I asked him if he’d like to come with me or did he want to stay inside. He grabbed his blanket (blankets comfort him) and threw it over his head and shoulders and asked me if he could carry it. I said yes. I would’ve let him carry anything that would give him a sense of calm.
Ten minutes later, we were back inside with Ace and Jay continued to struggle with the stubborn zipper. At one point he was rolling around on the floor. The poor kid looked like he wanted to crawl out of his own skin. I started to imagine this going on all night and into the next morning.
I got dinner together, Ace changed into pajamas and did his homework and read me a story about a Goat that Eats Everything – all the while Jay was still fully clothed and fighting with his zipper.
Then, some 2 ½ hours after this all began, I heard the tell-tale sound and my head spun around to see Jay zipped up.
The look on his face was priceless. I could see the anxiety whoosh out of his body. Every hair on his head visibly relaxed. I could feel it. I could feel the relief HE felt.
That effing zipper had pretty much incapacitated him all evening, but once he got the jacket zipped up, he promptly unzipped it, took it off and then took off his shoes and hat and happily went about his normal evening routine.
I truly cannot imagine what life feels like to my son. I do know that whatever he feels, he feels it strongly. He feels things down to his bones. If something as simple as a zipper can throw him off balance like that, his life must be both achingly painful and breathtakingly beautiful. Beyond anything I can imagine.
I just hope that as he gets older, I can help him find ways to manage the painful parts as well as show him that the beautiful parts are worth sharing and celebrating, even if we, with our average, typical minds, can’t see or feel the same way he does.