It's been a good six months, in a lot of ways. This year at school has been better, probably because she's older, but we also moved her to a different classroom (because she had established some not-so-good patterns in her old one), and the therapy seems to be helping. She still uses the shoebox sometimes on bright days, and sometimes it's hard for her to be in large groups. We had a successful trip to IKEA this fall, where we used social stories to get ready for a big, busy new place. But the circus last April and the school holiday party from last December, which were utter, terrifying failures, were still fresh in my mind. So yesterday's holiday party was not something I expected to enjoy. Last year, she started crying the minute we walked in the door and could not be consoled: we left after six terrible minutes of me pointing to treats and friends and the carousel only to have her bury her head in my shoulder. This year, I suggested she bring a stuffed critter with her, thinking it might help calm her fears. (She picked Julio). Whew. It took several minutes of standing outside the front door, but we made it inside. For the last several weeks, we've been working with Jane, V's therapist, to prepare: we had a social story, a little booklet that explained all of the great things about the holiday party (friends! cookies! hot chocolate! music!) and the scary things (lots of friends! noise! spinning horses!) and how she could respond if she got overwhelmed (go outside, or to the entry way, or into the restroom, where it's quieter). V knew the story by heart, and even shared it, unprompted, with several people. Still, my idea of success was going to be 10 whole minutes without too much crying.
Once we got inside, she took off her mittens, coat, and hat. And promptly put her hat back on. It's quite a noisy place, this carousel, and even moreso when you add 200 people and sugar cookies.Thank God there were cookies. That was in the script: cookies! We like cookies! She was looking forward to these cookies for weeks! But...but....there's no hot chocolate. Uh-oh. I braced for meltdown while pretending it was totally no big whoopdedoo that there was hot cider instead.
My casual attitude rubbed off. When it cooled off enough, V declared cider "almost as yummy as hot choclate!"We watched our family riding the carousel. I love this picture of my sister and her family, especially because Jess and Brad got married here five years ago. I can hardly believe how much our lives have all changed since that lovely day. Anyway, we were already ten minutes into this thing, and aside from the initial hesitation, there was no inkling of a meltdown. I could barely believe it.
V saw a wooden sleigh and promptly organizes a photo shoot with her cousins. This photo is excellent because each of their personalities is captured here: Will's looking at something on the ceiling, V's being a goofus, and Emmy's concentrating on her cookie. I have a feeling they'll be taking this same photo in 10, 20, and 30 years. Only Emmy's pants probably won't snap up the inseam. And V's hat'll probably be bigger.
Soon after that photo, Jess, Brad, Will and Emmy packed up and left. Before us. What? How did this happen? I got nervous again. Without a whole posse of beloveds around, how would V not get overwhelmed? Who would look at me sympathetically when the wailing began? After a few minutes, while V was sitting next to me at our table, licking the sugar off her sugar cookie, she quietly said, "Would you ride with me on the merry-go-round?"
What? Yes! I mean, sure, babe. Whatever you wanna do. It's all good. We got in line, and watched the riders ahead of us. "Do those horses have any buckles?" she asked, as one girl kicked her feet off to the side. "No," I said. "You have to hold on." She said "I want to sit on the bench." Okay. Not a horse? "No. the bench." Hey, kiddo, I don't care what you want to do, as long as it doesn't involve laying on the floor and screaming. She was determined, and focused, and I was so excited to sit beside her and her earflap hat. We looked around us as we waited for the music to begin. "Look at the mirrors and the lights. Look at how the horses move up and down. Cool, huh?" She seemed genuinely interested. As we rode, she searched the crowd for her friend Charli (whom we'd watched go around several times earlier) and danced a little to the music. She wasn't scared at all. We got off the ride and I was feeling triumphant: we'd already been here an hour (an hour!) and her actually riding the carousel was beyond my wildest hopes. She walked off the ride and straight into a group of kids who were watching a puppet show, and she joined them. And danced. She laughed and swayed and waved at me. You know, like a normal kid. In a hat.
After a few minutes, she ran over to me and said "I want to ride again!" Really? Sweet. Sure. We got back in line, and this time she stood next to a horse. "Really?" "Yep!" she said. She was so proud of herself, and since there were no buckles, she held on really tight. At first. Once things started moving, she loosened up and enjoyed the ride. At one point she said to me "Why are you standing there?" "Well, you know, in case you get nervous." Or freak out and throw yourself off a spinning hunk of metal. She rode again, after this, alongside Charli, and said "Mom, go ride a horse. Back there." So I did. And my little four year old didn't cry until I told her it was time to go home.
Holiday Party Victory. Maybe we should start saving up for Twins tickets after all...