When I wake up, my son is next to me, finally peaceful. My daughter is curled up at my feet like a dog. Their father has been sleeping in the basement since we began sheltering in place. We say it’s because he has a higher chance of exposure since he still goes into work as needed, but it’s because everyone sleeps better with this arrangement.
The boy, 3, didn’t fall asleep until after midnight. He screamed at 9 p.m. when I tried to leave him to go watch TV and fold laundry. I got in bed with him and he used my squishy mom-bod as a pillow, pulling my 20-pound weighted blanket up to his ears. As he begins to calm down, he begins to fill the blanket with little-boy farts. He’s been so stressed, he hasn’t properly pooped since he was last at preschool over a week ago.
The girl wandered in around 4 a.m. She’s 6. She’s been handling being home with more grace than the rest of us. She accepted that her birthday party was canceled and that she wouldn’t be seeing her friends and teacher for a while. But at night she gets scared.
“I’m afraid of the coronavirus,” she says.
Every fiber of my being wants to be asleep. My body is pulling me back to my pillow, but her little voice is shaking.
“You’re safe at home, honey,” I say.
“Okay.” Her voice wavers.
“Come here.” I hold her in my arms and cover her with my boy-fart-smelling weighted blanket. It’s the most popular of our three weighted blankets because it is the heaviest. Eventually, her breaths become long and she scoots into her own space in the bed.
Most of the time, my kids go through the world with their disabilities unnoticed. They can be invisible that way. When their anxiety, sensory issues or ADHD begin to show, though, is when you realize these kids are not neurotypical. Nothing is middle ground for either of them. The girl is either elated or miserable. The boy is either shaking with joy or with rage. They feel all the feelings.
If they have a routine, they “pass” for normal. If they have a good breakfast, including all the foods they like in the correct order, if they’ve slept well on top of that, then, only then, can we make it into school with shoes on and a smile. They sing-song when they’re scared, and lately, the classic plague song “Ring Around the Rosie” has been making a comeback in my house.
The first week of sheltering in place, the boy cried most of the time.
“I miss my friends! My Legos need me! I want to go somewhere!”
I tried to make a plan that first week. I tried to make it like school. The girl was all for it. The boy tried to sabotage at every turn. I had a telehealth session with our OT. She suggested using the method she does in her hour-long sessions of making cards with the activities drawn out and letting the kids choose their schedule.
It was going okay. The weather was very nice, which helped.
In week two, it started raining and it hasn’t stopped. They don’t like to go out in the rain. The girl wants to climb and jump and crash and can’t do that if the ground is all wet and the trees are all slippery. The boy doesn’t like his boots. It’s bare feet or nothing.
These kids don’t have significant support needs. But they both got OT services at school. A special education teacher checked in on them. My daughter had a social skills pull-out class. My son got support from his very understanding teachers. They had other adults helping them navigate their needs. They had same-age peers to practice on. Now, they only have each other and their parents. I can’t blame them, but they are pretty sick of us at this point.
What will happen to their hard-earned social goals? Will they stop coming into my bed at night, scared despite all the front-loading we do to make them feel safe? Do they know that, as much as I tell them I will take care of them, that I really can’t promise them anything? I can’t promise them a play date “soon.” I can’t promise they won’t get sick or hurt. Is that why they’re dysregulated?
I am trying. I am asking for help. I am trying to be sympathetic to them when they act out. I am co-regulating. They are safe at home. I am sheltering them.