2 kids got in the car with all of their necessary accessories.
1 kid was going for her 2nd Covid shot and both were going for their flu shots.
E, the 9yr old, woke up with a raging bloody nose.
That should have been red flag #1 that this day wasn’t going to go the way it was planned to go.
Sometimes I forget that E needs me to be explicitly clear and not allow any room for grey zones. I have to be black and white or she will roll in the grey as if it was a bed covered in money, or rather – strawberries in her case.
So when I told her this morning to collect the things she wanted to take to help her feel safe – I should have known that she was going to grab ALL the things.
And when she walked out to the car with ALL the things, I made a comment I should have kept to myself.
“When I said grab the things, I didn’t mean ALL the things…”
In retrospect, that was the beginning of the end.
But then I had the gall to tell her when we got in the car to “just bring in a few of those things, leave some in the car.”
In my brain – we were just going in for a quick flu shot and back out to the car.
And this is where her mind and mine – differ.
If that was the only problem this morning in her life – to not bring all the things in – she wouldn’t have ended up locked in the car for 20 minutes while I took care of the other child and sweating from the panic that she was going to figure out how to get out of the car.
Before any Karens jump down my throat – it was cold but not too cold, and a nurse and a behavioral specialist kept an eye on the car to make sure no kids were seen bolting. Also – if she were to get out – an obnoxiously annoying alarm would have gone off. ohplusalso – she had her tablet that can keep her hyperfocused for a while.
If I felt like she would have escaped and ran away – I would have rescheduled the other kiddo and we would have buckled up and driven home. If you cannot say anything nice – say nothing at all please and thank you and find yourself a more positive hobby.
Now that I have that warning out of the way – the second red flag that things were spiraling quickly – was when she went to tie her shoes.
We were running a little late. I try to keep a buffer so we don’t have to rush. When we rush – scenarios like this morning tend to happen.
But I was in the middle of a virtual meeting when the girls had to get ready, so I had limited time for hands-on preparation.
Looking back – I should have had her put her shoes on earlier than the moment we needed to be headed to the car.
E had some troubles tying her shoes so she asked if she could tie them in the car and I said sure.
That wasn’t a problem.
B, the 12yr old, was already in the car and ready to go.
But somewhere between the house and the car – I am pretty sure E walked through a pile of dog poo that was graciously left on the sidewalk by the queen of our pack who just so happens to be in her golden years and has a hard time walking fully into the yard to do her business.
Because the next thing I hear as we drive up the hill and less than two blocks away from home, with 4 minutes until our appointment time, “EEEEWWWWWWWWW I am having the WORST day ever.”
Or was it “I am having a bad day today”? I don’t remember, and technically it’s not important. But the sentiment remains.
She recognized that she was having a hard time, or a hard day, and she used her words to vocalize it!
Of course, at this point, she was entering storm territory. As her voice became louder, I knew the only option was to turn around so she could get new pants and shoes.
Reluctantly, as she slammed the door shut behind her, she went back inside to change.
She didn’t want me to follow her. So I didn’t.
But I had a feeling she wouldn’t come back out, so I made up an excuse so I could keep an eye on her.
Honestly – I don’t know what I would have done if she decided she wasn’t going to go.
She needs the flu shot since she is going back to school in January. She was supposed to get it last week, but she decided she needed to be with her big sis. So here we were.
I went into this day knowing that it could go sideways in a heartbeat. 2 kids, 3 shots, 1 momma…
As she screamed at me to leave her alone, she walked back out to the car, got buckled, and unlocked her tablet.
We were finally on our way, with 1 minute till our appointment and 5 minutes to get there.
“UGH, why does the volume keep going up when I turn it on,” I heard E say from the backseat. “DON’T LOOK AT ME,” she screamed at her sister.
I feel for B. I really do.
B LOVES her sister. And that might even be an understatement. B will do anything to make sure her sister is happy, taken care of, and calm.
I love that she has that connection with E. I really do. But no matter how often we remind her that she is not E’s happiness guide, that she is her own kid, and to leave the parenting and happiness guiding to us – their parents – no matter how often we remind her, she sometimes can’t help herself.
So B apologized to E for looking at whatever E had on her screen, and I sat thoroughly confused as to why she was angry at the volume getting louder when she turned the volume on.
I was confused. So I did what I do best – and started asking questions.
When E is on the verge of a storm – questions should be nowhere near her. They just add to the intensity.
I told her I wasn’t following, so she replied that we will just have to deal with it.
I said that’s fine. I honestly didn’t care about the noise coming from her tablet. And we would be sequestered into a patient room when we got there so as long as it wasn’t glaringly loud – it would have been a non-issue.
The last 3 minutes of our drive were uneventful.
I opened my mouth a few times to try and distract her. But quickly caught myself from making any noises.
By the time we parked and called to let them know we had arrived, I had no clue what would transpire next.
B was ready as much as she could be ready.
But B was worried about E since E wanted to do this with her big sister.
The nurse came out to get us. I already had my mask on so I hopped out of the car first to get the obligatory thermometer check.
B followed shortly after.
But E’s door – was frozen.
As the nurse, B, and I waited awkwardly next to her door, I joked that she wasn’t in a good mood.
The nurse responded that she would let the staff know.
E doesn’t necessarily like it when I open her door for her, so I hesitated. But we couldn’t stand in the parking lot forever.
So I opened the door to a child unbuckled, screaming at me to “LEAVE ME ALONE.”
I had to make a split-second decision.
There was absolutely no way I was going to get E out of the car.
The flu shot could wait for another day.
I could feel my pulse quicken as if the gate just dropped and the green flag waved as my heart took off, passing the greyhounds on either side of me as I race around the track to the finish line.
The sweat pooling underneath my skin, the next words out of my mouth trigged flashbacks of all the times I locked myself in the car with E when she was younger as she thrashed around, threw things, punched me, scratched me as her storms took over.
With B’s and the nurse’s eyeballs searing a hole in my back, I was transported back to that day E ran away from me a few years ago. We had parked in the parking lot on the opposite side of the same building we were about to enter.
“E, you can stay in here. I am going to lock you in,” I pleaded with her, hoping my pleas would persuade her to stay in the car.
“FINE. GO AWAY. LEAVE. ME. ALONE,” she screamed back.
I shut her door, I hit the lock button about 6 times, and I followed B and the nurse inside.
The nurse made a comment about canceling E’s appointment and I said yep. There was no way I would be able to de-escalate this situation this morning.
E was in full-blown storm mode in the locked car, and B was trying to keep her shit together as she knew what was coming next.
I haven’t had to lock E in the car, alone, for probably 3 years. And when I did – she had thrown everything around, opened all the compartments, moved the mirrors and the seats.
Dammit, I am PROUD of B. She walked into that room, sat down, pulled up her shirt sleeve, and told me how she wanted me to sit so she could lean on me when it was time.
While we were waiting what felt like an hour – but was probably 4 minutes – for the nurse to come back in with the shots, I told her what is happening with E sucks.
She understood. This isn’t her first rodeo. But my heart broke.
At that moment, my body desperately wanted to clone itself so I could be in two places.
One holding on to B and one being with E to make sure she didn’t bolt.
But since I am just me, myself, and I – I prepped B that since we had to wait 15 minutes after her 2nd Covid vaccine shot, I would need to go check on E.
She was fine with that. And when I went to check on E, she was focused on her tablet and demanded I leave her alone.
As I turned around after closing the door gently, but strongly – the same nurse from earlier met me by the car, with a behavioral counselor in tow. They let me know they could come out and give E the flu shot at the car.
Based on E’s reaction before I closed the door – I said nope. No way.
Locking the car again, I looked at the timer counting down for B, took a deep breath, and hoped E would continue to stay in the car for the next 14 minutes.
Knocking once on the door to the room I left B, I told her it was me. I opened the door and saw B laying down.
She was ghostly white and shaking.
I told her she could lay down while I was checking on her sister, but maybe that wasn’t the best idea.
She sat up, I sat down, and she leaned on me.
“I don’t feel good mommy,” she said to me in her most pathetically sad voice.
She said something else but I can’t remember what. But I knew what she was experiencing, wasn’t from the shot.
She was in a full-blown anxiety/panic attack.
Letting her snuggle on my shoulder, I looked at her face as she re-arranged herself. The dark circles under her eyes never looked darker.
As she continued to visibly shake, I had to try something.
The first thing that came to mind was that 5-4-3-2-1 grounding exercise that I haven’t yet ever used with her, but have only heard good things about.
“OK B, tell me 5 things you see,” I requested quietly.
“I – I – I can’t see anything. Everything is blurry. What is happening?” She asked with fear shaking her voice.
Huh. That’s new.
Scrambling back to the drawing board, I pulled out a tactic that used to work when B was much, MUCH, younger.
“B, you are having a panic attack. Do you want to repeat numbers like we used to when you were little?”
“Uh-huh,” she mustered whatever energy she could find to answer.
I used to start by telling her we would get to X number, usually only 10 or 20 – depending on what she chose. But today, with 13 minutes still on the clock, I didn’t give her an end number. I was ready to keep going until her body calmed.
Me, audibly breathing in and out: take a deep breath
Her, breathing: …
And we continued like that for a little bit. With reminders for deep breaths about every 5ish numbers.
The idea is that by repeating random numbers back to me, we can get her unstuck from her panic loop, bringing her back to the present moment.
Random numbers force her to focus on my voice only.
The only rule is that there are no numbers in sequence, i.e. 1, 2, 3, 10, 11, 12.
In the past, I never repeated numbers. But today, by the time we got to the 30s and 40s, I am sure I repeated a few.
But by the time we got to the 40s, her body loosened and she wasn’t making me hold the water cup for her to drink from.
At the beginning of this exercise, she repeats fairly quickly. I like to think it’s because if she doesn’t, her brain will focus on something else she doesn’t need to be focusing on.
But once her heart rate slows back down, and the color returns to her skin – she starts repeating a little slower.
Normally, once she hits that slower pace, she doesn’t need my help to ground her anymore. But today, we still had 4 more minutes.
So I decided to introduce that 54321 grounding technique but I forgot exactly what each number represented.
So in between repeating numbers, I asked her for 2 things she could smell. She said nothing. I laughed but accepted her answer. Spending nearly 2 years hoping we wake up each morning being able to smell and taste – her reply made me chuckle.
I asked her for 2 things she could feel. She said her arm hurt and she was sweating.
With more deep breaths in between, I asked her for 2 things she could hear. She told me she could hear my arm. I chuckled and asked if she could hear my heartbeat in my arm, but then the nurse walked in with her updated COVID vaccination card, and I never did get an answer.
We still had 2 more minutes. So I asked her if she wanted me to continue with the numbers, and she said “nope. I feel much better.”
“What was the second thing you can hear?” I directed her to finish.
“Everyone talking outside,” she said as she sat up straight for the first time in 13 minutes.
With 8 seconds left, I stood up to throw away her now empty paper water cup.
“Mommy, can you carry my stuff?” she confidently asked.
“heh no. I am not going to carry all of your stuff, but I will help you carry a few things,” I replied as I grabbed her coat and threw her blanket over my shoulder as she held onto her Ariel doll with the non-hurt arm, and we walked out the door.
B is known to act like limbs no longer exist after getting a shot, or getting hurt. It’s been a running joke in our family her entire life. I don’t oppose to carrying all her things because she just did something that a majority of adults won’t do. But I needed her to move her arm a little.
As we reached the exit, I checked in with the nurse that had checked us in, “haven’t seen any kids dart out in the parking lot yet have you?” I asked, half-joking, half-serious.
“Nope. Not that I have seen,” she replied empathetically.
I don’t know how I hadn’t passed out. I hadn’t taken a single breath in 14 minutes. The deep breathing exercise with B didn’t count. I was holding my breath for a whole different kiddo.
Crossing my fingers and my toes, I unlocked the car.
Walking to the driver’s side, I was waiting for E to open the door and bolt.
Instead, I opened the door to a crying E as she was climbing over the center console back to her seat.
Supposedly there was a strange noise, or a weird beep, that came from the car and it scared her.
My heart sank. As she buckled herself in, as her voice was shaky now instead of loud, she told us how scared she was.
On the 4 minute drive home, we brainstormed the types of sounds she might have heard to try and ease her anxiety.
The only logical explanation I could come up with was that I accidentally pushed some buttons on the Key FOB while in the office with B.
As the thought crossed my lips, I thanked my lucky stars that if I did accidentally pocket unlock the car, that E did not notice and remained in the car.
I can only imagine worst-case scenarios if she noticed and bolted.
“When we get home, I am going to get out of the car, and Elsa – you are going to stay, and we are going to do an experiment,” I said.
“Can B stay in the car?” E replied.
“She can stay in the car with you but you are the only one who knows the sound you heard,” I let her know.
“Oh…ok,” she wasn’t too thrilled with the idea, but her sister said she would stay with her.
When we finally got home, we unbuckled, and I got out of the car.
I pressed the lock and unlock buttons multiple times.
I opened my door and asked E if I had triggered any noises. I think she said yes.
Great. Note to self – if I have to drive my mom’s car again and a storm is brewing – put the key in a different pocket or on a lanyard like mine.
“Can I get out now?” E asked.
“Yep. We are home,” I replied.
And we were. We were home, where she feels the safest.
I texted my husband and let him know that E didn’t get her flu shot. And that’s OK. We can reschedule that.
But I also told my husband because E’s second vaccine shot is this weekend and we are going to have to start prepping her for that yesterday.
And that, my friends, is how 2 children went for shots and 1 ended up locked in the car.
I had a feeling today was going to be tough. But I am proud of how I reacted in the moment.
Looking at my Fitbit, my heart rate spiked and immediately fell.
2 years ago – I would have sustained that heart rate for the rest of the day.
I could have forced her in. I could have wrangled her and held her down so she could get her flu shot in the car. And a couple of years ago – I probably would have done that.
But the one thing I have learned over the last couple of years of living in a pandemic – life is too short. Life is too short to force someone to do something they don’t want to do.
Life is too short to do things that don’t bring you a sense of peace, calm, or happiness.
She will get her flu shot eventually. I am not worried about that.
I am proud that E noticed she was having a bad day and B told me she wanted me to write down our counting techniques so she could take them to school when they go back in January.
This morning was rough but it was only a portion of our day.
The rest of the day – however – looks bright.
Knock on wood.