I could hear it in her voice. It was more than fatigue. So I asked again if anything happened during her school day that was out of the ordinary.
“I messed up my math and got upset with Mr. White.” I asked what she meant by “got upset.” There was a time in her life when an emotional outburst at school was an almost daily occurrence that prompted phone call and email notification. There was a time when everyone in the neighborhood knew when she was upset because they could hear it through the stone-covered walls of our house or the bricks of the school.
“Well, I had to take a moment to go to the bathroom and calm down,” she answered, sounding chagrined. It was a strange sound that brought me up short. I paused for a moment and asked if she and Mr. White were okay with each other. It was my way of trying to find out if she’d been disrespectful in her outburst.
As a child on the spectrum, she’s been through all sorts of techniques and suggestions, from parents and professionals alike, to control her emotions better, and she’s made continued progress over the years. Though I’ve been notified multiple times this school year about mandatory study hall assignments because her homework wasn’t as done as she said it was, the last in-school outburst I heard about was a year ago. Did I now need to expect an email from Mr. White about my daughter being rude? I wondered.
“Yeah. We were fine after I calmed down,” she answered. There it was again – the sound of something totally new in my thirteen-year-old, emotionally and socially-challenged girl. It sounded like embarrassment, perhaps even shame. I had a sudden confusing twinge of completely contradictory emotions. I hurt for her and was elated at the same time.
Through a lifetime of being told and taught to better control her reactions to situations and information she dislikes, Ava’s always acted as if the people upon whom she inflicted her outbursts were the ones with the problem. As she saw it, we just needed to let her flip out and happily live with the completely inappropriate behavior. But as she told me about this incident during her daily afterschool phone call, it was clear that she was the one who was bothered by her own lack of control. She’d gotten used to reacting well, and she was disappointed in herself for going backwards.
I was so proud of her I had to keep from crying, as I sat in the cubicle I’ll be leaving in less than a month. I told her not to feel bad, that it sounded like she got it together pretty quickly and was still on good terms with Mr. White, so there was nothing to worry about it. I told her I love her and gave her what my family calls a psychic hug.
Ava started testing for her black belt a couple of weeks ago. She’ll be getting her braces off a couple of weeks from now. The application process for public high school selection (a unique ritual in Baltimore, as far as I know) begins next month. In short, my girl’s going through a lot of changes this season, but none more significant than being disappointed in herself for behavior she once thought was fine.