When Grace was in the NICU, we began to observe that she was a baby who needed much attention and love. She frequently fretted or cried in her isolette. Grace's NICU nurses said she just needed extra love, which was a nice way of saying this kid is high-needs. Charlie and I quickly found that if we cradled her head in the cup of one hand and balled up her feet and legs into the other hand, then Grace would calm down a bit. I remember feeling her whole body begin to relax in my hands. It seemed to be one of a few things I could do for her while in the NICU.
Since those times, I continue to be a calming force in Grace's world. As much as Grace fills my heart with love, the opposite can sometimes also be true. Sometimes, it can feel like Gracie is literally sucking the life force right out of me. Yesterday was one of those days...
The church was old, and as I had guessed, it was not air conditioned. The humidity was oppressive, and I kept wondering if the candles were melting. I felt like I was melting. The conditions were not great, and I was pretty darn sure that my children would not cooperate well. In advance of the start of the wedding, I had prepped the girls for what their behavior should be during the ceremony. We talked about sitting still and using whisper voices.
Karma was not working in our favor. By some odd coincidence, the videographer set up his tripod just one pew behind us on the left. Maybe he didn't know how incredibly loud whispering children sound like? This heightened my anxiety even more since I didn't want my misbehaving children mucking up the happy couple's lasting tribute.
Knowing the girls so well, their behavior lived up to my low expectations. At one point during the ceremony, Meghan picked up a yellow church comment card and promptly swiped it at Grace's face. Grace screeched in pain. "Owie! Owwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww!"
The card had given her a paper cut close to her eye. (This was the same eye injured a few weeks ago when Grace careened out of control in a wall.) My right hand cupped her mouth shut to minimize the loudness of the screaming. I pulled Grace onto my lap while Charlie scolded Meghan.
My arms squeezed against the sides of Grace's upper arms in a hug. I've learned over the years that she likes gentle pressure off and on over and over again. This seems to calm her quicker. I also showed her how to gently rub her eye using her knuckle instead of the tip of her finger. All of this was communicated in whispers, while Meghan squirmed during her scolding.
Shortly after, Grace expressed the need to use the bathroom by pointing to her crotch in a five-year-old equivalent of sign language. I smirked as she decided to point emphatically at her crotch several times to indicate the urgency. At this point, communion was being served, so I decided to take the opportunity to take both of the girls to the bathroom. As we walked down the side aisle of the church, Meghan made sure to stomp her "beautiful Easta" shoes in a clipity-clapity cadence.
"No stomping Meghan!" I whispered.
We found the bathroom, and Grace wiggled and squirmed while she attempted to pull down her underwear, which were sweatily stuck to her skin. At this point, she also decided that her bracelet was bothering her too. She yanked it off, and placed it on the counter top. Meghan quickly spotted the bracelet, and grabbed it.
"Girls, please don't talk out loud. Everyone in the church can hear us in here. Use your whisper......"
"Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh! Owwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww!" came stuttering out of Grace's mouth. Meghan, being the catalyst for Grace's disdain, had picked up the glass bead bracelet, and sort of sling-shot it at the back of Grace's right arm. A large welt was forming before my eyes.
"MEGHAN! You're in a time out!" Meghan didn't seem phased as I cupped my hand against Grace's mouth a second time. Grace screamed in agony again. My mommy brain was getting pissed. It was like a gigantic calamity of bad behaviors, and it only seemed to be ramping up instead of winding down. Meghan stood against the wall and smirked at Grace. In my mind, I kept thinking, "You little..."
Upon finally exiting the sweltering bathroom, I spotted a water cooler. Since it was so hot, I figured the girls needed more fluids. I filled small plastic cups with water and handed them to Grace and Meghan. They gulped the water down, and both tried to refill their cups using the water spigot at the same time.
"MEGHAN, me first!"
"SHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!" I could feel my temper flaring up just like the afternoon sun.
Fortunately, the wedding ended at this point, and the bride and groom entered the foyer of the church together. I thought, "Oh thank God in heaven, I don't have to make them be quiet anymore, and we can get back in the van to cool down in the A/C."
Our next stop was a museum on the lakefront, where the reception would take place.
Charlie drove the mini-van into an underground parking structure. We all got out of the van, and walked to an elevator. The doors opened, and we got in the elevator. Charlie was holding Grace's hand, and I was holding Meghan's hand. A moment passed, and the elevator wasn't moving. It was warm in the elevator so I pushed the "open door" button, and took Meghan out of the elevator. I turned around to see the doors closing again, and Grace's face. She had a painful expression on her face, and was about to cry loudly. The doors closed, and I heard muffled loud crying coming from Grace. Charlie didn't leave the elevator, and Grace decided that her world was about to end.
"Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaw! I'm scared! I'm scared! I'm scared! Moooooooooooommmmmmmmyyyy!"
The doors opened again, and Charlie guided Grace off the elevator toward me. "I don't like, like elevators, Mooommmmmmyyyyy!"
"You're fine Grace. The doors opened, and you got off the elevator. Calm down. Mom and Dad are taking care of you. You're fine!"
Next, we found an elevator that worked. I scooped up a screaming Grace, and forced her into the next elevator. "Noooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo! I'm scared! I'm scared! I'm scared." Her pleas frequently come in threes.
It was a quick ride, and we got off on the first floor inside the museum. A wood plank floor greeted us. I think it was supposed to simulate a dock going out onto the water. Meghan gleefully stomped her feet against the floor to make noise.
As we approached a set of glass doors, I noticed that there were fish tanks on the other side of the doors. Grace and Meghan noticed too, and ran toward a fish tank. Grace began pointing to the fish and instructing Meghan to look at every fish she was viewing. Finger prints were being left all over the tank glass, and then pseudo rain began to fall into a pool of water in the center of the room. This startled Gracie, but upon reviewing the situation, she seem to figure it wasn't a threat.
Loud, fake, thunder boomed throughout the room. I thought, "Ah crap, here we go again." Grace's hands cupped both of her ears, and she bolted toward the glass doors.
"I'm scared. I'm scaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrrrrrrrreeeeeddd! I'm scared! I wanna go home RIGHT now, Mommy. I wanna go home!"
"Gracie, come back here. It is pretend lightning and thunder Gracie. It's pretend. Grace, come here!"
"Nooooooooooooooooooo!" She ran farther away from me, but I caught up to her. I scooped her up again, but this time she seemed heavier, as if she gained more weight in the five minutes it had been since I scooped her up last. This was getting very old, and my patience was waning. I know that Grace has sensory issues, but this was getting ridiculous.
Finally, the pretend thunder subsided. I coaxed Grace past the spot where the thunder emanated, and we walked down an incline deeper into the aquarium. Glass windows showcased many specimens of fish. Meghan squealed with delight as she spied some shiny fish. Grace pensively inspected the fish, and placed the tip of her index finger into her mouth.
At this point, Grace said again, "I wanna goooo home, Mommy. I have to go potty." It was clear to me that she'd do or say anything to get out of her sensory nightmare.
"No Grace, we are going to the party now. We'll walk past the fish, and go to the party."
She clung to my hand intently, and then suddenly stopped in terror. At this point, we arrived at a spot where we would be walking over part of a fish tank. The fish would be getting quite a view up our skirts, and well, Grace, she was not going to have any part of walking on the glass. Meghan hesitated too, but quickly figured out she wasn't going to fall in. She ran ahead a bit.
I scooped Grace up yet again, and carried her over the tank. I nearly dropped her as she wiggled and yelled again, "NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!"
We finally reached the end of the path, which unfortunately, resulted in yet another elevator, which would take us to the 3rd floor. "NNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO elevators! No elevators! No elevator! I'm not going on the elevator!"
I sighed, and made the decision to turn around and walk back the way we came. Charlie loaded Meghan on the elevator, and we turned around. Grace was not going to cooperate. She was a lost cause at this point. I defeatedly thought, "Man, this kid really needed to nap today. She is overly stimulated, and this sucks. I'm ready to go home too."
Unfortunately, I forgot about Thunder Dome, the sensory torture chamber, and needless to say, the same sensory responses came from Grace. Carrying a kicking, screaming kid in 90 degree weather in wet blanket humidity was quite an effort. At one point, my dress had hiked itself up in the struggle with Grace. I'm pretty sure that my underwear was showing, but I was on a mommy mission. I had to get her out of there, and work some Mommy magic on her. To quote my mother, I was "sweating my XXXX off."
We finally reached where we started, but we still needed to get to the 3rd floor for the wedding reception. I found a museum staff member and asked if there were some stairs to the 3rd floor. He pointed us in the right direction.
Grace dragged her feet up each stair one-by-painfully-one. We finally arrived and she saw a another bathroom. Again, she emphatically pointed to her crotch to indicate her need to use the bathroom.
"Grace, in our family, we use words to say what we want. Use words!"
"I need to go potty!"
I sarcastically thought, "Great! More stalling. Just what we need right now."
After yet another bathroom visit, I held Grace's hand and walked into the reception. I spotted Charlie at a table, and I couldn't wait to get there. I needed a drink. What was really a 10 minute event seemed to take 10 years of life off of me.
Meghan shrieked, "Mommy's here! Mommy's here!"
I slumped into a chair, and asked for a drink. My senses were shot, too.