90 minutes to play the role of loving mommy before I can put them to bed

Contrast=The difference between who I am being in the moment, and who I want to be. 

So we’d been waiting for this clay class. It’s at a local art studio, and the Thursday afternoon class is just for homeschoolers. There are only five in the class. A great way for Riley to meet other kids who are also homeschooling. A way to possibly make some friends, and feel like she’s not alone in all this homeschooling business. She hates being the odd one out. 

Just five in the class. Managable. I told the teacher a little about Riley beforehand, and that I’d be staying, just in case, but with only five students, it should be okay.

Seth wound up being sick yesterday, and not quite ready to go back to school today. Still, I decided to go to clay, since it is the first class of the session and Riley hates feeling like she’s behind. It would not be good to start out that way next week. So I brought both kids and set Seth up in the corner with headphones and a portable DVD player. The other kids were nice and friendly. The teacher was too. It should be good.

Fifteen minutes in, Riley noticed the other kids were way ahead of her. You see, while it was the first class of the session, these kids have been taking sessions all along. They already know what they are doing. She didn’t.

She flipped.

She hid under the table shrieking and then ran from the room screaming and crying, down a long hallway. I followed her, leaving Seth by himself, in a room full of strangers who had no idea why his sister was screaming her head off.

Such hopes I had for this class. Hopes for play dates and connections with other homeschoolers. Social opportunities on a smaller scale, without all the pressure and social politics of school. I felt those opportunities go spiraling down the drain the longer she screamed. I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t normally care what most people think if she has a meltdown, but I had a lot riding on this class.

She wouldn’t stop. It went on and on.

Poor Seth.

Do I leave? Do I just pack up all our stuff? The damn DVD player, and the books? Do I try to talk her through?

I try to talk her through to no avail.

Seth has this fear of being left. He gets really scared.

“Riley it doesn’t matter. These kids have been doing this a long time. The teacher will help you.You are just learning. You don’t have to be the expert.”


Anger bubbles up and spews out of me.

“You are embarrassing me,” I tell her.

She wails louder.

They are going to think she’s a freak.

“You are never going to have any friends if you act this way,” I seethe.

She starts hitting herself in the head, in the face.

“I’m so bad! I’m so bad! I’m such a bad person.”

I don’t stop her. Let her get a couple hits in for me.

She wails louder.

I can’t take it. I start to cry.


Louder still.

“Stop it Riley. You need to stop,” I say. 


What the fuck more do I have to do for this kid?

Nothing is ever going to help. My nerves are shot.

“Shut up,” I whisper yell.

I swear to God I can’t take it.

I leave her in a heap on the floor in the hallway, and head toward the room to check on Seth. I wipe my eyes, gulp a few times and dig my fingernails into my opposite palm until it hurts to distract myself and stop my tears before entering the room. I march over to Seth and whisper, “I will never leave you. I’ll be back. I’m just down the hall.”

He looks up at me. He understands.

As I head back out the door the teacher, or possibly another parent asks, “are you okay?”

I can’t deal with kindness. It might kill me. I ignore her and keep walking down the hall.

I take Riley in my lap and sit on a couch with her, cradling her like a baby. I think I’ve only cried in front of her twice before. I can’t take it though. I don’t know what has come over me. I’m wrecked. I can’t stop.

After a while I walk her back down the hall, thinking we are going to get our coats and call it a wash, but the teacher comes out and somehow talks her back into the classroom. I stand with my back to the teacher, imagining what she thinks. Crazy mom who cries every time her daughter with autism has a meltdown?

Who gives a shit what she thinks.

Riley winds up  staying and finishing the project, creativity at full-throttle.

I wonder what kind of damage I did, telling her she embarrassed me. Telling her she will never have friends.  Telling her to shut up.

I wonder what possessed me to do so.

I wonder when I’m going to stop having expectations, because they always bite me in the ass.

Things cook along so nicely and then I’m blindsided.

We come home. I make dinner like a zombie. Feed them. Let them play with their DSIs and don’t start the timer. Play until your eyeballs pop out. I don’t care.

She’s happy, all smiles, playing with her brother. Whatever it was moved through her and she’s fine now. 

My body refuses to let things go so easily. I feel like I’ve been hit by a bus.

90 minutes to play the role of loving mommy before I can put them to bed.

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35 Responses to 90 minutes to play the role of loving mommy before I can put them to bed

  1. Carrie N says:

    So sorry.

    Seems to me we ought to get a few extra mulligans in this boat.

  2. *m* says:

    You ARE the loving mommy. She knows it. He knows it. We all know it. An only-human loving mommy.

    Wishing you peace, and a good night’s rest, and a bright new day tomorrow. Be kind to yourself.

  3. Bonnie says:

    This too shall pass.

  4. Niksmom says:

    Oh, honey, we’ve all been there in our own ways. I have many moments I’m not proud of when I’ve just lost it. Yes, the expectations bite us in the ass every damn time, don’t they? But we learn and grow and we let go a bit more with each time.

    Riley is not going to be scarred or damaged. She is smart and understands, maybe not in the moment, but she understands.

    I love that you went back to Seth to make sure he knew you’d never leave him. See? In the middle of all that you took care of both your children. You really did, love.

    I hope they’re in bed now and you’re drinking a large glass of wine…or two. xoxo

  5. redheadmomma says:

    I have been to this point SO MANY TIMES. I wish I could give you a big huge hug and tell you how AMAZING I think you are.

    I have grappled with this in therapy so many times. Here are some thoughts that I hope will help:

    a) you do her NO favors by attempting to be the always-patient mother. Is the rest of the world always patient? hell no! Our goal is to get them ready for the world. What you ended up doing was actually show that someone can get really, really pissed off at her, and it will end up okay. And SHE will be okay. Isn’t that an incredible lesson to learn?

    2) I think that as mothers, our reactions to things are directly related to our expectations of the event. And your expectations were pretty high, right? You saw visions of friendships & playdates dancing in your head. I totally get you there, sister. So I guess what I’ve gleaned from therapy is that success is not having everything go smoothly, but rather, success is being able to step back and change course mid-stream if something’s not what was expected.

    Have I mentioned you kick ass?

    XO R

  6. Jerri says:

    I dedicate this song to you, Michelle. You are a woman who shares your sorrows and your joy with so many of us. In yours, we meet our own.

    You can do 90 minutes. You can. Truly, you can.


  7. Jenny R says:

    Having (high) expectations is a good thing. I have them and I’m so glad I’m not the type of person that doesn’t. But yeah, I think there is an art to managing those moments when expectations fall short. When you figure it out, clue me in will ya? 😉


  8. So sorry. Every time you share honestly the ways you fall short as a mother, it resonates. Because we’ve all been there. You are so very gracious and loving, and I learn from you every time.

    Hugs to you, friend.

  9. Betty says:

    Michelle, you are an awesome mother. You are also human. So, quit beating yourself up. I agree with redheadmomma. Riley is a young lady, and she is no baby. I see more positive things coming out of this than negative. She pulled herself together and did the activity. She and Seth had a great afternoon and evening. I still see some friends resulting from this, and these kids may learn something from Riley. It sounds like the teacher or parent has some experience with this, and really wants Riley there.
    I doubt you did any damage to Riley, but I would talk to her briefly about it. You know that. Riley knows you love her and wouldn’t do anything purposely to hurt her. We all lose it at times, but we can always go back and try to fix it. You wouldn’t believe the amount of times I’ve had to go back and apologize to my kids, but I find they are the most forgiving.

  10. Wanda says:

    I’m glad you got some tears out and it is good that Riley saw. I have no words of wisdom. I am here. That’s all. Love.

  11. Robin says:

    Michelle, you are an awesome mom and just alot more honest than most of us especially me. Tomorrow is a new day.

  12. -e- says:

    Reading the comments, I am moved by all the wonderful, warm, loving support that surrounds you. Thank you redheadmomma, jerri, rhemashope. You all said it so well. Look at the marvelous community you have built, michelle! Now get some sleep.

  13. Tears here. Oh honey, I have so been there. With the two kids. The older one screaming, the younger anxious and uncomfortable. It’s so damn hard. Just know that we’re with you and we understand. Love.

  14. Penny says:

    Oh Michelle, you are human, as every one of us are. I have SO been there, again and again, in this place. Just know there are many, many moms out here who understand, who ‘get it’ and send out their love to you.

    Tomorrow is a new day, a new beginning. You are human. You are a great mom. You have great kids. Now get on. New day.

  15. Amanda says:

    OK, my dear dear internet buddy, 14 comments later, do you finally get it that you are like all of us? We all try our best but sometimes the pressure builds and something has to give. I’ve lost count the number of times I have had to shut the door between me and one of mine to avoid beating the living crap out of them. I dread to think how many people I have given nightmares to with public meltdowns on both sides — come to think of it, how do you think EVERY member of staff and most customers in our local Tesco know my girls and me? Because we’re in there doing seven rounds with screaming kicking biting you name it. Not every day is like this. That’s why I do it and will continue to do it ’til my dying day.

    Can Jingle go next time?

    Sending loads of love and happy thoughts to you all.

  16. Pie Maker says:

    Thank you. I admire your honesty. We all have dropped our baskets from time to time. Yet we get up and try again every day. You are a wonderfuly flawed and human mother. Perfect in your imperfection. You children know they are loved. Be gentle with yourself. We’ve got you.

  17. Heather says:

    A wise woman once told me, “You matter. You are important, and visible, and worthy of all good things.” I believe her. I’m all of these things–even in my weakest of moments. She is too.

    Much love and one big squeeze, Michelle.

  18. Lydia says:

    Riley will forgive you. As she gets older, she’ll understand, and she will forgive you. There’s no doubt in my mind.

    Can you bring the puppy next time? Maybe Jingle would help.

  19. Michelle O'Neil says:

    Jingle’s happy tail is not welcome in a pottery studio full of shelves of fragile things!

    One good wag could destroy the hard work of many!

  20. Amanda says:

    Well could Jingle wait in the corridor just in case? It must be too cold for her to be in the car this time of year.

  21. kario says:

    Hate this for you guys, Michelle, and for the rest of us parents who do this from time to time. It sucks to be plodding along, searching for solutions, pinning our hopes on them and watching them fall short of our hopes, only to discover that it’s up to us, the parents, to pull another trick out of the bag. I swear, it’s not until the split second before I need one that one often appears in the bag and you get to the point where you’re not quite sure it’s gonna work.

    Exhausting, discouraging work. Please know that, for all of us, the balm comes in the form of communication with friends and family. We are here to remind you that the work you’re doing is the hardest job in the world and it isn’t meant to be done alone.

    Last week I spent an hour one morning apologizing to Eve for the nasty things I’d said to her the night before to ‘convince’ (read: scare) her in to going to sleep. Lost my head. Certain to do it again, but hopefully I’m learning each and every time.

    Love you both. Here’s to a happy Friday!

  22. Jan says:

    Oh, yes, I have certainly been there. Knowing I’m blowing it, and blowing away. Watching it happen, and completely stuck (as stuck as she is) and unable to get out of it.

    This is a long shot: Jingle can’t be there in the flesh (in the fur?). Can you bring her there figuratively? Can you somehow say to Riley, “what would Jingle do to help you?” Can you imagine out loud with her how it would be if Jingle came and put her head in Riley’s lap (or whatever it is she does in that situation)? To remind Riley that she is able to break out of this spiral, with help, and to remind her of what the help is?

    Just a thought. I know that it all looks better, or at least different, to you today.

  23. naomi says:

    Oh my friend, hugs. It is hard to have super human skills while under a sensory assault yourself. Much love xo

  24. Dawn says:

    I really love what redhotmomma said. The real world where people don’t have patient sympathy for Riley is where she will have to learn to survive. Know that there is a plan – and loss of patience is part of it – even if its not your favorite part. That girl KNOWS she’s loved – every single minute.

  25. Carrie Link says:

    Don’t forget, you’re my human.


  26. Deb says:

    I’m pretty sure a couple of words whispered in frustration won’t undo the billions spoken in love. I’m sorry for your hurt.

  27. Kiki Golando says:

    thank you for your honest words. it is hard. we all know it. parents of typical children have the same moments, say the same things, and it is embarassing. there is nothing wrong with pointint out that embarassing behavior makes people embarrased. whether riley can help it or not, the awareness that typical people will think weird thoughts about her (Michelle Garcia Winner) is an important lesson.

  28. K Fuller Yuba City says:

    You are such an example. You get knocked down, and get right back up again. I think there is a song about that, but I am sure most of the lyrics don’t fit.
    You are so much stronger than any problem you face. Thanks.

  29. Kim says:

    Oh honey! It’s soooo hard. It’s so damn hard. I’ve been there, wanting it all to just stop, not having the energy to keep going at that moment, wondering if I’ve damaged him by something I’ve said, wishing I didn’t care so much when someone else saw me crying, not wanting their pity-and also not wanting their displeasure with my son, feeling empty at the end of the day.

    Thanks for sharing so honestly.

    I have no advice, just an “I get it, I’m rooting for you, you’re an AWESOME mom, and you are human.” Never forget that you are human too. You cannot be full-tilt all the time. We do the best we can and you will have better days.


  30. pixiemama says:

    I know that you know that the bad moments, the bad days do not define you as a mother, and they do not define your relationship with your children.


  31. Sally says:

    Michelle, I cannot tell you how many times something similar to this has happened to me in almost 20 years now of dealing with Margaret. And I do cry in front of her, there are times when I am so exhausted and “done” that I can’t take it anymore. And I know that exact feeling when someone who really hasn’t live it asks “Are you OK”? Um, hell no I’m not OK, this is hard stuff and its not fair, but in the end its what we were given.

    You are Riley and Seth and Todd are beautiful, and keep going, as I know you will, and keep encouraging the rest of us.
    love you

  32. Lolly says:

    Forgive yourself. You’re human. You’re a good mother who makes mistakes.

    You’ll do it differently next time.

    Manage expectations.

    Set yourself and Riley up for success.

    Bring Jingle and put her in a safe place for her and the pottery so that she can be available if/when she’s needed.

    These may all be things you know, but forgot in the moment. Unless we are a bodi sotva, our human brains take us to places in the peek of emotion, where we don’t like ourselves very much.

    When I have these moments now, I say to myself, “Well, that was a lesson. this is what I’ll do differently (not bettr) next time.”

    Now some tough talk!
    In 26 years of handling guide dogs, I have only had a dog break something once with her “Happy tail.” I have been in plenty of shops with pottery and glassware.

    You fought to get Jingle for Riley. Let her do her work!

    Fight for her! Teach Riley to fight for her to be present!

    If you can do this, you will find fewer moments of chaos, and more moments of peace for both you and Riley.

    Find a place in the classroom where you can position Jingle to be away from the pottery, but near you and Riley. If her “Stay,” command isn’t strong enough, or you can’t trust 100 percent of the time she will stay, bring her with you and have her lay under the table you’re working at, keeping her leash secured to you or Riley in some fashon. Then she’ll be there if she’s needed, and she’ll be out of harms way.

    If this isn’t a workable solution, contact the school where you got Jingle, and ask them for advice. A school worth its salt will provide follow up services for its graduates.

    From reading this blog frequently, I’ve learned from you that Jingle can calm Riley when you can’t. That’s a valuable service, for you, for Riley, and for the people around both of you!

    There are ways to teach a dog to be calm; using a calm voice, touching the dog delicately, that can prevent the tail wagging when it isn’t safe.

    I understand the calculations we all make. Which stressers can I handle in any given situation? Don’t make Jingle the expendable piece of the puzzel, thinking there will be less stress if she’s present. Think of her as the one who has been professionally trained to handle Riley’s melt downs.

    Leaving Jingle behind teaches Riley that you don’t think she’s necessary to Riley’s well being, or that the service Jingle provides to her and to you isn’t really that important after all.

    Bringing Jingle and leaving her with Riley teaches Riley how to handle Jingle in situations that are challenging. It teaches Jingle what is expected of her in a variety of situations.

    Dogs learn through experience. If Jingle, as a young dog, isn’t allowed to work in potentially challenging situations, she’ll never learn how to do it.

    Carry on faithfully and courageously.

  33. amber says:

    Michelle…I still wish you can be MY mom in another life. So there. I happen to think you are pretty fucking great at it, sister.

    And you know what? My kids don’t have Riley’s issues, and I STILL have moments like this when MY nerves are shot, just by your standard shit. So I really can’t imagine how you have so much grace so MUCH of the time. A teeny break now and then– like redheadedmom said– is not going to kill you guys. You have built enough solid ground of love to stand on.

    ox 😉

  34. Melissa says:

    You are so brave. I love you. You inspire me.

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