Okay, I said I was only going to focus on the happy parts of last weekend, of which there were many, but I keep thinking about these sort of awful moments we had with Riley, and I could use your advice, or at least your ear.

First, a bit of backstory. I’ve talked about Riley’s various sensitivities here and there over the last few years. Maybe that’s not the right word—sensitivities—but it seems like the closest thing that captures it. Sensory issues seems a little more … I don’t know, official, sort of, than the kind of stuff I’m talking about. A lot of them he’s outgrown (he’s nowhere near as picky of an eater as he used to be, he isn’t freaked out by balloons any more, he can watch movies now without getting overly worked up over The Potential for Scary Scenes—all of these things were major problems before) but he can definitely still be a tentative, anxious kid about certain things.

A couple things happened last weekend that had us getting increasingly frustrated with Riley. First there was the Slip N’ Slide, which every kid was going nuts over. While everyone was having a blast on it, Riley hovered on the sidelines but couldn’t be talked into even sitting on it. He gave a thousand excuses for why he didn’t want to try it—he didn’t want to get wet, he didn’t want to get grass on him, he was too cold—but it was clear he was just too freaked out by it. Eventually JB got him to slide about six inches down the stupid thing while I snapped the saddest photo you ever saw. Like one of those awful roller coaster keepsake photos where everyone’s faces are frozen into a barfy expression of pure terror.

Anyway, no major deal, right? So this year he hates the Slip N’ Slide. Next year he’ll probably love it. Whatever.

Except … well, it kind of sucked, you know? I felt bad for him, I felt a little embarrassed (well-meaning family member: “Oh, I used to be an anxious kid too! Scared of everything!”), I felt annoyed that he couldn’t trust us that the slide wasn’t going to kill him.

The next day JB tried to take him swimming—not even swimming, just holding him in the water while he was wearing a life jacket—and WOW. I mean, wow. Riley just had an absolute meltdown, screaming and crying and carrying on. The water was too cold, the water had fish in it, he didn’t like it … he just lost his shit completely, at the top of his lungs.

JB’s reaction was to tell Riley that he was going to have to deal, that he wasn’t going to let go of him or anything like that, but that he had to stay in the water for a while until he calmed down. Which he didn’t. He just kept freaking out until JB and I were fighting with each other over what we should do. Keep him in there? Take him out? Push the issue? Back down?

We took him out, but mostly because I was humiliated by the scene we were causing.

I am ashamed to say that we both used language with Riley that was intended to make him feel bad about himself. We said he was being a baby, we said he was acting ridiculous. I remember saying that I was disgusted with his behavior.

You don’t have to tell me how shitty that was, believe me.

It gets worse. So a couple days later, we’re on our way back home and we’ve briefly stopped in Vancouver. The four of us were walking down the street through a bunch of people and Riley tripped and fell, skinning his knee. He instantly started howling and flipping out, and JB and I just . . . laid into him. I can’t imagine what someone must have thought if they saw us, reacting to our hurt kid by yanking him to his feet and hissing at him to stop it right now. I can’t say what JB was thinking, but I know for me it was the cumulation of several weekend frustrations, and the swimming freakout in particular, that had me feeling like my last shred of patience had disappeared. You are are TOO BIG to be acting like SUCH A GODDAMNED BABY, is what was going through my head. Oh god, we were so visibly irritated with him, and while he stood there sobbing with blood running down his knee, he turned his wet face to us and with this heartbreaking look of utter confusion said, “Why are you guys so mad at me?”

Well. I don’t feel good about telling you this, you know. I’d rather sweep that shitty memory under the rug for-fucking-ever.

But, okay, it happened, and I don’t want it to happen again. I know that’s on me, on us, that it’s our responsibility to not get mad at him in these situations, and definitely to not belittle him. I can’t stop thinking about how bad I feel for being so hard on him, and how it didn’t even help, for god’s sake. And worse, how I actually wanted, in the frustration of the moment, for him to feel bad about himself for the way he was acting. I wanted that. What the fuck.

I don’t know how to help him past these fears, and maybe part of what is so maddening is that we can’t help him, we can’t convince him that it’s okay, we can’t calm him down, and that feels like a failure on top of a failure. I don’t know how to pull aside the muddying issue of caring about what other people think, when these things happen in public. I don’t know if it’s better to hold our ground on certain things or back off completely. I don’t know how I can possibly expect him to act mature and in control, when clearly I can’t manage to do so myself.

I love the way photographs help you to remember the very best moments in life. After digging through all the pictures I took this weekend, I sort of forgot about the insane amount of driving we had to do, the many meltdowns and frustrations, the periods of boredom, and even the poison oak. The photos help me refocus on what a wonderful vacation it really was: relaxing at the cabin, visiting with family, and even getting in a quick no-kids backpacking trip on the Rogue River.

JB and I were sitting in our utterly remote campsite on Friday evening listening to the river rush by and inhaling the sharp pine scent of our campfire smoke and he said, “You know, by Monday it’ll feel like this place is a million miles away.” It’s true; it does. Goddamn if the weekend isn’t already disappearing behind us, growing smaller and smaller in the rearview mirror. Oh, I’m glad for the pictures.




















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