When my daughter cries all the way home, it's a typical outing for us. When I cry all the way home, you know it's extra traumatizing.
Finleigh (with Smith-Magenis Syndrome) is almost 12 years old now and she is in the last grade in her school, so I am hardened and experienced. Not much bothers me and I knew exactly what to expect when she asked to go to the school dance... kindergarten to grade 6. We've been there before. We've done this over and over again. It never changes.
Everything that was predictable happened.
And while I'm still fighting an anxiety attack... I want to remember my girl. My sweet little girl that just wanted to have fun.
I fell asleep after she got home from school and I got home from work. I've been so tired lately and I just couldn't seem to keep my eyes open, so I dozed off on the couch. I woke up to her asking me to do up her buttons. I squinted up to see her in her pink, fancy dress. So I did up her buttons and then it dawned on me. The thing I was hoping we could avoid. The school dance.
She asked for noodles for supper, so I made her the new favourite - beef Ichiban noodles. She finished her bowl and then we - her excitedly, me reluctantly - headed off to the dance.
And this is the part I want to remember. I wasn't able to get a picture... so I will try to describe it as best as I can.
Short for her age, her dirty blond hair in a two day old pony tail, she skips excitedly into the school wearing a slightly too tight pink dress with the sash fluttering behind her because she refuses to let me tie it. Her grey tights aren't pulled all the way up and don't really match, but are what she has on because they are her only pair and she knows dressing up includes tights. We take our boots off and she walks cautiously in to the crowded hallway. She sees a couple of her classmates. She calls out their names and gives them hugs. They smile at her, hug her back and tell her it's great that she came. She looks at me and tells me her friends are here. We walk on. Apparently there's nothing more to say there.
The gym is loud, as dances are want to be. She puts on her pink, noise-cancelling earmuffs that I thankfully (or wisely?) grabbed as we walked out the door. Under her arm, she carries her baby doll, who she affectionally refers to as "Baby". She's so happy to be there. I give her a couple dollars to buy some glow sticks, which she handles really well, content with the limit of two that she's allowed. I feel proud of her. These kinds of things can be hard for her.
She sees more classmates and... I'll be honest here... her interaction with her peers is one of the harder things for me to watch these days. Because I remember being in grade 6 and these girls that have been going to school with her since kindergarten are looking so mature now. They can babysit and are independent in so many ways (I didn't see many of their parents around). Finn always approaches the kids the same way, whether they initiate the interaction or not. She enthusiastically calls out their names and gives them a hug. The girls giggle and talk to her like she's 3 years old. The boys awkwardly give her a quick side hug. She is completely oblivious to the changing dynamics that are beginning as these kids, that she's grown up with, begin to truly outpace her in more ways than just academically.
It's the biggest reason I didn't want to go. The meltdowns I can handle - I don't like them, but I'm well practiced. But the social aspect is becoming more and more painful to watch.
We set up shop in the gym. I sit on the edge... I simply cannot bring myself to dance. I used to. I used to get up and make my kids dance and put on a smile and have fun. Instead (mom fail) I sit on the side beside the exit door so that she can find me easily and watch our stuff. She wanders a few steps from me, does a couple dance steps, and comes back. She's thirsty. We get her a juice box. She drinks her juice then pretends to feed some of it to her baby. She grabs her baby and wanders a few steps more. She comes back and asks me to watch Baby. She wanders a little further. She's happy. Shy, having fun, and happy. Not looking for her friends like I thought she might. This goes on, back and forth until the dreaded door prizes are announced. They are the beginning of the end for my dear, sweet, innocent little one that just wants to be part of everything and who can't quite understand why she didn't win anything.
We talk it through, I try to explain to her all the things but she slowly escalates and becomes more and more upset. When she starts throwing things, I know that it's time to go. We do the walk of shame, blah, blah, blah. Fight with the boots. Fight with the coat that she refuses to wear and then puts it on and then throws it on the ground twice on our 1 block walk to the car in -15 degrees. I think a car may have slowed down and taken a picture of her in her short sleeved dress. I hope it doesn't end up on social media - either as a meme for how tough we Canadians are or to parent shame me.
She apologizes over and over again all the way home and until she falls asleep. I'm not angry. She lasted an hour there. I'm so proud of her... she's come so far. I really wasn't such a bad night, really. I'm not sure why it all hit me so hard. I guess I just wish I could make it all better and easier for her.
But I can't.
And I hate it so much.