I've mentioned several times before that I often try to get a sense of Bud's reactions to a day's events by asking "Was it a hard day or an easy day?" In the past, I have always gotten a quick, straight answer: it has always been either a hard day or an easy day.
Today, Bud's answer came more slowly and more thoughtfully. "It was," he said, "a big day."
I waited a little while and asked him again, but the answer was the same: "It was a big day."
As I reflect on the day we've had, I can see that he's right. This was not a black-and-white, good-or-bad sort of day. It was somewhere in between - perhaps more grey than gray.
Bud lost another tooth yesterday - his fifth, and one of the top front ones. The tooth fairy left him two dollars and he wanted to head out to spend them right away. He knew exactly what he wanted - a new Teletubbies DVD he'd seen online. That was all easy.
We couldn't go shopping first thing today. That was hard. The reason was that he had a ski lesson - which would have been totally easy, if it wasn't standing between him and the Teletubbies. We headed to the mountain on a beautiful sunny day (easy), for what he knew would be his final ski lesson of the season (hard).
He had a new instructor who was less guarded and protective than the instructors he's had for his last couple of lessons. They spent the whole lesson on the bigger hill instead of starting off on the smaller one (easyhard - excitingscary), and Bud had more freedom (easyhard), he took more risks (easyhard), he was more independent (easyhard), he moved down the hill faster (easyeasyeasy), but fell more (hard). His instructor urged him beyond his comfort zone and he was more successful than he knew he could be (easy), but the instructor kept pushing when Bud had decided that he was done for the day (hard). My husband and I also encouraged "one more time" after he'd taken a break, which probably felt like we'd joined the opposing team (hard). Bud stood his ground, and we packed it in with no more runs (easy). There was big cookie waiting in the Lodge (easy) and we got to ride the shuttle bus back to the car (easy), and then we were off to spend Bud's tooth fairy money on the new Teletubbies DVD (very easy).
Toys R Us didn't have the DVD (hard).
I suggested that we look at Target (hard - because Bud knows that I tend to need to look at just one more thing every time I enter Target and Bud is not a fan of shopping), but he refused. Then he asked if I would go to Target but not do any other shopping. I agreed (easy) and we were off. But Target didn't have the DVD either (hard).
Neither did Borders (hard). But after long deliberations (hard), Bud decided to buy a Boohbah DVD instead (easy- just not as easy). Bud's dad had promised that we could have a pajama party and watch the new DVD before bed (very easy), but that meant he wouldn't be able to watch it as soon as he got home (hard).
Luckily, when we got home we discovered that the mail had arrived and in it was the Teletubbies book we'd ordered through a seller of used books on March 2, and which had apparently been shipped via pony express. It had been a very long wait (exceptionally hard), but the wait made the book's arrival feel like a holiday of the grandest nature (exceptionally easy).
Bud spent the rest of the afternoon with his book (easy), and after dinner we all gathered for our pajama party and the inaugural viewing of the new Boohbah DVD (easy). We watched all three episodes on the DVD (easy), but drew the line at checking out all the "special features," as it was already well past bedtime (hard).
As we got ready for bed, we talked about what we'd do tomorrow. I suggested that we might go to church (hard). Bud suggested that we should play outside, and got a non-committal answer from me (easy? hard?)
Then Bud and I started talking about his day. I asked him lots of open ended questions about the things that were hard and the things that were easy, and he struggled to find the words to explain to me what was weighing on his mind. And what was on his mind was this: today was hard because he was thinking about yesterday. And yesterday, I yelled at him.
I have almost no recollection of this event.
According to Bud, I yelled at him because he was screaming. Then I vroomed him. Then I "terrificked" him.
I asked him what it sounds like when I vroom him, and he made an exasperated growly sort of sound in his throat (which, frankly, sounded more like me than I'd care to admit). I assume my "terrific" was some sarcastic response I made to him - this boy who doesn't really understand sarcasm.
I felt about two inches tall.
"Wow. That was hard, Bud," I said. "It was hard because..."
"It was hard because you hurt my feelings. You're sorry you hurt my feelings."
"I am sorry I hurt your feelings, Bud. I'm very sorry I hurt your feelings."
"Well... thank you."
I finished the bedtime routine, then slunk out of his room to try to mop myself up. I can't believe I vroomed him and terrificked him and hurt his feelings and barely remember the incident that he's been carrying with him all day. That's really hard.
On the other hand, he told me what was bothering him. He explained his emotions. He explained the cause-and-effect of how my actions affected his emotions. He talked it all through until he got it off his chest and felt better. That had to be a hard conversation for him to have. But I'll bet that having it has made it a lot easier for him to get to sleep tonight.
And what's more - Bud has fully grasped the complexity of his day. He didn't seize one particular moment and let it define his day: his day was not the yelling, or the skiing, or the movie, or the book. His day was not hard or easy; it was just big.
A little over a year ago, I wrote this post, in which I discussed my frustration with the strategies outlined by Simon Baron-Cohen and his colleagues for helping children with autism to "mind read" as they learn about human emotion. My concern was that their approach treated emotion as black-or-white, without any consideration for the extraordinary percentage of emotional responses that are driven by grey. At that time, I wrote:
If I want Bud to be successful in the world, I need to help him understand and make sense of the flexible, evolutionary, constantly changing world of human emotion. I am doing him a disservice if I set low expectations and define success as a rigid understanding of a series of "if this, then that" scenarios.
And here we are, thirteen months later, with Bud reminding me - teaching me - that some days cannot be summed up by either "hard" or "easy" - that sometimes you spend your days skiing through the slopes of emotion and you slalom between the hard and the easy; and even though you know just exactly what you want, you find that you can't always get it right away - but, the alternatives are not so bad, and sometimes there are even exciting surprises in store for you; and mostly, at the end of the day, you remember that it's okay to get angry with the people you love and that even though they sometimes hurt your feelings, you know that you still love them and they still love you.
Bud was absolutely right: It was a big day.