Sunday, August 7, 2011

Tantrum Time at Ikea

The other day I got confident and took all three kids on errands. We did Nordstrom Rack and Home Depot beautifully. There was a strong breeze out where we were so walking along the parking lot feeling the wind was delightful to Josh. It was strange moment of consistent obedience and happiness to be with each other. So I thought, why not? Let's go to Ikea as well. It was just across the street, we've got plenty of time left in the afternoon, and my girls love the childwatch there.

Things continued to go well. The girls were quickly dropped off at the childcare area and I attempted to go into the main showcase area to pick up one small item that I had meaning to get all summer long. Alas, it was not meant to be.

The high pitched sound of babies or young children crying or screeching is like kryptonite to my auditorily sensitive, autistic son. For some reason, the store was teeming with unhappy small children. (Later, I found out that the restaurant was having free meals for kids). Josh's body tightened up immediately. He held my hand with an iron grip. After a few minutes, he couldn't stand it anymore. He had to do what he does to defend himself and to show his great displeasure. Josh started screaming.

Now sometimes when Josh screams, it's just a very loud, "Ahhhhhhhhhhhhh", often accompanied by big tears and hitting himself on his head. At other times, Josh seems to feel that he wants to use words to yell or scream. He does not choose to use words that are specific or appropriate to the situation like, "I hate this!" or "Make them stop!" We have even tried to get him to use his words when screaming, feeding him lines like, "I don't like that noise!" However, it seems easier to his mostly non-verbal brain to just pick a random phrase from his memory and scream that phrase. They are usually phrases from songs since Josh's world and brain seem to be filled with songs and music. More than once, Josh has had screaming tantrums using worship songs like, "LORD, I LIFT YOUR NAME ON HIGHHHHHHHHHH!" It's pretty amusing, except that you are being tortured by his screaming.

This day, Josh chose to use words from a song that he must have heard on the radio (yes, I've been turning on the radio for him in the car lately because I've been feeling like if I have to listen to the Wiggles CD one more time, I might have to shoot myself.) I turn the front speakers in my van off so I can barely hear the music and Josh can get all of the back speakers to himself. SO, here we are at Ikea, with a million people around us and Josh is screaming, at the top of his lungs, "I DIDN'T MEAN TO TURN YOU ON!!!! I DIDN'T MEAN TO TURN YOU ON!!!! I DIDN'T MEAN TO TURN YOU ON!!!!" . . . over and over again, with tears and head hitting.

And the thing about Ikea is that they do this evil thing where once you are in the bowels of the stores, you have to walk, like, a mile to get out. They make you walk through the maze of the entire showroom in order to leave. It's like casinos in Las Vegas. There are no windows or easy exits. You are simply immersed in the reality of cheap furniture. This is wonderful if you are there to reimagine your kitchen. It's horrible if you are with a screaming child who is channeling a very upset Robert Palmer.

Also, most of the time, when Josh is upset in public, most people usually avert their attention out of kindness toward me. Sometimes people give me knowing smiles in a vague sense of support or compassion. Not this time. It seemed that everyone just stopped and stared. They were like a whole bunch of prairie dogs who had heard a strange noise and needed to pay attention for their own survival or something. I felt like I was in hell.

The next morning, as I was telling my husband about the experience, I had a good laugh. You know that mortified but hilarious belly laugh that comes from loving your kids but also valuing your own dignity. Ah, but parenting does not always allow dignity, now does it? At least in sharing about such mortifying experiences in good community, one can be restored and even healed.


  1. Okay, you had both Jon and I cracking up and wincing and we felt like we lived it with you as we read. I'll never hear that song again without thinking of Josh. Precious. Just precious.

  2. Loved this post, Susan! Sadly, to this day I'm way more well versed in the Wiggles than Robert Palmer, so I couldn't even hum the chorus line to "I Didn't Mean to Turn You On" to save myself / escape from an IKEA.

  3. This is just too funny. I know it must have been horrifying at the time, but seriously? "I didn't mean to turn you on?" You gotta laugh at that one. Oh friend, you are so my hero for even taking 3 kids ANYWHERE and you handle things with such grace and resilience. You are a good Momma.