I remember the day it happened, the day I knew. It was Friday, March 20th to be exact. I got off work at 5:00 and headed over to Nick and Gia’s preschool to pick them up for the day. I walked in and did my usual scan of the room, looking for the blonde-haired, blue-eyed children that look nothing like me. Nick and I locked eyes right away, and he greeted me with his typical, melt-my-heart “Hi mom! I missed you so much today! I didn’t pee my pants!”. My typical response followed, “Oh Nicky, I missed you so much today too! I’m so proud of you for not peeing your pants, but you do know that’s pretty normal right?” Now usually by this time Gia is right there with us, giving hugs and kisses, using her own special words to tell me all about the day. She was no where in sight. I took another scan of the room, and called out her name several times. She slowly popped her head up from behind a shelf, and I was shocked at what I saw. She looked like a disaster of complicated emotions. She looked sad, she looked weak, she looked angry, she looked tired, she looked discouraged, and she looked defeated. My eyes welled up as soon as I saw her. There was pain and struggle all over my daughter’s face, and it made my heart hurt. I glanced up at the teachers, looking for some kind of explanation. Before I could ask the inevitable questions of concern, the director approached me with the obvious, “She had a rough day”.
I just stood there, starring at Gia, listening to the long-story-short recap of the 2-hour meltdown Gia had just come down from. On the surface it was pretty simple, Gia had lost control. She was screaming, crying and lashing out at anyone in her way. The more they tried to talk her through it, the more angry Gia got. They recognized that Gia needed some space, and gave her an area all to herself to deal with whatever it was she was feeling. For the next couple hours till I got there, she stuck to herself and did what she loves, art. The teachers checked back with her periodically, and she would scream at them to “go away”. She didn’t want to talk, she didn’t want a hug, she didn’t want their help, she just wanted to be left alone.
Gia had been struggling at daycare for about 6 months. It was a slow progression of bad behavior, that seemed to quickly spiral out of control. She was having more and more trouble in her relationships with the other kids. What started out as verbal lashings on her peers, eventually became physical. All kids go through phases, and when it started, I sloughed it off as just that. I can remember Gia’s very first incident report, feeling cornered for my signature because my daughter had scratched another child. I took it personally, and I was embarrassed. My husband and I gave Gia the “no hitting” lecture, told her not to let it happen again, and chalked it up as a fluke. Fast-forward to the present, and Gia “Incident Report” Tufano, is still at it! Just recently, I actually found myself approaching her teacher, asking if there was an incident report for me to sign. Talk about embarrassing!
In other words, March 20th was certainly not shock. March 20th was a reality check. Before we even left the daycare that day, I had made my decision. I was quitting my job. This was something I had toyed with since the day of Gia’s diagnosis, but something I was having a tough time committing to. I work part-time as an Event Assistant at an event/wedding venue. I’ve been a “working mom” for much of the kids lives, always part-time, but usually doing something outside the house. Until recently, I felt that my working provided the kids and I both with some balance in our lives. When my “plan” began to unravel, and Gia was diagnosed with Apraxia, I pulled a classic Sheila. I decided I could do it all! Never would I simplify my life, no way! Just add it to my plate, and I’ll make it work. I have a flexible work schedule, and an understanding boss, so I figured I could just weave Gia’s therapy in to our existing lives. Easy peasy! So back to reality, it wasn’t that simple. I did technically make it work, it was an insane way to live, but I made it work. On March 20th, it hit me. Just because I CAN make it work, doesn’t mean I SHOULD.
Between sit-downs with her therapists, talks with her teachers, my gut, and common sense, Gia’s struggles at daycare were all making sense. Figuring out where Gia’s bad behavior was coming from was not rocket science. First, there was the obvious; Gia has Apraxia. She has to live everyday watching her peers communicating with one another, asking the teacher questions, and expressing how they’re feeling. Gia can’t do any of this, and it’s a frustrating and lonely existence. She just wants to be heard like everyone else around her. She doesn’t understand why she has all of these words in her head, but she’s not able to use them. I can’t explain this to her, nobody can. Second, there was the obvious; Gia has sensory dysfunction. Dropping her off in a big bright room full of chaos was just setting her up for overstimulation, and overstimulation can equal big meltdowns. Third, there was the obvious; Gia has more responsibilities than most 3 year-olds do. She’s responsible for 3 days a week of Priority Preschool for three hours at a time, she’s responsible for 4 to 5 therapy sessions every week, and she’s responsible for 3 full days a week of daycare/preschool. Her life is filled with back-and-forth, in-and-out, perform, perform, perform. Her schedule and mine would make your head spin. The fourth and final obvious, was me. I had stretched myself too thin, and lived in a constant state of stress and exhaustion. Gia could feel this, and she fed off of that negative energy. If I’m overwhelmed, she’s overwhelmed, it’s just that simple.
Gia needs a break! She needs something constant in her life that makes her feel grounded, she needs me. My husband is a great provider, and I am blessed and fortunate that this was even a decision I could make. I loved my job, but to state just one last obvious…I love my daughter more.