I took my kids camping for the first time this season, and for the first time, we brought along a friend for my daughter. Usually, it's just the kids and me, but as Anna grows older and David grows not nearly as quickly, it's getting harder for her to amuse herself with her brother for more than short bursts of time. A friend would give her someone to hang with, while I kept David engaged. She's also old enough now to roam a bit, especially since we were in a secured campground-resort with an entry gate. I packed the bicycles, and she and her buddy were loving it. We all were.
Until the first night.
Instead of packing our 8-person tent, I opted for two 2-person tents, so that the girls could have their own space. They were thrilled at the idea. After dousing the fire and a trip to the bathhouse to wash off the s'mores remnants and take care of nightly business, we all tucked into our sleeping bags and I began to drift off to sleep in the fresh, night air with David curled into my side on the air mattress.
Then, at 2:15AM, the world went kaplooey. My daughter's friend suddenly decided that the reason she's never camped out is because she can't camp out. Can't, can't, can't - punctuated with hiccupping sobs, frantic wails and serious hyperventilation. Unfortunately, there was nothing to be done. We were in a secure campground with a gate that can only be opened (from either side) by a key card, which is easily procured in the office with a refundable deposit, should you anticipate it's need. I did not. We couldn't leave!
Thirty-seven telephone calls to her parents in 30 minutes (all by her, not me) netted no result, either. This kid was hysterical and ready to claw the walls of the tent down. I asked her if she wanted a drink of water (yes). I asked her if she wanted to sleep in my tent (no). I asked her if she wanted a thicker sleeping bag (no). I asked her if she wanted a portable DVD player to watch until she got sleepy (yes). None of that worked. I asked her if she'd feel better sleeping in our mini-van (just in case the tent was the issue). So at 3am, we unloaded the van, shoved in the air mattress from their tent and the two girls climbed in. Half an hour later, Anna climbed wearily back out to come and get me.
"She's nuts, Mom. Do something." She begged. I glanced over at David, still sleeping peacefully - thank God he sleeps like a log - and trudged over to the van.
Sometimes a kid just needs an adult to put their arms around them and tell them it's going to be OK. So I did. I've known this kid since birth - her Mom and I went through both of our pregnancies together. She's like another daughter to me. I held her close, and rocked her and reassured her that everything would be fine, that if she'd just get some sleep, it would all feel terrific in the morning and I would never let anything happen to her.
Unfortunately, that only made her worse. She was in total, hysterical meltdown now, so tired and overwrought that my comfort was reinforcing instead of redirecting. OK, then. Time to change tactics.
I carefully smoothed her hair off her face, dried her tears, looked her in the eyes while holding her chin and told her to get a grip. I told her (in the kindest but firmest voice I could muster) that she had no other options, since I couldn't leave and her parents couldn't come get her. I told her that she was eleven, and not two and that she needed to take some deep breaths. I told her to put her head on her pillow and sleep, because I didn't want to hear another van door open and close, or another shriek coming from this direction. She took a couple of shaky breaths, nodded her head, and I shut the van door.
Anna followed me, telling me she wanted to kiss me goodnight. She got on tiptoe to whisper in my ear.
"That was really harsh, Mom."
"I know," I said, hugging her tight. "But sometimes that's what works."
And it did work. Her friend was already asleep by the time Anna walked back to the van, and just like I predicted, she was totally over it the next morning and ready for another day of fun. I didn't take any chances, though - I returned her home after dinner that night.
Her parents were falling over themselves in apology when I dropped her off. They felt awful for not hearing the phone, and even more awful for what she put me through. They had a feeling she might do just this - she's always been neurotic about sleeping over in strange places.
"You're a saint," the Mother said. "Her Dad and I don't know how you managed. We would have flipped!"
"Oh please," I sighed. "If I can't handle a kid in meltdown, then I need to turn in my Autism Mom's Membership Card." I ruffled her daughter's hair, and leaned down to hug her as she apologized, and her Mom apologized again.
"No big deal," I said.
And you know what? It really wasn't. When push came to shove, I just fell back on a skill set I didn't even really think about having. Of course I can handle a kid in total, ridiculous meltdown. I do it way too often. I've done it for years.
And I'm pretty good at it, if I do say so myself.
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