The following exchange from Ghostbusters has always stuck with me when it comes to Skylar’s typically developing little sister Alyssa’s right to a separate existence when it comes to school:
Egon Spengler (as played by the late Harold Ramis): There’s something very important I forgot to tell you.
Peter Venkman (as played by Bill Murray): What?
Spengler: Don’t cross the streams.
Spengler: It would be bad.
Venkman: I’m fuzzy on the whole good/bad thing. What do you mean, “bad”?
Spengler: Try to imagine all life as you know it stopping instantaneously and every molecule in your body exploding at the speed of light.
As previously written about in this blog, I’ve always been a proponent of Alyssa having her own life at school without having to answer questions about why her big sister says or does certain things. It’s not that I don’t think Alyssa can handle it—I’ve seen her educate others both young and old at a level so high that it would make the most decorated BCBAPhDMBAMDEsquire pass out in awe. I just don’t want her to have to. That’s why I wasn’t initially delighted when my wife Jen decided Skylar (accompanied by her ABA pro and BCBA) would attend Alyssa’s school talent show last evening. Sure, we were armed with a ridiculous amount of support but taking Skylar places even without supports has never been an issue for us—taking Skylar places without her having issues is more the problem. While we generally don’t mind Skylar struggling in public, as it’s our job as her parents to normalize her life as much as possible, it’s also our life to do the same for Alyssa and having a big sister melting down like an infant is not normal. Skylar attending this talent show was crossing the streams.
Egon Spengler: I have a radical idea. If the door swings both ways, we could reverse the particle flow through the gate.
Peter Venkman: How?
Spengler: We’ll cross the streams.
Venkman: Excuse me, Egon, you said crossing the streams was bad. You’re gonna endanger us, you’re gonna endanger our client. The nice lady who paid us in advance before she became a dog.
Spengler: Not necessarily. There’s definitely a very slim chance we’ll survive.
Not surprisingly, Skylar did just fine during the eating portion of the evening, dining on multi-cultural cuisine and several dozen desserts without incident. But when the lights went down for the show, my heart began to race. Alyssa had enough on her plate as a seven-year-old playing piano in front of a crowd for the first time. A big sister melting down on top of that didn’t seem fair.
When the first group of performers took the stage, Skylar predictably dealt with her anxiety over being in a strange place mixed with the expectation she remain seated and reasonably quiet by perseverating. Over and over again, she asked “Why did I get a break for one million minutes?” When her ABA Pro and BCBA didn’t bite, she turned to the biggest sucker she knew for affirmation: She turned to me.
Skylar wanted me to reply “because you’re cute” but I couldn’t, even as her voice began to escalate to “scene” levels. Replying to a question from my older daughter based in perseveration and the need to script/gain attention from others is about the worst thing anyone can do if they want her to stop. Thus, my response had to be no response at all. The problem with ignoring Skylar then and there was that it didn’t matter if a meltdown presented a learning opportunity for her to realize throwing a fit doesn’t equate to getting her own way. What did matter then and there was that if she melted down, all life Alyssa knew when it came to her autism-free safe haven school would stop instantaneously and every molecule in her body would explode at the speed of light.
Skylar took a break from asking me the same question to use another of her coping mechanisms—the old bathroom request. Her workers granted it and I took the opportunity to move away, as I was obviously the target. Still, I cringed in anticipation of hearing her yelling behind me or watching leave in a tizzy while Alyssa hid her head in shame but neither of those things happened. Two things that did happen were Alyssa kicking major ass on the piano playing “When the Saints Go Marching In” and “London Bridges”, and Skylar kicking major ass too—that is to say, she kicked perseveration’s ass majorly.
By the end of the show, Skylar was singing along to a young lady performing Owl City’s “Good Time” and requesting to sing “Unconditionally” by Pink in her own school talent show. She helped herself to more food and played around other kids, including her sister. She also approached adults and asked random questions, all of which were answered patiently. One exchange from our night will stick with me in the future when it comes to Skylar and Alyssa’s school:
Skylar: How old are you?
A woman: How old do you think I am?
The woman (laughing) I’m a bit older but I love you for saying that!
Skylar (in a matter of a fact tone): I love you too.
We crossed the streams and lived to tell about it.