November 17, 2013

"I NEED hairspray" part 2

On October 27 I wrote a post about hairspray….well it really wasn’t about hairspray it was about how Alex processes disappointment and hurt:
When I left Alex on Sunday of parent’s weekend she was in tears. These were not tears of sadness, these were tears of unhappiness, verbalized as “Mom, I NEED hairspray”. For those few short hours on a beautiful fall day in Cincinnati Alex did not want hairspray, she wanted a mother who was more sensitive and less judgmental. Hairspray was how she communicated this. Read more…..

To continue…..Our parents weekend was spent getting Alex caught up with her hair, phone and clothing needs. She wanted red/orange hair and a haircut. She got red/orange hair and a haircut.

Alex wanted an IPhone, she got an IPhone.


Alex wanted three pairs of pants and some new shirts….she got three pairs of pants, two shirts, a vest and a meltdown. It was very ugly, and it was my fault.
From that October 27th post……A few weeks before I went to visit Alex at school she called to say she need to buy new school because everything was too small. I imagined an even smaller Alex and had visions of a fun trip to Macy’s buying Alex all sorts of cute clothes. This did not happen….. 

The first thing I did when I saw Alex was check her refrigerator where I found soda and chocolate milk, no no’s in our house. Instead of asking Alex why she would want to drink soda I lectured her on nutrition. Instead of looking around her room and praising her for her neatness I lectured her about weight. And Instead of complimenting her on her strong legs (from walking so much) I told her that her tummy looked bigger. In retrospect I created the shopping fiasco that culminated in the hairspray meltdown.
It takes Alex a little while to process and if she is distracted by her hair color or IPhone, she has a great way of holding things in her memory for later processing. By putting shopping last and doing more pleasurable tasks Alex had three days to process her mother’s behavior. And this all hit the fan at Macy’s on a beautiful fall day in Cincinnati.

Alex measures weight gain and loss by clothing sizes. Once again I am the guilty party her – we celebrated each time Alex went down a pant size and made a big production of giving away her “old” clothes. Alex learned to be very pleased with herself each time her size decreased and spent a lot of time asking me “if I was proud of her”. In retrospect I created a behavior that rewarded her and gave her pride when she moved down the sizing spectrum.
The minute we walked into Macy’s Alex mood changed. She decided she didn’t want to go shopping and just wanted boy tee shirts. She refused to go into the woman’s section with me and stood in the entrance to the woman’s section. After much conversation (crying, begging and bribing) on my part Alex wandered around and found a few pairs of pants in her preferred size. They were too small which led to another round of stubbornness and stalling. Finally thirty minutes and a size later we agreed on three pairs of pants and a trip to the men’s department.

I had allotted an hour for the Macy’s trip allowing time for me to get Alex back to her room and pick up some last minute supplies before I headed to the airport. Two hours later we walked out of Macy’s with the pants, the boy’s tee shirts, a men’s vest and a crazed mom worried she would miss her plane.
As we rushed back to campus Alex decided she needed hairspray and demanded we stop. Alex did not need hairspray she needed a way to feel in control again and purchase something that was not reflective of her pant size. It came out as hairspray. And as I left a sobbing 20 year old in her dorm demanding hairspray I became angry….angry at Alex and angry at myself.

It was all very simple, ALWAYS focus on Alex’s strengths, ALWAYS compliment her progress and ALWAYS work with her, not against her.
Just imagine if I had walked into Alex’s room, not opened the refrigerator first thing and told her how great she looked. I could have praised her for all the exercise she was getting and explained that when you gain muscle you do not always go down in pant size. I could have asked her questions at dinner about her refrigerator and I could have helped her remember healthy choices. Would have, could have, should have….Will I EVER learn?

If you have not liked our page, it is a good way to stay on top of the ups and downs of college for a person with a development/intellectual disability. I have no idea what is going to happen....but I will share the good and the bad. Please click on "The Ordinary Life of an Extraordinary Girl" now.



  1. You know I relate to this as a daughter and as a mother!
    And for that matter as a teacher and a speaker and a manager and a leader. Did I leave anything out? Oh, right, wife and sister and human.
    My heart breaks for you at the end of this day, because I have sooo been there. ANd my heart breaks again for the moments you realize where you actually had the power to make everything go another way. Then our hearts mend, right? (until we forget again, but that's for another day...)
    Thanks for sharing this. Awesome.

    1. Thanks Mardra, yes it seems like there are so many opportunities when I can choose another behavior yet don't..I am hoping with awareness I can get better.

  2. thank you for share - I need to remember this even with my 7 year old and somehow need to keep remember it


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