Joseph is really into animals, so last week we took the loooong drive  to San Diego to show him one of the world’s biggest, and best, zoos.

The idea alone was so exciting for him that, a few days before our trip began, he started waking up at 4am just thinking about it. Now, Joseph is not the most quiet of children, so we all started waking up at 4am. Blue Eyes and I were therefore just as eager for the departure date as Joseph. 🙂

We had three days in San Diego, and the first day at the zoo was really fun. Joseph decided that the first animal we had to see were the hippos, because they were most playful early in the morning. From there we saw many wondrous things, and learned a lot as we went.

Before the trip, Joseph had made the occasional comment that it would be too crowded and noisy for him, and I wondered if it would be. But it’s a quiet month at the zoo and Joseph did GREAT. We stayed from opening ’til closing, Joseph made a friend at the crocodile exhibit, and we all had a terrific day.

RDI has a concept they call Productive Uncertainty. If you can envision a graph that is a hill, then Productive Uncertainty is the part of the hill that rises up to the peak. That first visit to the zoo was new for Joseph, but the uncertainty was productive: fun, pleasant, and educational. It helped Joseph to feel competent.

We gave Joseph the choice of another day at the zoo so, after doing other things on our 2nd day in San Diego, our 3rd day saw us back at the zoo. But this time it was different.

From the opening minutes, Joseph started doing odd, jerky, movements accompanied by flapping and singing. I call it his “weird dance,” and indeed it does look, and sound, weird. I got on his case, snapping at him to stand normally and keep his arms at his side. All morning we tussled about it.

He also chewed like mad. His shirt collar and sleeves were soaked with his saliva. I kept jerking things out of his mouth, my frustration mounting.

Looking back — which is always the best vantage point — I can see that Joseph was, for whatever reason, stressed and anxious. But even with all that weird dancing and chewing, neither Blue Eyes nor I thought about stopping and regrouping.

When we sat down for lunch, Joseph lost it big-time. He screamed and screamed, sobbed and moaned, said over and over that he just wanted to sit inside the car. I held him for about 15 minutes of this, aware but not really of curious onlookers, while Blue Eyes and I tried to decide what to do.

I’m learning that Joseph knows best how to calm himself down (“self-regulate” is what we say in the trade), so we finally gathered up our food and ate lunch in the car. What should we do? Blue Eyes and I asked each other. We’d spent a lot of money to go to the zoo and we’d like to be there. Besides that, we’d like it to end up as a positive memory for Joseph. But Joseph insisted he wanted to go back to the hotel. We were confused.

While Joseph settled down and ate, I closed my eyes and asked for help. The Productive Uncertainty graph popped into my mind, and I realized we’d gone past the productive peak of the graph, moving downward to the point of  Threat and Unproductive Uncertainty.

It looked like it was all downhill from there, but I shared my understanding with Blue Eyes and wondered aloud if we could get back to Productive Uncertainty.

I am grateful that Joseph has a keen sense of humor. We probably spent an hour in the car, and then we started teasing and joking with Joseph, who laughed and laughed. We took that happy energy and swept him out of the car with the promise that we’d simply watch the sea lion show and then leave for the hotel.

After laughing through the show, Joseph wanted one more trip on the Sky Tram. Then he had to see the petting zoo one more time, and one thing led to another. It was late in the day when we left the zoo, with smiles and happy memories all around.

RDI is big on reflection and, looking back at this whole experience, I see that I blew it by not catching the signs that Joseph wasn’t doing well. In fact, I made it worse by being on his case. But, on the positive side, we made it through a breakdown — and a large one, at that. We shifted from Unproductive Uncertainty to Productive Uncertainty, leaving us all feeling more competent, resilient, and a little wiser as well.

Lastly, I have in the past considered myself to be unintuitive, but my view is shifting. When I asked for help and got the image of the graph in my mind, I realized that intuition is simply having the door open. Most of us go around without asking for help, and it seems to me now that there are angels and guides who can’t WAIT to help. But they won’t come uninvited; we need to ask.

My prayer is to keep that door open all the time. Especially when Unproductive Uncertainty looms.

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