The music is too loud. There are too many people. Too many voices, too many bodies in quarters too close. Too much going on at once, sight and sound and smell conflicting and over-powering.
Immediately she is reaching for me, crying to be held, her forty-pound, almost five-year-old body climbing me like I am a fortress that will save her. Her anxiety is high-pitched. The children are frenetic. The carolers are grating. The people press too close. It's too loud, too hot, too cold, too much. She wants to leave. Sometimes, there is one point of stimulation that goes too far--a kindly stranger saying hello, a drumbeat too close--and she shrieks.
Sometimes I remember and understand. I prepare. I hold. I put in the time--sometimes it's all the time we have--and I hold and soothe and bestow my nurturing presence until, as though a switch has flipped, she acclimates and is at ease. I can identify this point; it is a night and day point, and if we're lucky, it comes.
Sometimes we leave the concert, the puppet show, the craft room--her younger sister pulled away from her dancing, her singing, her enjoyment--because she is in tears or, sometimes, hysterics.
Sometimes the operator has to stop the ride so I can claim my screaming, panicking child.
Sometimes I am fuming because I want, just once, to go out as a family and enjoy a thing that is supposed to be enjoyable.
And sometimes, she sees the carousel, and even though it moves quickly, and the horses go up and down while the carousel moves round and round, and there are a lot of people, she thinks that if she chooses the smallest horse, and I stand beside her, she can do it. She wants to do it.
And more than I would love any other supposed-to-be-fun thing with any other always-has-fun child, I love this carousel ride. I grin wildly through this carousel ride, tears in my eyes, because this carousel ride is a triumph, a milestone, a wonder. I love this carousel ride, because my beautiful sensitive child is holding on tight, and she is loving it too.