"Joey, honey, your twenty minutes is up," I announce apologetically, the last of a string of transitioning prompts to get him off his Mario games and onto... anything else. He was doing OK with it, but when he got the five-minute warning, he switched to the level that usually sets him screaming; I think it might be level 8-4. I flinched, knowing how this has been ending lately. My shoulder throbbed at the very thought.
"I can't beat this level!" he shrieks- not at me, but at the computer screen. He bursts into tears, his already-pink face going beet red all over, a sure danger sign. He screams at the game, heartbroken. "First rule, Joey cannot beat all the levels! Why did the designers put a hammer bro there? I can't beat this level!"
"One more try, darling," I assure him as the all-too-familiar death music rings out. "Then it is time to put Mario away for today." I pat his shoulder to remind him I am there. To my surprise, he shuts the computer off instead. I brace for impact as he empties his lungs.
"I'm ANGRY! I'll never defeat Bowser!" The house might not shake with it, but my own heart is wrung to its core. I step away, for a tautness in his shoulder tells me the chair is about to be flung back in my direction. He pushes back hard as I expected... then begins to stomp through the house.
I wait for the ugly words to come, the colorful metaphors, usually directed at me, being a safe target. Instead, he rolls on with his game talk.
"Stupid Bowser! I hate Bowser! I'll never save the Princess!" he yells, at the top of his lungs, as he stomps up the stairs. I hear him reach his room, and scream that blood-curdling soul-wrenching scream that often sends people at school scurrying to his aid. The one he uses for pain.
I reach the top of the stair, the door of his room; I must have flown there, I don't remember my feet on the stairs at all. I expect to see a child with a shattered arm or at least a paper cut or a stubbed toe. He is in his favorite chair, wailing about the game. The hurt isn't physical.
And I stand there and ponder as he screams out the hurt, gives it words, and slowly, painfully, loudly, subsides. I stand there, amazed, almost in shock.
He knew he was done, stopped the game himself, went to his favorite chair in his room, and was working on regulating himself. All without lashing out at anyone, other than the noise. The worst word that emerged from his mouth was "stupid." Holy cow.
He comes to the door, wanting a hug. I give him one, I whisper that I love him. He goes on about Bowser. He goes back to his chair. We repeat this a few times until the sobs stop, and he sits in his chair, drawing and air-writing, his fish light on.
And I realize, he did it. He finally did it, after months and months of not doing it. He managed to calm himself out of a meltdown, himself, without lashing out to hurt anyone else. He did it. He made it up the stairs to his space, and calmed down.
He did it.