During this pandemic, Dar’s weekdaily three-hour sessions with his ABA therapist have been crucial to his education. But they’ve also been crucial to our sanity, a heavenly three hours a day when someone is being paid to take care of Dar. Uh, anyone notice that so far I’ve been writing this in the past perfect?

Lately, Dar has been MELTING DOWN during every session. That only starts with screaming like he’s in labor. It also includes throwing things like silverware and water bottles, as well as intense self-injurious behavior, slamming his arm into objects and people. When you look into his eyes during these moments, you see a sort of wild frenzied half-rage-half-despair, as though he’s trapped in his body without being able to control it, like John Cusack at the end of Being John Malkovich. (No, you don’t get spoiler alerts for a film that everyone told you to see 20 years ago.)

It’s become so bad that the therapist’s supervisor has asked to make contact with Dar’s psychologist. Of course we approved that. I expect that the result of any conversation is going to be something that relates to the pandemic. I don’t think anyone believes that Dar essentially missing a year of school is healthy or beneficial for him or us. At this point we need to minimize the damage where we can.

Yesterday I changed the picture, as we say in animal training. I suggested to the therapist that we take Dar to the park. One of the greatest blessings of my life is that we live so close to Codornices Park and the Rose Garden. Yesterday the therapist and I walked Dar to Codornices – as with all ABA programs, a parent has to be nearby at all times, in case Dar gets sick or does something crazy. Turns out that’s kind of an active problem in coronavirus-era Codornices, because Dar won’t wear a mask, ever, and yesterday he was both maskless and tactless. Under any circumstances, it’s not ideal for him to be letting out occasional screams that make people go “Why is that 11-year-old screaming?” but it’s especially un-ideal when he’s also the only kid in the park without a mask.

Anyway, we managed. And we got very lucky that the renowned big concrete slide was basically empty. Dar did many, many slides down it. And yeah, after a while, the yelps stopped and the smiles started. At one point, the therapist cued Dar with “Ready, set…” And Dar said “guh,” and when she didn’t go right away, he corrected himself to say “go.” This is a big accomplishment for Dar! (Your 11-year-old is/was/will be held to very different standards.)

I should probably wrap here with this relative ray of sunshine. The truth is that the longer this pandemic goes on, the harder it gets for Dar to at least tread water on his goals. One last thing: Dar doesn’t exercise quite as much as he used to. I notice that for the very first time in his life, Dar is getting a slight pudge on his belly, about the size of one the bran muffins he regularly eats. The essence of the problem can be summarized by another famous ending: winter is coming, and Bran can’t solve everything.