Last night, our family took a little excursion to the local park behind Henry’s school. They’ve updated the playground, and it’s been fun to drop in now and then to see who from the neighborhood we run into because it seems that lots of folks are checking it out as the start of school looms ever closer.
Ada (our brand new 2 wheel biker) rode the tandem with Tom, not quite ready to take on the challenge of the Deerwood hill. Elliott rode his scooter – just for something different, and Henry & I walked. Mind you – we both walked, but not together (it’s so not cool – when you’re 10 – to walk with your Mom – he was always at least 10 paces in front of me, and would trot when I tried to catch up to him). I kind of respect this, as I am decidedly not cool.
As we began circling the middle school, I took note of the myriad of groups meeting in the early evening – some kids playing baseball, a few folks running on the track, and a couple of different middle school football teams practicing on the grass. That’s when I heard him – yep, you likely already know what I’m going to say – but I encountered one of “those” Dads.
You know the type – living his football dreams through his 6th grader. Not necessarily degrading the kids (thankfully), but just a little too intense, where it was clear after about 10 seconds that it was most certainly more about him and his hopes and dreams than it was about the kids. And while there is a part of me that gets that revisiting your lost youth stuff, it just looks funny to see these cute little middle school guys all dressed up in football gear, trying their best despite their part boy/part man status. I wish for his sake that he could let a little bit of it go – likely he had the best of intentions, but it was painful to see, even for the brief amount of time it took for me to walk down the hill following my own snarky 10 year old.
Soon enough, we were all at the playground. The weather was perfect, the sky was that lovely late summer brilliant blue, and there were several (but not too many) kids & families at the park. Ada quickly joined in with a group of kids (mostly boys – she’s kind of got a tough broad theme going this summer), and was having a blast. Henry connected with some kids, likely discussing his favorite operating system or spy gadgetry, and Tom & I were trying to catch up on the day’s events as we sat on the swings, taking it all in. Elliott did check the place out, but soon settled next to me in the swings, as he hates missing out on any adult conversation, and asks repeatedly to make sure he does not miss any detail.
Then, it happened. Out of the blue, kind of like a small miracle just waiting to happen. A kid (and by kid I mean like a 5th grader, not a 1st grader as in the past) walked up to Elliott and asked him if he wanted to play. Wow – that is awesomeness to the tenth for the E man. Frankly, I can’t even remember the last time it happened. I don’t mean this is a jerky way – it just is what it is, but generally kids can sense pretty quickly that there is something different about Elliott. Often, he is making interesting sounds or noises that give off a signal that he is different. If not that, he is asking an adult if he can come to their house and see their bedroom (we’re struggling a lot this summer with socially appropriate interactions, as E LOVES bedrooms, and enjoys knowing how people choose to arrange their bedrooms despite my repeated chats with him about making people – especially strangers, feel uncomfortable). But last night, he was really on. No noises, no inappropriate social interactions, just a kid having fun at the park.
E looked at the kid, and very nicely said “no thanks, I just feel like hanging out by myself tonight”, and went on swinging. Maybe this won’t make much sense to parents of typically developing kids, but Tom & I dove into action in about 1 second flat – we both jumped up, stunned and ready for action, and gently yet firmly suggested Elliott should play. He told us he was just tired, yet, when I finally convinced him to try for 5 minutes, he did it – not with very much heart and soul, but he did it. In the end, Henry & Ada joined this kid and his siblings, and had a fun time together, and I left the park wishing, once again, that social interactions were easier for Elliott.
Soon, I was walking up that hill again, and looked over to see the middle school football players finishing up their practice. And that’s when it hit me – that in many ways, I was just like that Dad coaching the middle school football team, pushing my hopes and dreams on Elliott and “coaching” him to be a friend because having friends was such an important and fulfilling part of my youth.
Elliott did nothing wrong by telling that young man he was too tired to play – he did it politely, and the kid thought nothing of it. It was me that didn’t handle it well – I jumped in and “coached” him instead of listening to what he had to say. Maybe after 3 hours of “sibling social skills camp” and 2 hours of tutoring, he was just tired.
Being an autism Mom is hard sometimes. I want so badly for E to have a friend – and I get sad when he tears up and tells me he he’s sad that he does not have friends over like Henry & Ada do. I know he wants a friend, and I know he needs to be a friend in order to have a friend. But most of all, I know that while I can help him learn some of the tools, I can’t do it for him. Last night, I made a poor choice by involving myself where I was not needed (or wanted).
Last week, out of the blue, Elliott came to me and told me “Mom, my hopes and dreams are to someday try a Buster Bar at DQ”. I like that he’s thinking about his hopes and dreams and that he’s sharing them with me. When Elliott decides that having a friend ranks up there with a buster bar, then I know he’ll achieve it. My boy is nothing if not goal oriented.
In the meantime, I’ll try to remember to focus on my own hopes and dreams, one of which is sharing a buster bar with my buddy, Elliott . . .