September 30, 2010
Through my Thursday posts I’d like to provide a more widespread forum for parents, family members, and practitioners of children with disabilities to provide practical tips for parents, as well as a place to share their views on raising a child with a disability. These contributions will be their ideas and stories, and not necessarily reflect the sentiments of those of autismmommytherapist
Today’s guest blogger is Mary Craig, welcome!
Bon Voyage, Miss Rachel!
Our son was just 19 months old when he was vaccination injured. It was shortly before our son was injured that a young angel blessed our lives; we call her Miss Rachel at our house. Back then my husband would often leave before our kids were awake in the morning and return after they had long been in bed. I’m not going to lie to you….I was overwhelmed and literally suffering from exhaustion due to insomnia. I felt like I needed to learn and research everything I could find and I lost a lot of sleep worrying about what the future would hold for my boy. Thankfully Miss Rachel arrived on the scene to give us all a break!!
It is scary when you have a Special Needs child who isn’t verbal when it’s time to go out for the evening and leave them with a babysitter. After our son became affected it took time before we left him with a babysitter. Autism tears families apart and our family promised each other to fight with all we had to not become part of the Autism divorce statistics. My husband changed jobs and began working from home which gave him more flexibility to spend time with his family. Things were falling into place so you can imagine how desperately we needed somebody like Miss Rachel in our lives!!
Rachel had great references and was CPR certified & had aced the babysitter course. We knew her mom who had been Megan’s mommy & me teacher so we were confident leaving the kids with her. We had our Occupational Therapist train her to do sensory diet types of things with our son. It’s always nerve-wracking to leave your kids with anybody new. We put our faith in Rachel and went out on a date. Rachel was wonderful!! We had a wonderful dinner out & Megan had her hair braided and both kids were in bed asleep. Yay! It’s so nerve-wracking when you have a Nonverbal Special Needs child because what if they can’t identify their needs, get sick or are afraid or just want mommy. Certainly our typical child can tell us what happens while we’re gone but sometimes you may need to leave just the Special Needs child with a sitter. “Miss Rachel” instantly had a connection with both of our kids and it was almost as though she understood our son’s cues & babbles as well as we did. He would instantly go right over to her when she arrived and rarely gave us a hard time about leaving.
Miss Rachel is a life saver! We’ve grown closer and more attached to her as each year has passed. We have enlisted her to help our family in our charity work which she did enthusiastically. She’s been there for family events, she’s helped wrap our Christmas gifts, and she’s helped us move and watched our beautiful children grow. We’ve had the pleasure of witnessing what a wonderful young woman she’s become as she learned to drive, taken her first job and graduated high school. We had hoped she would still be our sitter when she came home on breaks from college. We had visions of family vacations accompanied by Miss Rachel while home on break.
Alas, she applied for a job and she will now be calling Uncle Sam her employer. It’s with heavy hearts that our family will usher our “Miss Rachel” off to Naval Boot Camp this coming week. We certainly hope Uncle Sam understands what a wonderful, dedicated, caring new employee they’ve just gotten. Uncle Sam’s gain is certainly our family’s loss. Our Miss Rachel will always be a member of our family and we hope that if our favorite “sailor” is ever in a port nearby that she’ll be sure to visit often. Thank you Miss Rachel for loving our kids and helping us keep them safe & entertained. Thank you for taking the time to understand each of our kids’ “specialness” and embracing it. We love you like our own, Miss Rachel!!
September 29, 2010
The doors of the Hockey Palace whoosh shut behind us as Justin and I slowly descend the stairs to the rink below, me clutching his hand tightly, my son with a death grip on the banister as several eager boys rush past us. I can tell he is both excited and confused by my choice of outing, not yet sure what to make of the transition from the humid air outdoors to the frigid climes (okay, I’m exaggerating) of our town’s sole venue for ice skating. In the last six months I’ve cajoled one kid to mount a horse, another to kick a soccer ball, and both to attempt to ride the waves of the Atlantic Ocean. I’m ready for a new challenge, and putting my autistic seven-year-old in shoes with blades, the one who still lacks body awareness and is tentative about climbing stairs, seems to be the next obvious choice in our quest for athletic greatness.
This is not the first time I’ve questioned my sanity.
I’ve been told that Justin needs no prior experience to participate in the Challenger Hockey Program, and since I’ve been letting the skating lessons slide in lieu of ABA and speech therapy, I was grateful for that news. We’ve never been on the ice together before, in part because we just haven’t had the time, and in part because despite two years of lessons and my all-consuming desire to be Dorothy Hamill (yes, I’m that old), I still can barely keep myself upright on frozen water. At this point Justin is more than half my weight, and I’m not even certain I could support him if I gave up the skates and wore my running shoes. To date, I haven’t been brave enough to find out, and the great thing is, with all the volunteers involved in this program, I won’t have to.
Eventually we make it down to the fairly controlled chaos of the boys’ locker room, where about ten special needs kids are patiently waiting for approximately twenty neurotypical buddies to outfit them for the sport. The coach, whom I’ve met before on several occasions when I didn’t look quite so tired, quickly assigns two pre-teen boys the enormous task of sorting through a giant pile of helmets, knee pads, and ice skates so that my son will be protected. Our helpers bound over, say “Hi Justin!”, solicit high-fives from him, and start grilling me on shoe sizes and head width, running back and forth with different options, remaining cheerful even when a piece of equipment comes up woefully short. These boys know their stuff, and as I struggle to remember Justin’s new shoe size, I tell myself to keep my wits about me.
Apparently, hockey is serious business. And I thought being a soccer mom was intense.
To tell you the truth, I don’t really have high hopes this is going to work out for Justin, as I’m not even sure he’ll tolerate wearing something without flat soles, much less the daunting prospect of helmet with chin guard and multiple flaps I’m certain I’ll never disentangle correctly. Over the years I’ve developed a philosophy with the kids that we try everything once, and if we survive the experience and there’s even one moment of joy (theirs, not mine) involved, we’ll stick with it. I’ve also given myself the out that if either child hates the activity, we’ll move on to something hopefully a bit less tortuous. After all, my mom let me out of ballet lessons when I figured out I was the only girl after two months who still couldn’t lie on her stomach and put her feet on her head. I owe my own offspring just as much kindness.
For the next twenty-five minutes, and that is a long time in autismworld, our two new friends work diligently to complete Justin’s outfit. Elbow pads are found, the correct helmet size discovered, the fourth pair of ice skates is the charm. Justin even permits our assistants to remove the head gear twice when we figured out the body armor needed to be applied first, which in and of itself, is a miracle. He only tries to make a break for it twice, but sits down quickly when I tell him we have to wait, consuming two juice boxes which I’m terrified will mean the removal of all the accoutrement if he has to pee. Hell, it took almost half an hour just to get him outfitted, I’ll be damned if this kid won’t at least make it out to the ice once.
Finally, we’re done, and although he keeps slipping off the gloves, which frankly is something he does all winter anyway, he’s ready to go. One of the boys gets on one side of him, I take the other, and together we half carry, half push him to the entrance of the rink. Justin is looking less than enthusiastic about the experience but complies, and before I know it, he is through the door, seated in a chair, and has his own personal chauffeur, a teen-ager far more adept on ice than I’ve ever been, whisking my son around our rented oval like he’s been doing it all his life.
I realize, all I have to do is watch. If I had a frappacino, the moment would be perfect.
There are just so few opportunities when I’m with the kids that I’m not completely “on”, that I’m grateful to be able to simply wipe off a patch of ice and watch my son get whipped around, happy to be able to take in the entire picture of what is transpiring today. I watch, and see a dozen kids in motion, children with all kinds of disabilities, both physical and neurological. Some, like my son, are in the “chair stage”, being pushed around like emperors in their own personal thrones. Several others are holding on to walkers for dear life, escorted by young men clearly enthusiastic to be here at what must be the crack of dawn for them this Sunday morning. A few more experienced lads are actually shuffling slowly on the ice, gaining and losing purchase on the slippery surface, having a ball even as gravity betrays them and they tumble forward. There are over two dozen volunteers here today. They are all teens or pre-teens. They’re here because they love the sport, and because they want to help. I don’t get emotional very often these days, but I feel my eyes welling up, completely charmed by watching adolescent boys thrilled to help my son, and in most cases, other complete strangers, try to participate in a team sport.
And no, I’m not PMS.
Within ten minutes Justin has houdinied off his skates, gloves, elbow pads, and managed to shimmy off a shin guard wrapped around his limb with what appeared to be industrial-strength masking tape. He is clearly unhappy with the situation, and soon he and a half-platoon of boys trying desperately to make him smile have deposited him back at the exit, looking to me for help, hoping I’ll solve the problem. I know I can’t, and that unlike the horses, this won’t be Justin’s thing.
And although I haven’t discovered a new love for my son, I can’t help but walk away exhilarated by what I’ve seen, by the ramifications of today. Without doubt, at least in this town, it is a kinder, gentler world out there for kids with differences. He has more options for fun than he would have had twenty, even ten years ago. People, children, pre-teen boys, actually want to help him participate in their world.
Somebody gives a damn, and I even got ten minutes of “me time”.
As we head back to the locker room where the sweet manager hugs my son and tells me no matter what, we’re welcome here any time, I know today, in his own way, Justin already scored.
September 28, 2010
For Today’s Gratitude Attitude topic I’d like to thank our town’s Challenger Hockey Program, an initiative dedicated to seeing special needs kids master the skills necessary to skate, and when possible, actually participate in hockey games. I was overwhelmed Sunday by not only how wonderful the players were, but by the commitment of the pre-teen and teen-age boys who volunteer year after year to keep the program alive, and help make sliding on the ice a wonderful experience for all.
Thank you for all you do!
September 27, 2010
It’s bath time chez McCafferty, a nighttime ritual I thoroughly enjoy and try to assist in every evening. I love this regime because in part it signifies the impending glory of “me time”, and also because the darkness summons the arrival of “happy Justin”, who unlike his younger brother, actually wants to go to bed every single night.
This evening is unfolding pretty much like any other, with my firstborn eventually having to be peeled from my body and deterred long enough from his hugging to actually enter the bathtub, and with my youngest racing up and down the hallway, diaper askew, trying desperately to stall what he knows is the beginning to the end of his day. One wants to please, one could care less. That’s pretty much how it goes the rest of the day too.
Eventually I am able to plop the two of them in the tub, lather their little bodies and wash them clean of the day’s dirt, hopefully both physically and metaphorically. I lean over to release the plug and turn on the “rain” to further cleanse them, a euphemism for the shower my husband and I came up with to soothe Zach’s fears of the pounding pulse of water. I pull back a bit of the curtain and sneakily watch them, see Justin’s upturned mouth trying to snare a few drops of liquid, watch Zach splash gleefully behind him, the caboose to Justin’s engineer. Together, they paint a rather adorable tableau, and I’m happy to witness it.
All too soon I ease the spigot to the right, ending access to the warm torrent enveloping them, and call for Jeff to “come get one”. As with most things McCafferty this event is a two-person gig, so I settle down on my bathtub perch, prepare to butcher some nursery rhymes, and try to keep the bathroom floor from resembling our pool after a good long rain. I reach back to grab Justin’s cookie monster towel to get started on the hair drying portion of this evening, and as I begin my swivel backwards I hear a loud noise, one which is generally unfamiliar in this household.
I turn back just in time to see Zach about to plant a second raspberry on Justin’s glistening shoulder. I have enough time to consider the irony, since both regard fruit as the devil incarnate, before a second burst of sound echoes the first. My youngest sits back proudly, content in his handiwork, and I can tell he’s gearing up to go for round three. Zach doesn’t usually initiate physical contact with Justin, so I’m pleased he’s begun this game, even though I know that Justin won’t reciprocate, won’t respond to Zach’s overture at all.
Except, this time, he does.
Justin pivots around, looks Zach square in the eyes, and laughs, one of those great, heartfelt belly laughs that our world leaders should be subjected to on a daily basis, because it is impossible to remain angry while being immersed in one. He rocks back a little and clenches his hands, maintaining a visual on my youngest’s face, and emits sounds of glee I can honestly say I don’t remember hearing from him before. Then he goes for the kill, the moment that will make it to my baby diaries, the one I don’t even need the camera to remember it by. He turns back to the slightly dripping faucets, takes a breath, and leans back into his brother. The movement is slow, deliberate. I can see his face lit up in anticipation. He wants Zach to do it again.
Justin wants to play with his brother.
I know these moments unfold with great regularity in other households, perhaps would not even be recognized, much less cherished, in most other abodes. But tonight, not only have my children interacted with one another, but my oldest has reciprocated without his mother’s meddling, a precious, and unprecedented act.
The game in its entirety lasted approximately thirty seconds, and soon Zachary is lamenting the lack of surrounding suds, a ritual in which he engages every evening in the hopes I’ll prolong the bath and thus his slumber. The spell is broken, magic concluded for one day.
But I have the memory, the moment, and most importantly the knowledge that if it occurred once, something like it could happen again. And to me, that is the best bedtime story of all.
September 24, 2010
Last night I had the opportunity to attend my youngest son’s Back to School Night, which used to be a source of fairly high anxiety for me and my co-workers back in the day, but now pretty much constitutes a night out for me. It was on school grounds so no alcohol was served, but Zach’s teacher was wise enough to offer us chocolate, and I know enough people now to make it somewhat of a social event. That, coupled with the fact that I just had to sit there and listen and not actually orchestrate it, made it a fun evening.
Sad, but true.
As I sat there and surveyed the room, realizing this teacher’s organizational skills rival mine but her bulletin boards were far more attractive than anything I ever put together, my mind began to wander back to my teaching days, when I was young(er) and had quite a few career ambitions of my own. I recalled my own Back to School Nights, where myself and my fellow educators, generally childless with prodigious amounts of time on our hands, would create entire Power Point presentations to present to all the parents at our grade level (since it was a huge school, that was sometimes over 300 people). Afterwards, we’d do an individual speech back in our classrooms as well, complete with hand-outs and a tour of the classroom. We were all in equal parts both dreading and excited about the evening, eager to impress, happy to have it concluded.
As I sat there and reminisced I felt a slight pang of nostalgia for those days, both for the connections with the kids, and sometimes with their parents as well. Then I forced myself to remember the other side of the coin, the parts of the profession that were so difficult to deal with at times. For example, when I did my five-year stint for the DC public schools, there were entire years I wouldn’t get paid for weeks at a time. Supplies were not abundant, and we spent a great deal of the salary we did receive on the kids, which made making rent a bit interesting. In addition, teaching thirty to thirty-five students, often with limited English skills, was never a simple task.
Working in the suburbs wasn’t always perfect either. I can recall getting screamed at by one parent because her daughter left one of her new magic markers in another teacher’s classroom, because of course, even though she was ten, her writing implements and those of her twenty-eight other peers were clearly my responsibility. I remember once being thoroughly chastised because one of my students was selected for the Gifted and Talented pull-out program, and the parent hadn’t received prior notice by the professional conducting it (I recall thinking, we should all have such problems). This mother, who had been outraged at the omission, later refused to attend an early morning conference with her daughter so that a child who had ridiculed her could apologize to her in front of his own parents (that one I still don’t get to this day). I’ve even been called to court for a custody battle, which perhaps was the single most uncomfortable moment of my career, as I adored the student, liked all the parents and step-parents, and really had no idea what was best for the child involved.
And people complain we get paid too much.
As I sat back, popped perhaps my tenth Hershey’s kiss into my mouth and returned my thoughts back to the educator about to commence her “welcome to my classroom spiel”, I realized two things. That this part of my career is over, really over, at least in any full-time, captain of the ship way, and that I am completely at peace with that. I also took the moment to revel in the fact that both my kids are in appropriate placements, flourishing in schools which will fully meet their needs. Both have teachers I really respect, and like. Both boys are thriving, and I’ve done little more that sign a few (okay, voluminous) papers and pack Justin a lunch every night. At the moment, at least for my part, their education is mostly effortless, which means I’ll have more time for my interests, my pursuits.
Hell, I’ll just have time.
And as I subtly break into the chocolate stash of the unwitting parent sitting next to me, I send a silent shout out to the universe in thanks for good teachers and good administrators, those who listen and respond to the people who know their kids’ needs best.
September 23, 2010
Through my Thursday posts I’d like to provide a more widespread forum for parents, family members, and practitioners of children with disabilities to provide practical tips for parents, as well as a place to share their views on raising a child with a disability. These contributions will be their ideas and stories, and not necessarily reflect the sentiments of those of autismmommytherapist
Today’s guest blogger is Shivon, welcome!
In the 1950′s Dr. Leo Kanner coined the term “Refrigerator Mother”. This term was used to describe the mother of a child diagnosed with autism or schizophrenia. Dr. Bruno Bettleheim made the term popular as he likened the mothers of children with autism to guards of Nazi Concentration camps. Bettleheim stated in his book “The Empty Fortress: Infantile Autism and the Birth of the Self ” that “the difference between the plight of prisoners in a concentration camp and the conditions which lead to autism and schizophrenia in children is, of course, that the child has never had a previous chance to develop much of a personality. ”
The definition of Refrigerator Mother is basically a cold and uncaring woman defrosting just enough to produce a child. (http://www.autism-watch.org/causes/rm.shtml)
While this idea has been completely excluded as a cause for autism in the United States, many in South Korea still believe that the “Refrigerator Mother” is the root cause for autism.
I CANNOT IMAGINE.
I have a great deal of guilt that I carry everyday for numerous things surrounding Diego’s ASD. But if someone told me that I didn’t nurture my child enough and as a result caused his autism, I would be devastated. It is funny that I should read about this today as I have the opinions of many different experts affecting Diego’s treatment plan and options surrounding me. Some of these experts with their varying opinions have caused me at times to completely doubt myself and what I KNOW to be true about my son. I am thankful that I live in a day and age where mothers can speak up and challenge the “experts” if they do not agree.
In the 1950′s women were encouraged to be seen and not heard. What a sad time for so many that have had to raise children with the same developmental challenges that ours face today. The isolation and judgment must have been absolutely horrible. So in honor of them I will do my very best to take the advice of a lot of mothers I know and not doubt myself or what I know about my son.
I AM THE EXPERT IN MY SON.
September 21, 2010
A few years ago Jeff and I were in the middle of our favorite annual trip to the Jersey shore’s famous seaside towns when we happened to walk by a particularly beguiling fortune-teller, one who not only promised to predict the future, but also leave her customers satisfied. At the time my husband and I were high both on Kohr’s custard and that scent of the ocean that simply cannot be replicated by any candle, and together we decided satisfaction sounded great. I approached the booth and plunked down my money (Jeff graciously let me have the reading, because I’d received second prize with my seventh grade ESP science fair project just a few years back, and after all, I’d earned it). I informed my gypsy du jour I wanted a tarot card reading, and after pushing through the tattered velvet curtains and disentangling myself from multiple strands of crystal beads, my truthsayer and I got down to business.
There was, of course, the usual recital of love lost and found (I’m thinking my wedding ring might have helped her a little there), and struggles both vanquished and yet to come (she was a bit vague on specifics, but terrific on delivery). Then suddenly she became very quiet, absolutely mute for what felt like an hour, but since their trade depends on volume, the silence must not have lasted for more than thirty seconds. She actually put the cards down and grabbed my hands (at this point I’m searching frantically for the Death icon, wondering if she tells me about my imminent demise will I still be able to salvage the rest of this vacation), and looked me straight in the eyes.
In a compelling tone she said “In the next year, your reason for being here, your destiny, will be revealed to you”, then dropped my hands, returned to the reading to regale me with promises of one long marriage, kids, and travel, yada, yada, yada, all delivered with the same boisterous manner she’d employed prior to the hand grab that felt like the beginning of a séance. I felt like I’d better pay attention now, but the rest of the reading was inconclusive, no particular achievements pinpointed, yet no catastrophes revealed either.
I remember thinking maybe I had a hidden talent yet to be revealed to me, like knitting or the ability to send photos electronically, but that what I really wished for was something else, something far more tangible than a scarf or mastering a skill many kindergarteners could manage while simultaneously chatting online. I wanted a baby, we’d been trying for two years, and as my battle-scarred ass was protesting more and more indignantly at its grave misuse I knew we were nearing the end of our IVF rope, and time was running out.
The next month I was pregnant with the embryo that eventually became Justin, and boy, my destiny certainly was revealed to me that year. I feel like I should return to Wildwood and give her a finder’s fee.
And in fact, that’s just what me and my husband did this past weekend, embarked upon a seventy-two hour furlough on the southernmost boardwalk in a state which carries memories for us not just of childhood, but of adult sojourns too. As we strolled the uneven planks of one of Jersey’s greatest treasures we recalled trips from the past with our birth families, but more importantly, vacations from our glorious pre-baby days. We recalled the time I won $250 on those high-priced dollar slots (what was I thinking!), which at the time paid half my rent for the coming month. He reminded me of one late afternoon trip to Ocean City where we met our friend “Rick the Priest”, who while hailing from the cloth also remains one of our most fun-loving companions, one with enough gusto to indulge my lifelong desire to sport a unicorn tattoo on my ankle by submitting to a matching one of his own.
Yes, they washed off.
Of course, our most poignant memory entails the vacation a year into the fertility wars, where I had a broken toe from walking into my own sneakers, a debilitating case of bronchitis, and the denouement of contracting a particularly virulent strain of pink eye that literally rendered me blind for the last day of my trip (but not impaired enough to forego one last round of mini-golf). I recalled that I had been ovulating that week, and since we were taking a break from IVF had offered to put a bag over my head for the good of our future family, urging my husband to be a “trooper”.
He politely declined.
I find that reliving the memories is essential, not only because we are given the gift of remembering who we were, but are forced to assess where we are, where we’ve deviated from the path we set out for ourselves almost a decade ago, and where we’ve remained true to the plan. We have our two kids, our glorious, wonderful kids. Jeff, much to our delight, is still employed. I not only wrote that damn book that was scuttling around in my brain for years, but eventually mastered the use of my GPS as well. We are still married, and most days, even like each other. Perhaps that, and our sons’ happiness, is the greatest achievement yet.
As we continue to maneuver our way around the staccato boards of a path that marks both our past and our future, dodging the exuberant firefighters who are here for their annual trip down memory lane (I’ve never felt safer), I take Jeff’s hand, drink in that salty air, and try to decide if my next carb will be custard or fudge. And in case you’re curious, I decided on the seasonal pumpkin/cinnamon swirl with sprinkles (not jimmies!), AND rocky road, respectively.
Thank God my high school reunion is still a month away.
I’m going to deviate just a wee bit from my usual Tuesday Gratitude Attitude, because I’d like to bring attention to a particularly important cause illuminated so beautifully by Diary of a Mom in her September 18th post. I had absolutely no idea that 1 in 88 children of military families is on the spectrum, and when that statistic finally settled in my brain, it forced me to regard the big picture. DOAM says it all in her writing, but what hit me most from her points was the thought of military families creating that network of services for a child, that endless job that comprises developing a team of professionals able to help alleviate the symptoms of autism, and having to do it over, and over, and over again. I had enough trouble relocating to Jersey and doing it once. I can’t imagine having to start from the ground up every year or every other year, while simultaneously defending our country.
If you have a chance, please check out her post and also visit the site she recommends (www.acttodayformilitaryfamilies.org/) to read more. Military families deserve our support and attention. Please forward this to whomever you think would be interested. Thank you!
September 19, 2010
I have a stunning confession to make to all of you today, so sit down, grab some chocolate, have a drink if necessary, but get ready. I’m about to type five words, a simple sentence I never thought I’d have the opportunity to utter. No, I haven’t won the lottery, convinced my husband to ask me a “wh” question without prompting, nor found a publisher (hell, I still don’t even have an agent). None-the-less, this specific combination of syllables heralds a landmark achievement, one for which I wish I had both the medal AND the monument.
I am a soccer mom.
This past Saturday my husband and I ushered an excited little boy to his first soccer practice/game, dressed in full regalia right down to shin guards and cleats. He was so happy to be a “dragon” he was practically shaking, and after we parked the car and I compulsively checked the diaper bag for my camera for the hundredth time, I thought I should attempt to calm him down a bit. We recited our litany of rules, “no hands, just feet”, listen to “Coach C”, “don’t run away”, and I felt the tension lift a little from his body as I carried him upon request across the parking lot. I put him down as our feet collectively touched turf, and quickly found our appointed spot on the field.
We appear to be one of the last to arrive, and I scan the area to see what is ahead of us, metaphorically and literally speaking. I see three other teams beyond us on the sidelines, mostly sitting cross-legged on the white chalk divider, some gently kicking their signing gift to and fro to their parents. I look back to our group, see several children clinging emphatically to their mommies’ torsos with a death grip, a few others wandering around aimlessly, and our coach happily ensconced in the middle of the drama.
Except for the fact that Jeff and I will probably be asked if we’re Zach’s grandparents, we fit in beautifully.
My husband walks over to introduce our youngest progeny to his “soccer teacher”, and I strike up a conversation with the mother of one of the girl “dragons”. She tells me this is predominantly a young team, with most of the players falling on the three-year-old side of the two-year age range. I discover that she has conducted her own fact-finding tour, and she says most of the kids do not have much experience, including her own daughter. I mentally breathe a sigh of relief, as sports are to central Jersey what designer duds are to Fashion Week, and I just don’t want to have the pressure of feeling my son has to perform. We’re all here just to have fun, and I want this to be a good experience for Zach. It’s his first foray into “neurotypical world” in any group type of way, and frankly I’m anxious for him to have a good time.
When it appears the lair is full and all of our imaginary green friends have indeed made the field, Coach C. calls everyone into a circle formation, and begins his spiel. He describes the merits of dribbling, the thrill of passing, the joy of making a goal, which elicits a resounding “SCORE!” from my boy, and laughter from the outer perimeter of parents guarding their young. The coach’s wife whispers to me that he must have some personality, and I smile back at her and say she’s only seen the tip of the iceberg so far. I find myself hoping her husband is a fan of unlimited exuberance as well.
Our honorable soccer leader finishes his speech with the question “who wants to have fun” coupled with a power shout/hand lift up to the sky, and the action begins. Coach C. creates what constitutes a line for the pre-school set, describes how a real soccer player gets a ball down a field, and asks them to imitate him. With some prompting Zach complies, although I make a mental note to practice aiming more often, as at the moment his zig-zag pattern emulates a lightening bolt. After a few rounds where more often than not no body parts make contact with the ball, we are asked to help our offspring form two lines, the object being each child will have a partner to pass to, and said partner will return the favor.
We try, but five minutes later it’s clear our attempt at parallel lines will be thwarted by far more important needs for juice, hugs, and general interaction by the pee wee set. With incalculable patience Coach C. abandons ship and asks each child to take turns passing to him, which ultimately is a bit more successful. Zach at least gets the ball within fifty feet of his coach every time, and reacts to the crowd roar of “Good job Zach!” with an emphatic “Yay!” and a clap that clearly indicates he feels he’s accomplished something.
And of course, he has.
Finally, “Team Dragon” executes a final exercise in which, with considerable assistance on some children’s parts, each player ultimately gets to experience the roar of victory as they slip their soccer ball past their enthusiastic teacher into the empty net. Zach really enjoys this part, offering up his “SCORE!” war-cry each and every time, thrilled that mommy and daddy were right, that he would indeed get to make a goal, would secure a “win”. Following his last successful turn he completes a mini-victory lap, runs back to me, commands “juice!”, and sinks into my lap.
We’re only twenty minutes into our session, but it is clear that he is done.
I whisper to him that he’s not finished yet, that this saint-like man is supposed to organize his rag-tag team for a scrimmage with one of the other three teams lining the field, that he will have to participate. He looks at me doubtfully and sinks back further into my arms as he waits for his teammates to finish racking up the score, and my eyes wander upward to meet those of my husband. Zach will either play or he won’t, the best we can do is ask him to participate. We smile, reading each other’s thoughts, and I bask in a feeling so often alien to me now, called relaxation. Whatever happens, happens. If he doesn’t turn out to be David Beckham, it’s not a tragedy.
Soon it’s time to play, and Coach C. bravely taps Zach, another boy, and two little girls to accompany him onto the field to meet the other team. I look up and notice three teams in almost perfect position, parents on the sidelines ready to cheer them on. I regard our assemblage, and realize at least one parent has accompanied their child onto the field, in some cases, there are two. I’m beginning to recant my decision not to believe everything happens for a reason after all.
In a few minutes both teams are lined up, ready to go, eager and waiting for the whistle that signifies flight. Zach actually looks composed, aware of his duties, although since he’s three, it’s impossible to know what’s transpiring in his head. Moments later that icon of sports shrilly slices the air, and the opposing team gets in a good kick and heads for our goal, with all members of their team headed in the right direction, half of ours in tow.
In case you’re wondering, the other half would consist of my son and his new girlfriend, who has made the brazen choice to kiss my baby, grab his hand, and make a run for it with him down the field. He willingly complies, cheating on both his school girlfriend Madeleine and his wife/babysitter Pat in a gleeful attempt at escape.
Three, and already a player.
The blonde’s parents shake with laughter as they record the event for posterity on video, and I yell to my husband who’s closer to “go get them!” before they interrupt what actually looks like the pre-cursor to a real soccer game just fifty yards ahead. Jeff puts on some speed, grabs their hands and entices them to return, just in time to see our rivals score, which seemed inevitable as they were up two players. My husband tells me he was accompanied by three teams’ choruses of “awe!!” as they made their way downfield, two little blond heads bobbing up and down, periodically regarding each other with wonder, laughing hysterically, never letting go of each other’s hands.
Instead, it is I who have let go. For once, oh, for once, I am in the moment. Mentally, I’m not with Justin at home, not immersed in autismland, not consumed by worries. I’m just here, on a verdant field, watching my son “play” a team sport and revel in a new romance, on a beautiful September day on the cusp of fall.
I’m simply here.
September 17, 2010
“Mom, I love you” my three-year-old informs me from the back seat of our car, and as the sentiment is completely unprompted, the sting of that truncated “mom” from “mommy” is ameliorated, at least for the moment.
“I love you too, honey” I reply, grateful as ever to have this exchange in words, always ecstatic to hear a full sentence, particularly as it’s coupled with the proper use of a pronoun. While Justin and I understand one another completely, seem to have transcended the need for vocal communication to “speak” with one another, this verbal interplay with my youngest still tickles me. Honestly, it wasn’t that long ago I was contemplating spending an entire lifetime without one proper conversation with either one of my offspring. I continue to herald each word from Zachary, no matter how whiny or bossy, with an accompanying imaginary parade.
“How do you love me, Mom?” he responds, as always, that child who pushes things just a wee bit further. I know that he’s quoting a line from a lovely Baby Einstein video which has poetry as its focus, and since it’s one of Justin’s favorite parts, we’ve all heard it many, many, many times.
“I love you all the way around the world and back, sweetheart” I tell him as I slip my sunglasses down the bridge of my nose so I can deliver my answer with eye contact, and am rewarded for my troubles with a satisfied smile. This give and take is a staple in our repertoire, a litany of love I imagine brings him comfort. I swivel back to return my eyes to the road, and decide it’s my turn to push things just a little bit further too.
“Zachy, what does love feel like?” I ask him, and am prepared for silence as I imagine this query will utterly stymie him. I wait two, three, four seconds, prepared to question him once again, then let my whim go. I glance back in my rearview mirror in time to see him gaze back at me, open his mouth, and in a stage whisper utter one word. “Magic”.
Wow. If this isn’t a Kodak moment even though I’m driving to the dentist, I don’t know what is.
I sit with this one for a moment, swept up in the inherent sweetness of his response, knowing it may be a while, if ever, that he answers anything so perfectly again. Of course I want to be certain of what I heard, so I regard him once again, repeat my fanciful question, and say “Sweetie, love feels like magic, right?”
He stares back at me for a full second, sports a devilish grin, and comes back with this.
“No, it doesn’t”.
I know, when I relate this story to my girlfriends, they will gleefully inform me, “hey Kim, welcome to “three”.
And believe me, I’m just happy to be here.