December 21, 2010
This past Sunday our local Elks Club held their annual holiday bash for children and adults with disabilities, and since I’d been told by my friends that it was worth schlepping to, this year I finally signed the kids up for it. The past few events I had avoided in part because they coincided with Zach’s naptime, and since my youngest is a phenomenal sleeper there is very little in the world that could get me to keep him out of the house at that point of the day (believe me, we’re talking good dark chocolate AND wine would be required). I’d also decided to forego taking Justin, because frankly the thought of killing two hours in between chicken nuggets and Santa seemed especially grueling. There are only so many videos one autistic child can watch over and over after all.
This year, however, Zach has begun (much to my dismay) to relinquish that gourgeous hour of naptime mid-day, and now I’m also armed with the timer that will hopefully continue to extend my oldest’s son’s willingness to stay a little longer than five seconds outside of our home. Being the crazy, spontaneous fun-loving gal that I am, I threw caution to the wind and signed them both up, figuring my husband and I would do shifts. I assumed I would take Justin first and that he’d last long enough to eat lunch there, and then perhaps I could cajole him to stay for a little while after that. I’d heard that practically the entire special needs community attends, that maybe he’d get to see a few of his classmates from last year, and mommy might also get to talk to adults for a little while. Since I’m not a big fan of the nugget, socialization could be my reward.
The gig started at noon and we arrived fashionably late at 12:15, and as I searched with one eye for a place to sit and the other for anyone I knew, I hoped the food would be served relatively quickly. We actually found seats at the door, and Justin settled in with a juice and video he hadn’t seen in an eternity, making certain to slide every box of candy canes on the round metal table far out of his personal space. It didn’t look like lunch was being served any time soon, so I corralled one of the friendlier looking Elks and asked him to check on meal times in the kitchen for me. He came back with the grim news that they were a bit delayed and it would probably be another twenty minutes, and I thanked him and quickly counted out how many more Pixar movies I’d sequestered within the goody bag. So far, this wasn’t looking good.
I had a feeling that even with my trusty timer we weren’t long for this party, so if I wanted to get a feel for the event I’d better look around now, and I did. There were elves in full regalia throughout the place, and enough glittering décor to make this large barren room seem festive. A DJ was playing Christmas favorites to a variety of children and adults who were gleefully rocking out to Jingle Bells and other assorted tunes, and everyone seemed to fit the definition of merry. I looked back to the entrance in time to see my friend and her husband walk in with their two boys who are also on the autism spectrum, and I quickly motioned her over so she could claim the four seats I’d managed to save for her and her family.
Her sons threw off their coats and hats and made a beeline for the front of the room with her husband in hot pursuit, and I knew we only had a few moments together before she had to go grab a child. I looked down to see how Justin was doing, and heard the sucking sound of the last remnants of a juice box being consumed, and realized he was already watching the last (and twelfth) movie I’d brought with us. I returned to our semi-interrupted dialogue, then felt the tug on my sleeve coupled with the shove of the goody bag to my hand that always signifies it’s time to depart. Since I’d already shown him the red timer twice by now and its slight arm had since drifted into white territory, I knew the gig was up.
I looked at my friend and said “Tara, we’re not even going to make it to lunch”, and as I glanced around the room at all the other children reveling in the festivities, some clearly also on the spectrum like my son, I momentarily felt such a sense of defeat. There’s going to be food he likes, and a present. He’s in a Christmas outfit, it’s clean, and everything matches. Can’t he just suck it up for twenty more minutes?
Once again I felt that insistent pull on my sleeve, and so I turned to my oldest and told him somewhat impatiently to “wait”, then swiveled back to my friend. I looked at her and said “We’re leaving, I’ll be back with Zach”, and she returned my gaze, held it for a moment, and said “I’m sorry”. Just two simple words, and a look that said “I get it, we’re both in the same leaky boat”. The entire exchange, both verbal and visual, took mere seconds.
But for me, it was enough.
I smiled back at her and said “thanks”, and turned back to my clearly impatient child and told him we were about to go. With a “see you later!” trailing behind her my friend sprinted to the front of the room to claim a kid, and I swung cluttered purse and overstuffed, oversized goody bag onto my shoulder with one hand, and claimed my own child with the other. I felt my malaise disappear, in part because I’d have a shot at fun with my youngest later, and in part because we’ve made so much progress with Justin lately at other events. I had to remind myself to be realistic. He’s a boy. He’s seven. He’s autistic. And regardless of the latter situation, like any other kid, he’s just not going to like everything.
And we made our way out of the room on a mission to McDonald’s, past regretful elves who perked up when I told them the other kid would be back later, him gripping his cherished DVD tightly, his mother responding with a grip of her own to his free hand. We were moving on, much as we’d done in the past, much as despite our new arsenal of behavioral techniques I’d be certain we’d do in the future as well.
And this time, it truly was okay.