January 19, 2011
A League of His Own
Sure, there were moments of despair after Lost went off the air (they were dead most of the season, HOW COULD I NOT HAVE KNOWN???). I still haven’t gotten over Shakespeare in Love stealing the Academy Award from Saving Private Ryan (the Weinsteins’ campaign ROBBED you Steven Spielberg, for shame, FOR SHAME!!!). I’ll never understand why Kris Allen beat the fabulous Adam Lambert for the American Idol title in season eight, but I’ve been able to reconcile myself to that finale with the knowledge that coming in second has probably been beneficial to his career. Despite the tragic nature of these outcomes, I’ve tried my best to put all these losses behind me, and move on with my life.
After all, I have children. I owe it to them.
I admit, I had to remind myself just how strong I’ve been over the years, particularly following the “Justin after-care debacle”. I’d spent roughly half my free time putting this opportunity together for him for the better part of the fall, and I’d had a great deal of hope that some kind of peer relationship would eventually result from it for my eldest son. When it became apparent after the first day this activity wasn’t going to work for Justin (the half hour of sobbing prior to my arrival to pick him up was a dead giveaway), I will share that I was fairly upset for a few days. Frankly, there aren’t a whole lot of options for friendship for moderately autistic youth (google it, I dare you), and I had invested myself emotionally in the potential for a positive outcome.
Finally, later in the week, after a few long hours sulking on my couch, I eventually came up with a plan. It wouldn’t involve interaction with neurotypical peers, but it would place him around other children, and the central tenet of the event revolved around something Justin had come to enjoy. Plus, it would get me out of the house, where I might actually engage in conversations with people outside of the realm of cyberspace. I know. I have wild, extravagant dreams.
It was clear to me what the solution would be. Justin would be joining our local special needs bowling league.
I should preface this statement with letting you know that unlike the after-care program, I had absolutely no expectations going into this Saturday morning activity. This particular league is open to children and adults with a wide range of disabilities, some of whom I’d witnessed at other events, many of whom appeared much more evolved at taking turns and waiting patiently than my son. He’s made vast improvements in this area over the years (mostly due to having to share with his younger brother, not to any brilliant interventions on my part), but he still has a long way to go. I knew this was a popular activity amongst the disabled crowd, but since there were a lot of lanes at this particular venue I was hopeful he’d only have to share his with one other child at best. I figured we could at least pull one entire game off after all the wonderful experiences we’d had with the fabulous Miss M.
We arrived just in time, and I almost had to body block Justin to get him to stay still long enough for me to collect his felt foot apparel. It was obvious where we needed to go, as I looked down the length of the alley and saw a few dozen children and parents congregating around what looked like only two lanes. I swooped up Justin’s shoes and we received our lane assignment, and I subsequently realized how much I require lasix surgery as it became clear the league had commanded a half-dozen of them. We trudged over, boy and goody bag securely in my hands, and I was fortunately able to find him an empty swivel chair. I introduced us to the nearest parent, and glanced up at the electronic board regaling us with its list of participants.
On this lane alone, there were six. I was relieved I’d remembered to bring Tylenol.
To Justin’s credit, he did as well as humanly possible. I plied him with snacks and favored DVDs as he waited his turn fairly patiently, only slipping his shoes off once during the course of the game. I even managed to converse for three minutes with a lovely woman whose sons were so mildly autistic their form of the disorder bore absolutely no resemblance whatsoever to the subtype my son possesses (and they were FABULOUS at waiting). We made it through the majority of the game, but I could sense my son’s angst building, and I’ve resolved never to leave an activity on a bad note, thus reinforcing the connection between whining and exiting.
Just call it my life’s work.
We packed up to leave, and I had to fend off the protests of the kind woman I’d met who was dismayed when I told her we wouldn’t be returning, as she pointed out that Justin had really done well. He had, and I thanked her for the compliment, but that wasn’t the point. The truth was, he hadn’t had a good time, and as much as I enjoy meeting new people, this wasn’t (sadly) supposed to be about me. It turns out that bowling is one of three activities outside of movies and computer games that seem to entertain my child, and it simply has to remain fun for him. Despite the opportunity to talk to someone other than my husband, and perhaps score some sour cream and onion potato chips from the vending machine, this is not the correct venue for him to participate in this activity.
We exited the alley, Justin thrilled to be on the move, and me saying goodbye to a number of wonderful people in our community I’ve had the good fortune to come to know. He was bouncing up and down for joy, and for once my mind was clear, already on to the next event, which would be how to keep the moderately autistic child happily occupied until we left for his horseback riding lesson in the afternoon. I realized I wasn’t the slightest bit depressed about our “failure”, and that I’d already come up with a slight adaptation on this theme. We’d be coming back here as a family, claiming one entire lane as our own uncharted territory, with my boys taking turns and hopefully, in their own ways, cheering each other on to victory. I slipped Justin into his harness, settled myself into my frigid front seat, and smiled as I turned the ignition key, because once again I had a plan.
And although Jerry Seinfeld says “there’s no such thing as family fun”, we’re going to give it a try.