The other day I took the rascals to a park. I had a wonderful window of time where I wasn't in pain and I wanted to take full advantage of that break. We went to this park down the way from our lake house. The boys love it. There are usually a bunch of kids with their parents. Some cookout; most are playing and there is a varied age range of kids. I usually find a mom or two to chat with while I'm there. I have missed taking the boys to the park and this was a treat for all of us.
As soon as we got there, Rascal #1 went to the swings as always and Rascal #2 found a group of kids and threw himself into the middle of them to play. That, my friends, still astonishes me. He had his first panic attack at 12 months old in an elevator. He then very quickly developed severe social anxiety and could not be around more than 2 or 3 people at a time. By the time he was 4 years old, when we'd go to parks together, if there was a child or more playing, we'd have to find another park that was empty because he'd start to panic. It was just mortifying for him socially. Yes, he's been in a school setting since he was 18 months old and it's been great and it's been horrible for him as you can imagine. The good with the bad. The one thing about my #2 is that he has always, always, thrown himself at the one thing that scares him half to death. That child has determination on a level that I don't think I've ever experienced first hand before. His fortitude, partnered with intervention, therapy, encouragement and the right medication have helped him become this ... social kid..
So back to the park. One is on the swings, singing his little heart out. The other is with a group of kids.
I go over to my oldest who is swinging and I am talking with him. There is a Mom with her 2yo daughter next to him. The little girl is adorable and oblivious to my son. I look at her and smile. I say to her Mom, "she is so stinkin' cute!!" Her Mom takes one step away from my son and stares straight ahead, not saying a word to me. Immediately I get that feeling in the pit of my stomach that is becoming more and more familiar to me lately. I give her the benefit of the doubt and I spray paint the painful smile on my face, looking at her typical child. She is now (the little one) smiling at me. It's easy to smile back. "How old are you?" I ask. She mumbles something and I giggle. I try to strike up a conversation with her Mom to be polite. Her Mom blatantly looks at my son up and down as he sings his song backwards and wrenches his head up to the sky; with a very disgusted look on her face. She rolls her eyes then crosses her arms over her chest and tells her daughter they are done swinging.
I am in tears, I am so angry. And yes, I am so hurt for him. Will it be the next time that a child or an adult do this directly to him? When will that layer of understanding be brought to the surface and my rascal understand fully, what just transpired? When will that one disgusted look, that comment, that one horrible name bounce off his heart and change him... and I'm not there ....
My younger rascal, in the midst of playing with his group of friends attached himself to the biggest kid of the bunch. He wasn't the oldest but looked to have grown quicker than the rest. Much like himself. The one thing about my younger son (ha! I love writing that because he's younger by 2 minutes!!) is that he's very good at presenting like a typical kid at first glance. He is learning to mimic very well. He's with neurotypical kids most of the day. His sense of humor is really quite amazing. He is profoundly sensitive and in tune. He's thoughtful and able to act on those emotions appropriately. When compared to his brother, he "looks" much higher functioning. To professionals he is obviously autistic but to others not so much, at least at first. However, he can only mimic so much and for so long. I was standing near him for awhile, observing his interactions. He stays quiet around other kids and doesn't talk. He watches. He runs around and chases them. He plays tag, that sort of thing. He's very proud of his interaction --- and he should be!
This bigger kid got everyone together to figure out who was going to be "it" and then they were going to hide and the game would continue. My youngest followed him and became his shadow. While observing this process, my son had no idea what was going on. Then my oldest wanted to play and he ran up and threw himself in the middle of it all. Two girls were very sweet to him and were trying to explain what was going on, which was just too much for him. The boys ignored him. My oldest kept repeating "I want to play". I tried rallying him to sit so he could play but he gave up and ran back to the swings by himself. Which made me sad.
Someone was "it" and as everyone fled, knowing the next step, my youngest looked panicked. He had no idea what to do next. All the rules had been laid out but because of his processing disorders he couldn't grasp any of them. So, he shadowed the bigger kid. He was smiling as he chased him. :-) I heard the boy say, "Kid, why are you following me?" My youngest just laughed! And the kid just shrugged and that was that. He let my son tag a long. I thanked God profusely in my words, my heart and with the tears in my eyes.
That innocence won't continue, though. That layer of understanding for me was torn away that day. My youngest and I have these soulful talks and have for a couple of years actually. At least once a day he engages me and will say, "Mama can we talk?" We talk about everything serious to ridiculous and we both love it. When he was about 4 yo he asked me why his older twin wouldn't play with him or look him in the eye. I told him that their brains were made a little different and that God didn't make mistakes. So, how his brother's brain was made -- to not like tags like him, to only like foods that were cold like him, and to not look him in the eye like it was hard for him to do, is how God made the both of them and God did that on purpose because they were made perfectly, just how God wanted with all kinds of special gifts. We problem solved that day on how to get his brother's attention when he didn't respond to questions. It helped. We all do that together. We all need it.
He is aware of the difference he and his brother have. He tells me when kids are mean to him and his brother. When he plays "guys" (action figures) with his Daddy, he's always the bad guy beating up others. In reality he is Mr. Follow the Rules. It's a safe way for him to break out of that and to get that aggression out in a socially acceptable way where he won't get into trouble. He sees how other kids are treated who are "different" and it makes him very angry. We don't use the word "difference" in our house usually. We say that God makes us all different from one another and how cool that is because who wants the same --- BORING!!
I try not to spend much time in my "future" thoughts of what I know will happen, what is inevitable. I need to stay in the present with them but when the present includes a Mother who is wretched to my child and she is teaching her child intolerance and hate, those "future" fears become an instant reality.
I was talking to a friend about this and was reminded of something: although there will be many of those mothers, plenty of kids who will be like those mothers on the playground in my rascal's future, there will also be many of those little girls who reached out to my oldest when he wanted to play. Those little girls immediately stopped being involved in their part of the game to include him. They immediately started engaging him and including him. My friend pointed this out and I have spent the better part of last night and this morning thinking about that. So today, my heart is in a much better place.
As always, still searching...