I am thrilled to have Kate from The Big Piece of Cake as a guest on my blog today. I can’t even tell you when or how I found Kate’s blog. I just know that when I did I subscribed immediately. I was hooked by her humor, heart, and honesty. I was hooked by her. If you aren’t reading her blog yet you should…you really should. While we haven’t officially met, Kate and I have become friends. What you are about to read is one of my favorite posts. It’s beautiful and heartwarming and makes me think. And that is Kate. I can’t wait to finally meet her in NYC this summer. It’s going to be epic!
Oh, and I’m over at her blog today where she posted one of her favorites from Fancy Feet! Pulled from the archives it’s called Summer and you can read it at The Big Piece of Cake.
Here is Kate’s post…
A few weeks ago when we were at the beach, my mother in law and I packed up the kids to visit one of my friends at her nearby house. She and her sister were staying there with their five children, four of whom were boys.
Once we all found each other, we spent most of our time by the water. We stood sentry watching all of our boys hurl themselves into the surf. And we counted heads in the foam while trying to hold a conversation between exclamations of “don’t throw sand!” and “that’s too far, come back here!”
My boy was right in the middle of this. This sensory overload of wind and water and squishy, grainy sand between his toes. He was in his element – in the elements. He needs to feel things and he needs to immerse himself in the moment without inhibitions. And what better place than the beach?
He also loved being in the middle of all of those boys. They were his people. They understood the joy of throwing wet sand in the air just to feel it splatter all around them. They wanted nothing more than to live in that moment with the waves crashing around them, drowning out the sound of their screams of laughter. They were just like him.
In that moment.
But only in that moment.
They called to each other and knew when to push and when to pull. They knew when to stop and when to start again (obviously when mom was looking the other way). They understood the rules of the game. They both made and discussed the rules. In bits and pieces of course – but still, they communicated. Communication came easily to them.
Communication does not come easily to my boy. He doesn’t know when to stop. He doesn’t know when pushing isn’t welcome. He doesn’t know the rules. He doesn’t know how to join. He wants so much to join – to play. But he doesn’t know how. So he just watched.
And I watched him from behind my sunglasses, happy to see him having fun even if it seemed a little lonely. Happy that he couldn’t see the tears welling in my eyes. Happy that my friend couldn’t see the tears either and only heard me talking about doctors and school and how well he’s doing. Because that’s really all I want anyone to see.
When I was a teenager, all of my friends wore sunglasses. but I never did. I didn’t like them. They gave me “raccoon eyes” in the summer and felt out of place with my coats and hats in the winter. Not to mention the fact that they never did look good on me. Back then it was always about how I looked.
Now I’m the one doing the looking. I don’t care as much about how I look. Sunglasses will never compliment my face with its long, slightly crooked nose – but I need them to see my children through the glare. I need them to see the road when I’m driving on a sunny day. I need them to be responsible. So I wear them. And I’ve found that they are pretty useful. They allow me to be the observer and they can hide what I don’t want people to see.
I also wear my sunglasses at the neighborhood pool where I take my children most late afternoons. After the twins wake up from their nap, I load up all of our towels and waters and changes of clothes and snacks and push the double stroller uphill, calling for Oliver to wait for me at the corner. Which he always does – but I ask him to anyway, just in case.
When we arrive, we head straight for the baby pool. At two, the twins are still too little to stand in the shallow end of the big pool like their four year old brother. This suits me just fine since Oliver is still young enough to be satisfied with the baby pool and I can sit with a magazine while they play. Or at least I can for a few minutes at a time, since I frequently have to administer warnings and time outs for bad behavior.
One thing I like about this time of day is that the pool tends to be rather deserted. More accomplished mothers are thinking about cooking family dinners at 5 p.m. My children will only eat kid food and my husband and I don’t usually have formal meals together due to all of the corralling required before their late, but “works best for them” bedtime between 8:30 and 9:00 p.m. When no other families are at the pool, only our own rules apply.
If Oliver is splashing, I can ignore it. That is, as long as his siblings don’t mind. And they often join in. If Oliver is being too rough and pushing them as part of some inexplicable game of his, I can just watch and see how it goes. I don’t need to stand or look alert as a show for the other parents. I can see just fine from my shady seat. My sunglasses cut the glare. Everything is crystal clear and I know exactly when to step in and when to let them work it out.
But more often than not we arrive at the tail end of another family’s pool time. And I have to stand and administer twice as many time outs as I would if we were alone. I have to find ways to tell the other mothers that Oliver has a hard time knowing when to stop. In Oliver’s mind, if another child seems to like being splashed at from across the pool, why wouldn’t they like it at closer range? And at that point, why not cut out the middle man and just shove them back into the water? Sounds fun to him!
So I can spend an hour having the same one-sided conversation with him over and over. Telling him to stop. Asking him to be gentle. Pleading with him to listen.
He wants to comply. I know he does. He wants to please me and he wants to please these desired friends (he has the makings of “a pleaser” – something else that worries me – but that’s another concern for another day). He wants to get it right. He just doesn’t know how.
I always keep my sunglasses on when we’re at the pool.
The other day, a few kids a year or two older than Oliver were in the baby pool during adult swim (everyone seems to call it “break” now – is “adult swim” no longer PC or something?) Anyway – they were being rowdy and Oliver was thrilled. They were pulling out the hose that was supposed to be filling the pool with more water. They were spraying each other with it and splashing and eventually ran to get their water guns.
As they stood there spraying each other and yelling unintelligible things about Star Wars, a movie that I doubt any of them has actually seen, Oliver decided to join in.
It didn’t work. He didn’t know the rules.
He splashed around in the middle of them when no one was splashing. They asked him to stop, but he didn’t understand. If they were shooting water at each other, then why wouldn’t splashing be allowed? A younger sister in the group, exactly Oliver’s age, explained, “we’re playing Star Wars now – you can play Star Wars too, but you can’t play with us if you keep splashing.”
So of course I had to intervene.
At this point, I didn’t think I had ever said, heard and thought the word “splash” so many times within the space of five minutes. It had completely lost all meaning and was just a rude noise that made me feel decidedly uncomfortable. It was an expletive. A swear word. I wanted it to not exist anymore. I was done with it.
But Oliver wasn’t. He didn’t understand, and I had to pull him aside. No time out though. How could I when he had only the best of intentions? Instead I offered to drag him around the other side of the pool. Something he loves and I hate. He loves the feeling of the water rushing all around him from head to toe. I hate the feeling of hunching over to pull a 60 lb. four year old from one end of the baby pool to the other.
Meanwhile Star Wars continued, Oliver still didn’t understand what was wrong with “splashing” (excuse my French) and I hid behind my sunglasses.
And I made plans.
Apparently shooting water at each other is generally okay at the pool. Or if it isn’t, it’s not unusual for kids to not know when to stop. Quite simply – it’s not weird.
So while I pulled Oliver around the pool, I made plans to take the kids gun shopping the next day. We didn’t own any water guns, but we would soon own an arsenal.
Oliver could learn to shoot a water gun. And the next time there was a game of Star Wars at the pool, we’d be ready. You don’t need to have good communication skills to play shooting games.
I never thought I’d like sunglasses. And I never thought I’d encourage my children to play with toy guns. But I guess I never thought I’d be doing a lot of things.
I have a friend who also has a son with special needs. His are very different from Oliver’s but there are so many parallels to our lives… I love this girl. She speaks my language. The language of mother grief. Of future worry. She worries that her son will wear all black and write dark poetry about death and Japanese anime. I worry that Oliver will be Tommy Boy. We have to laugh. It’s necessary – and we both understand this.
It’s nice to be understood. And that’s probably what most breaks my heart about Oliver. No one really understands him. So I’ll give him a water gun if that helps. And I’ll laugh, and I’ll hope. And I’ll always wear my sunglasses. Just in case.