David has a birthday party to go to on Saturday. A little boy down the block is turning four, and the invitation was handed to me at the bus stop a week or so ago. They've booked the party room at a local sports center owned by another neighbor of ours and the place is state-of-the-art. There are batting cages, pitching machines, a professionally trained staff and all in all, it'll be loads of fun.
Well, for most kids, anyway.
David will most likely spend the time rolling a ball back and forth on the ground, or running in circles. I might be able to get him to hold a bat, but odds are he won't try it. I'll be taking him myself, standing uncomfortably against a wall while all the other little boys and their Dads - and maybe a few Moms - pitch and hit and bat and battle and laugh and run and just be boys.
I didn't immediately tell my husband about the party. I was going to magically 'remember' about an hour before the party, and head out the door in a flurry. I reasoned that if I told him, he'd insist on going so I can stay home and rest (since I work third shift now), which is really sweet, but not what I want for him. I don't want him there. I don't want him watching all these little boys playing catch and swinging bats with their Dads while his little boy pushes a baseball bat along the floor making vacuum cleaner noises.
Not that he isn't proud of every little thing David has accomplished, mind you. He is, and fiercely. I just know him too well. After 23 years together, I can read the longing in his eyes when the kid across the street pulls out his miniature goal and hockey sticks and the neighborhood kids come streaming out to join him. I watch him watching the kids at the playground, playing tag, riding bikes and trying to pop wheelies, their voices ringing out as they try to verbally one-up each other as kids do.
Well, as most kids do. It's times like this when we are vividly reminded that David isn't as he should be. When he was younger, we had the luxury of turning a blind eye and remarking that "he's just not that kind of kid" or "he'll start doing that any day now". With each passing month and year, the gap between him and his peers widens, and the differences become glaringly obvious, even to other parents. And his difference has a name now. "He's not that kind of kid" because he's autistic. "He'll start doing that any day now" if we can just make the breakthrough he needs because he's autistic. Oh, no thanks, David won't need a turn in the batting cage. He doesn't really understand. Thanks anyway. No, we're fine. Thanks. Yes, he thinks everything is a vacuum cleaner. I've made the apologies hundreds of times, and they only sting a little now.
I have to admit that when the invitation came, I flirted with the idea of not accepting. We don't have many playdates anymore. David's friends have moved onto Power Rangers, Transformers, bikes without training wheels and swimming lessons. With typical child-like candor they screw their faces up and say "I don't understand him. What is he saying?" They become frustrated when they try to get him to play along with their train sets, loading and pushing trains and inventing scenarios while David turns the train over to watch the wheels spin and spin and spin.
Still, he wants to be near them. He wants - oh, so badly - to talk and to chase and to interact and to just plain be with them all, in whatever capacity he can. And he needs to be with them, needs the opportunity to crack open that window and breathe the air on the other side, instead of just glancing curiously through a frosted pane.
My husband found the invitation on Sunday, in a pile of old mail he was going through. I was still sleeping off the previous overnight work shift, and finally made my way downstairs to a quiet house. Where was everybody? I looked out in the back yard and saw my husband, his arms around my son, positioned in front of my daughter's Tee Ball stand and trying to show my son how to hit a ball off the tee with a plastic bat. David was trying to grab the tee stand, and even started to make the vacuum cleaner noise. I stood behind the curtain on the back doors and watched my husband again and again returning David's attention to the bat, the ball, and the tee stand. Then suddenly, after several dozen attempts, David took a swing. I couldn't help it, I yelled at the same time my husband did, flinging the door open and running into the yard.
"Did you see that?" my husband asked, panting and fairly radiating with excitement.
"Yes!! Oh my God, he tried to hit it!"
"I know! I know!"
We heard the vacuum noise and turned to see David, tee in hand, pushing it around the yard, the bat and ball forgotten.
"Oh well," said my husband. "Back to the drawing board."
He crouched down, turning David's face to force eye contact, as we were taught by his therapist to do.
"David? David, look at Daddy. David, want to hit the ball? Hit ball?"
"Hit ball." David tries to look away again.
"No, look at Daddy. Let's try to hit the ball, okay Bubby?"
"Hit ball." And with that, David picked up the bat, clubbing the ball as it lay in the grass.
"Well, at least he's hitting it, right?" My husband said, over his shoulder.
He took the ball, putting it on the tee. David moved into the circle of his arms, ready to try again. Ready to try what I probably wouldn't have pushed him to try.
This is exactly why he needs a father.
I watched my husband, who normally has the patience of a toddler denied a naptime and realize that this is exactly why he needed a boy like David. He's not the son he asked for, not the boy with the scar on his chin from going over the handle bars on his bike after jumping over the big rock, not the boy who came home soaked from falling in the creek acting on a dare from a buddy, not the kid with the Transformers, or the net and the hockey sticks.
Instead he's the boy who takes thirty tries to even pick up the bat, the one who jumps up and down for joy when he says "helicopter" for the first time and you act surprised. He's a dozen little, tiny, incredibly important breakthroughs every day and a constant reminder that pushing yourself is the only way to make things happen.
On Saturday, my husband will take David to his party. He'll laugh and joke with the other Dads, then wrap his arms around David and spend half his time keeping him from turning the bat into a vacuum and the other half his time keeping him from doing bodily injury with a bat. It'll be frustrating, and a little bittersweet, but it's what they both need.
My boys. Oh, how I love them both.
I'll be sitting at home with Anna, and maybe we'll read some Shel Silverstein:
Listen to the mustn'ts, child.
Listen to the don'ts.
Listen to the shouldn'ts, the impossibles, the won'ts.
Listen to the never haves, then listen close to me...
Anything can happen, child.
Anything can be.*
"Listen to the Mustn't's © Shel Silverstein
|Ellie DeLano is best known for her contributions to Woman's Day Magazine and Moms Magazine and for her blog SingleMomtism, where she chronicles the ups and downs of parenting a child with autism. Her journey with her son David has been one of joy, patience and discovery - one that changed the very framework in which she used to view autism. Through David's eyes, she's learned that an autism diagnosis isn't the end of the world - it's just the beginning of an interesting new one. "David And Me Under The Sea" is available at Amazon.com for Kindle and on Smashwords.com for all e-reading devices.|