Monday, June 22, 2020

An Open Letter To Everyone Else's Mom

On this wild parenting journey, I'm all for us parents, and especially us moms, sticking together. I'm also all for staying in your own parenting lane and respecting that we all parent differently. However, there is one woman whose parenting I have to question. I've never met her, but my eleven-year-old son has a lot to say about her. I have a giant bone to pick with her. I usually find open letters kind of melodramatic, no offence to their writers, but I feel like I can't let this go any longer. So, here it goes.

Dear EveryoneElse's Mom,

We don't know each other. I'm not sure what you look like or if I've spotted you in the school drop off lane. Probably not, since I'm usually skating in just under the bell while you're always early. Or so I've heard. I've heard a lot about you, actually. My eleven-year old loves to sing your praises, and I've  gotta say, EveryoneElse's mom, you're wreaking it for the rest of us.

I tell my son to empty the dishwasher and take the garbage out before playing with his friends online, and what does he tell me?

*Dramatic tween sigh. "EveryoneElse'sMom lets them play on the computer without doing chores. In fact EveryoneElse'sMom doesn't even make their kids do any chores at all."

Oh, and about the computer, according to A, you  don't implement any screen time limits. Not only that, you let your kids stay up until 2 A.M. playing video games. Oh, but that's not all. A. tells me that EveryoneElse'sMom gives them a cell phone.

Listen, EveryoneElse's mom, this is your business, okay? I'm just really sick of hearing from my son how great you are, how you are so much less strict than myself, and how you don't have so many rules. You let your kids watch whatever they want on YouTube, you dole out limitless snacks, and you always say yes to playdates no matter how tired you are. You're the perfect mom, aren't you?

Apparently, your child, EveryoneElse, gets more allowance than my kids. You're call, EveryoneElse's mom. But, your making me look bad.

I wonder about you late at night when insomnia comes to call. Then I start comparing myself to you. I think to myself, EveryoneElse's mom keeps their house clean, works out everyday, and still has sufficient time to spend with their children. EveryoneElse's mom follows through with summer learning, weaving fun through lesson plans so her children hardly know they're working. 

EveryoneElse's mom, you cook breakfast, lunch, and dinner from scratch seven days a week, don't you? You serve fruit and veggies with every meal, and your kids eat them. In fact, I bet your entire family eats the same meal. You have infinite patience. You never yell. You save all of your kids' school papers and keep them organized in a chronological filing system. You're always put together. The floor of your mini van is visible. You have a group of equally polished mom friends and you maintain a social life and self-care regimen without taking any time away from your children.

Look, EveryoneElse's Mom, the truth is I wish I could be more like you. I compare myself to you. I wonder how you do it. How you make it look so easy. I just wish sometimes you could be a little bit more like NooneElse's mom.

I've heard a lot about her, too. Apparently, NooneElse's mom makes them do so many chores around the house. NooneElse's mom nags them every day to clean their room. I mean, maybe if he'd just do it, she wouldn't have to keep reminding him to transfer his 87 cups from his dresser to the kitchen sink, or even better, the dishwasher. I feel you, sister.

NooneElse's mom is late frequently. Her house is messy. She makes her children read every day. Except on the days when she just can't have one more argument. NooneElse's mom serves too much mac and cheese. NooneElse's mom limits screen time. Except for the days when she's struggling with depression and can't even with her kids. On those days, she wallows in guilt while her kids slay zombies in Minecraft.

NoonElse's mom keeps a running list of parenting mistakes in her head. She can rattle them off for you, but she avoids focusing on her successes. Her kids have meltdowns in public. NooneElse's mom sweats her way through grocery shopping and still forgets several items. NooneElse's mom is late more often than she's on time. She forgets to return important papers to school. She makes her kids write thank you cards but then forgets to send them. NoneElse's mom lets her laundry pile up. Her house is well lived-in. She'd do anything for her kids, but sometimes she puts headphones in so she can escape. NooneElse's mom hides from her kids. NooneElse's mom gets weary of playing cars. NooneElse's mom has days when she yells too often. NooneElse's mom loses her patience. NooneElse's mom needs a break.

I mean, that's a lady I can relate to. Some days, I'm like you, EveryoneElse's mom. Some days I have make up on, I schedule appointments and keep them, and I spend endless hours engaged in creative play. Sometimes, like you, I let my kids have too much screen time.

Other days, I'm more like NononeElse's mom. But most days? Most days I'm somewhere in between. The point I've reached, EveryoneElse's mom, is that I'm going to stop comparing myself to you, even when my kids do it. I'm not EeryoneElse's mom, I'm their mom, and that's good enough.

Sincerely,

Good Enough Mom

Saturday, April 4, 2020

Are You Social Distancing "Correctly'?

 Apparently, some discrepancies have been floating around on social media. I know, who would've expected such a thing. Questions and even arguments (again, on social media?!) abound on the correct way to social distance. Most of us can agree on the basics. Wash your hands. Don't leave your house except for essentials. Work from home if you can. Keep six feet of distance. These are the rules. But, beyond that, how do you now if your getting an A in social distancing? Don't worry, here at Killing June Cleaver, we've got you covered. Here are the top ways you know you're social distancing correctly.

1. You're husband went to the grocery store and when he walks in you scream, "Do not set those bags down!" as you run at him with disinfecting wipes. You then yell at him to strip off his clothes. He thinks you're being suggestive. You're not. AT ALL.

2. Yesterday, you had an entire conversation with Alexa. You felt bonded to her, until you guys had a big argument this morning. You tried giving her the silent treatment, but only lasted three minutes. Now you two are back on speaking terms.

3. You saw a spider and instead of screaming and killing it, you tried to make friends with it.

4. You find yourself staring out the window for long periods of time, like a dog.

5. Speaking of dogs, your dogs have now become the main part of your social network. Fine. That was always the case.

6. You have clinked glasses and given virtual hugs over Zoom or video chat. You washed your hands afterwards.

7. You've hidden in the bathroom, the bedroom, the closet, and the garage to get a moment away.

8. Your son has developed an unhealthy, codependent, love-hate relationship with the Xbox.

9. Your kids are training for a career in WWF cage fighting.

10. You are obsessed with Tiger King. You find yourself asking your husband, "Do you think Carol fed her husband to the tigers?"

11. You saw your neighbor walking the dog on the other side of the street and you waved longingly.

12. You wonder if Target thinks you broke up with it.

13. You say some combination of the following multiple times a day: "We're stuck in this house together and we WILL make the best of it!" "Stop fighting!" "Turn off the Xbox!" "I'm throwing the Xbox outside!" "I need a minute. Can you give me a minute? ONE MINUTE!"

14. You go through phases of obsessively cleaning and throwing up your hands.

15. You're keeping up on laundry for the first time in... ever.

16. Your April calender consists of a series of X's.

17. A phone scammer called and you asked him all about his wife, his kids, his pets, and how he likes his life as a phone scammer. You wouldn't let him get off the phone. Then you realized it was a recording.

18. E learning is making you pull your hair out.

19. If you hear the words, "I'm bored" one more time you are going run out into the street... no wait... driveway screaming.

20. You've made a recording of yourself saying, "No, you can't see your friends. We're social distancing." You play it on repeat.


If you can relate to any of the above, congratulations! You're social distancing correctly, no matter what Cheryl from the internet says. Please add your own social distancing habits in the comments.


Monday, March 30, 2020

The Voice of Reason Sneak Peak II


Amy stared at him. Everything froze. The air evaporated. “Are you honestly telling me to have your brother locked up in a mental ward?” She shivered.

“No.” Jason took her small hands in his large, calloused ones and squeezed gently. “I’m asking you, begging you as his brother to have him locked up. Right now, it’s the only way to save him.” He dragged a sleeve across his eyes.

Amy turned away from him and cracked Josh’s door open. He remained at the window muttering to himself, or to someone created by his mind.

There in the cold hospital hallway Amy Everett knew a heart could literally shatter, because hers did. “I swear to you,” she whispered, “I’ll find a way to bring you back to me.”

Straightening her spine, she eased the door shut and turned back to Jason. She nodded, not trusting her voice. Somehow, she had to wait to break down. She’d need her strength when she told Caleb Daddy couldn’t come home after all. It was her turn to be the strong one, no matter how impossible.

Jason took her hand and led her back to Dr Jefferson’s office. They didn’t speak. There was nothing more to say. Amy raised her hand to knock but it was shaking too badly. Jason rapped on the door with his free hand.

“Enter.” Dr Jefferson looked up from whatever he was writing, an unmistakable shadow passing over his face.

“Okay,” Amy said. “I’ll do it. I’ll sign Josh into the . . . into the mental ward. Please help him.”

She sank into the chair facing the desk before her legs gave out. Jason sat next to her. His hand made circles on her back. She wished he’d stop. It was taking everything she had not to dissolve into a heaping pile of sobs.

Dr Jefferson’s face softened. “You’re doing the right thing. We’ll take good care of him.” He pushed his chair back to a beige filing cabinet against the back wall and fumbled with his key ring. Everything was locked up. They might as well lock her up too. She didn’t want to go back out into the world without Josh.

But she had to think of Caleb. How would she stay together for him? How could they survive without their family’s foundation? Josh was the one who made her world make sense. If his world didn’t make sense, hers didn’t either.

“Can I still come and see him?”

Dr Jefferson pulled out a thick file folder. “Yes, of course. This isn’t a prison, Amy.”

Prison.

The doctor slid a pen and paper across the desk to her.

The words “involuntary commitment” blurred as tears, just as involuntary, filled her eyes and dripped onto the paper. Amy picked up the pen and scrawled her signature.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

The Voice of Reason Sneak Peak


Chapter 1


June 25, 1979



J

osh Everett was twenty-one years old the first time the voices spoke to him.

That ordinary summer morning, he ran a comb through his shaggy, almost shoulder-length black hair as he checked his reflection in the small bathroom mirror. Later, he’d wish he’d looked harder; stared into the pool of his own eyes, attempting to see straight into his brain. Maybe if he’d watched closely enough he would’ve seen it happen; something misfiring deep within the recesses of his brain, an almost imperceptible ripple in the calm waters, a subtle precursor to the storm.

He hurried downstairs toward the aroma of coffee floating up to greet him. At the threshold of the tiny kitchen, he paused to take in the scene. Amy stood at the stove with her back to him. His wife’s long brown hair was secured behind her in a messy ponytail and one of his t-shirts almost swallowed her small frame.  He watched her  frying eggs, humming along with the sizzling of the oil in the pan. She scooped an egg onto a plate with a pancake and turned to slide it onto Caleb’s highchair tray. The baby pounded the tray with squeals of excitement, his thick dark curls bouncing on his head. At one and a half he still hadn’t uttered a discernable word, but he was always making noise and smiling.

Amy caught sight of Josh and broke into a grin. She made him feel ten feet tall just by the way she lit up when he entered a room. “Good morning, handsome,” she said. “Have a seat. I hope Mrs Crofsky’s hens next door keep the eggs coming.”

Instead, he walked up to her and snaked his arms around her from behind, kissing her slender neck.

She gasped. “Stop that! You’ll make me burn the eggs. I’m trying to actually cook them right this time.”

“It’d be worth it.” He inhaled her strawberry scent before turning to greet his son, bending down to his level and ruffling his hair. “Morning, Caleb. High five.” Josh held up his large hand. Caleb giggled and instead reached up with a sticky hand to tug Josh’s hair.

“Oww.” Josh pulled back making Caleb giggle harder. The baby lifted a piece of pancake as a peace offering and Josh bent his head and let him feed it to him. “Mmm,” he said wiggling his eyebrows in exaggeration. “Mama’s such a good cook it tastes delicious even with slobber on it.”

Amy laughed and swatted him with a dish towel. “Sit down and you’ll get your own. Slobber free.”

Taking a seat at the narrow breakfast bar next to Caleb’s highchair, he ran his hand over the distressed wood that he’d constructed with his own hands.

“Smells great,” he told Amy as he picked up the knife and fork and began meticulously cutting his meal. Amy always laughed at his quirk of cutting up all his food before he ate it.

“It’s like you’ve been practicing for fatherhood your whole life,” she’d tell him, and as silly as it was, he liked the thought that somewhere in his subconscious he’d spent his life getting ready for Caleb. He poked one of the egg yolks, letting the yellow bleed across the red plate. Then it happened. A low, unfamiliar voice spoke.


Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Mental Health and COVID-19

Where do I start? Words like "pandemic", "quarantine", and "social distancing" have become part of everyday language, especially within the last week. I'm not here to talk about statistics, lecture you about staying inside, or discuss the physical symptoms of the coronavirus ad nauseum - not because it's not a big deal, but because literally everyone is talking about it. The conversations are important - and overwhelming.

We live in a world where we're one scroll a way from scary headlines and latest news. On the upside, it's never been easier to stay informed and connected. The downside is wide spread - yet understandable - fixation. As a parent of a kiddo on the spectrum, I know fixation, though somewhat inevitable, is not healthy. So am I saying we should hide our heads in the sand and avoid what's going on? No, it's essential to be informed, especially where health and safety are concerned. But now that we're all stuck inside with exponentially inflating numbers buzzing around our heads like flies and every phone conversation circling back to one topic, let's not forget mental health. It's okay to extend social distancing to social media and to limit how much you allow into your brain. It's okay to take a break, read a book, focus on your work, and talk about literally anything else. It doesn't mean your not taking this seriously. Sometimes social media makes us feel guilty for disconnecting. I have to constantly remind myself not to take the bait - for my own sanity.

This pandemic is affecting all of us in some way - those in vulnerable groups the most. But it's not just affecting us physically. No matter who you are, you're likely experiencing isolation, cabin fever, anxiety, and disruption in your normal routine. This is an adjustment for anyone. For those with underlying mental health conditions, current circumstances exacerbate already pervasive struggles. Anxiety sufferers, particularly those with germ-focused phobia, must deal with increased worry over getting sick, getting someone else sick, or a vulnerable loved one. Again, we are all dealing with these very appropriate worries. But, already present anxiety is that much more amplified. Although, if you prefer to be at home like me, certain anxieties (social) may actually be alleviated. On the other hand, if you're a small business owner or otherwise out of work, you are likely faced with financial uncertainty, especially given that none of us know how long we're in for.

Social distancing equals social isolation, especially for individuals like my mom, who live alone. Social isolation is depression's best friend. If you don't suffer from depression, this is a time to watch for it in yourself and those around you. Especially check in on those who live alone. Signs like lack of motivation, sleeping ore than usual, changes in appetite, and irritability (especially in children) can all be warning signs of depression. If you're a fellow depression warrior, now is the time to take extra care of yourself. If you rely on a routine that has been subsequently interrupted, create a new or modified routine. It might sound simple, but getting up and dressed and showered even when you won't be stepping foot outside your door may help retain some normalcy. While it's healthy to distance from social media, it's also important to keep connected. I've done this by participating in the live streaming of my church services, spending time coming up with new activities to do with my kids, enjoying rare moments to talk with my husband with fewer distractions (sports, a long commute to and from the office), and maintaining regular phone contact with my mom.

This isn't the time to put extra pressure on yourself. If you have a family and even if you don't extra chores will be created y people being home all day using dishes, taking things out, etcetera. If you have restless kids at home like I do, you may see an entirely new level of clutter. My ten year old was recently looking for his GoPro charger. He asked me where it was. I can't even keep track of my own stuff, so I told him to look in his room. Apparently, this ultimately fruitless search necessitated taking every book off his shelf and leaving it stranded on the floor. Well, at least he can keep himself busy cleaning his room. Spoiler alert: hasn't happened yet.

I got some great advice from my son's therapist. She encouraged me to avoid putting too much pressure on academics, instead focusing on mental health right now. I feel like this is good advice anyway, but with a first grader on the autism spectrum, I have to check my expectations. Though my older son is used to homeschooling, E is used to the structured environment of school. His day to day has changed - not ideal for someone on the spectrum. Fortunately, we have access to e learning and his teacher and aids have been great about filling his virtual subject folders. I've been employing the use of our visual schedule to intersperse school with free time, but I have to remember not to push it. In general, we all have this fear of falling behind. Maybe we can put that aside for now. Maybe we can take a lesson from all the chaos and learn to slow down, prioritizing our health and well-being. Now is not the time to introduce new material or stress about extra screen time.

As we navigate this new, uncertain terrain, we are inundated with reminders to practice proper hygiene and safeguard our physical health. let's remind ourselves to also focus on and safeguard our mental health too.

Please feel free to leave your own tips for mental healthcare, as well as ideas for helping those living alone feel connected, in the comments

Saturday, February 29, 2020

This Was Tough to Write...


I haven't posted a blog in a long time! It's been a busy year for both Kathleen and me as we navigate this new territory in our writing life. Last July I published my first novel, Shoes on the Stairs, centered around a mother's love for her family even after her death. This story was a labor of love as I wrote about my own insecurities as a mother, questioning if how I am raising my children will ultimately screw them up later in their life. 

Reality shows abound with adults who, because of their troubled childhood, have resorted to self-destruction in the way of drugs, alcohol, obesity, hoarding or prison time. How does someone get to be 600+ pounds? How does someone live in piles and piles of filth? Why does someone turn to drugs or alcohol or commit a crime that puts them behind bars? More than likely, it's due to a trauma in their life, especially during a time when they were most vulnerable. Not all trauma that leads to these behaviors happens during childhood, but that is when humans are the most vulnerable and the least capable of processing harmful events.

As parents, it's our responsibility to protect our children. I would take a bullet for my children without any hesitation; I would do anything to ensure their safety. But what if there is an unknown threat you never see? It's right in front of your face, but it's disguised as someone you trust, someone you would never consider to be a threat to your child. What then? And when you find out what that friend did to your child for years, there is nothing you can do to change the damage that has been done. Your child, the one you protected with your life, is now swimming in a tumultuous sea, her head bobbing under the water, disappearing for long, agonizing moments before coming to the surface, sucking in a breath and going under again. Each day I pray that she keeps fighting the white-tipped swells, that she continues to return to the top, that she continues to swim no matter how tired she is, no matter how hard the fight is. "We are fighters," I tell her. "Things will get better, the waters will calm." 

But what cuts me to the core is that I can't save her--she must save herself. No matter how hard I try to get close to her, to pull her out of the water, my arms can't reach. All I can do is sit in my tiny boat and watch in complete terror, afraid that if I move one muscle I will create a wave that will push her under for good. The fear and helplessness are isolating, and at times, unbearable. "God, take me, save her."

I know more than I ever wanted to about the effects of trauma, about sexual abuse, in children (by children), about 5150s, suicide hotlines, CPS (Child Protective Services), PHPs (Partial Hospitalization Programs), IOPs (Intensive Outpatient Program), antidepressants, mood stabilizers, Neurofeedback, individual, family and group therapy. My days are spent driving my daughter from one therapy to the next, picking her up from school because she can't stop crying, getting an IEP established because she's unable to function well in school, hiring a tutor to get her back on track and trying like hell to find something, someone, someplace, that makes her happy--even if it's only for an hour or two. 

So, while parents can be the ones to screw up their children, so can those who appear to be harmless, in fact, those are the ones you must keep your eye on. Don't let your guard down, don't assume that all your child's friendships are safe, even those of the same sex. Set rules, keep your child close, keep their door open. Never assume, just because you know someone or their parents, that the child is not capable of doing something unhealthy or uninvited to your child. Protect your child. 

With social media dictating and directing our children today, I fear who they will become as adults. There is too much pressure to be "liked" or accepted and while they think this allows them to be unique individuals, it's actually taking away their ability to think freely because to be "liked" is to conform to what everyone wants to see. As parents, we are losing our grasp on our children and our children are quickly losing their grasp on childhood. Sex and drugs, a time when more kids are questioning their sexuality than ever before at younger and younger ages, and a depleting sense of self-worth are plaguing our children. More children are taking antidepressants, seeing therapists and killing themselves than probably any other time in history. This is what we are up against as parents and there is no margin for error, there is no time to "drop the ball" or shrug our shoulders.  Instead, be the parent your child needs you to be, be vigilant, ask questions, and love them fiercely. Remember, we only get one chance to raise them, and we only get a short time to protect them.

Monday, February 3, 2020

What Is Social Anxiety?

Social anxiety is... Fear in anticipation of social events

Social anxiety is not.... Being a party pooper or a buzz kill

Social anxiety is..... Exhaustion, irritability, or headaches and a need for down time following social events.

Social anxiety is not..... A lack of desire for connection or a hatred for interaction with others

Social anxiety is.... Feeling overwhelmed in large groups and crowded areas. Feeling claustrophobic, unable to breathe, or panicked. Feeling an overwhelming need to escape.

Social anxiety is not.... Simple nervousness

Social anxiety is.... Automatically and involuntarily cringing when the phone rings due to feeling unprepared and fear of saying something awkward and filling awkward silences

Social anxiety is not..... Blowing you off

Social anxiety is.... Sometimes needing to cancel social events or leave early

Social anxiety is not..... Flakiness

Social anxiety is...... Not knowing how to start or end conversations

Social anxiety is not.... A lack of intelligence

Social anxiety is.... Over thinking everything you said, if you said the right things, and what people were thinking

Social anxiety is not.... Craziness (whatever that is!)

Social anxiety is.... Low tolerance for small talk but often a preference for deep conversation with a trusted person

Social anxiety is not.... Being stuck up or standoffish

Social anxiety is.... Insecurity making friends

Social anxiety is not.... A lack of desire for friendship (often those who take a little longer to get to know make the most loyal frriends

Social anxiety is.... Needing to set boundaries and limits to preserve energy and sanity

Social anxiety is not.... Antisocial or rude behavior

Social anxiety is.... A type of anxiety disorder

Social anxiety is not.... All in the sufferer's head/simple nervousness


Note: This post is based on my own personal experience with social anxiety. It is not meant to represent all those who deal with social anxiety or generalized anxiety. Each person is different and not everyone with social anxiety will relate to each point. However, if you can relate to any of the above, you are not alone or weird. Please feel free to add your own experiences in the comments. Be gentle with the friends who don't always show up or stay long, or those friends who prefer one on one interactions or small groups to big parties.

Thursday, January 30, 2020

To the Parents of the Classmates Who Didn't Give Up On My Son This School Year



Dear Parents,

           

In the daily grind of schedules and snow pants, I’ve neglected to acknowledge my appreciation for you and your family – namely, your sweet, amazing child. 

 Let’s start with you. Before I first dropped my child at your house for a playdate I informed you that my son lives with moderate autism. I hate having this conversation, not because I have any shame surrounding his diagnosis, but because it sounds like I’m giving a warning, when really I’m just highlighting what my son needs to be set up for success with peers, and potential pitfalls I can predict. But if I’m being honest, we didn’t really know each other. We were moms with kids the same age in the same class. We’ve come a long way when it comes to stigma, but the reality is, not everyone is comfortable with special needs. You seemed like a mom I could really get along with, but how could I be sure you wouldn’t have reservations about hosting a child with unique needs, with whom you were unfamiliar? If you had reservations, you didn’t show it. On the contrary, you put my mind at ease, assuring me you’d let me know if any snafus popped up. 


I appreciate your openness, acceptance. Parenting a child with unique needs is often isolating. It can feel a lot like living on an island. Finding someone willing to reach across the water is invaluable. There’s someone else I appreciate. Here’s to your child.

            
You see, my son transitioned (transition – a four letter word to many on the spectrum) from a special-needs preschool class to a mainstream kindergarten. His IEP team proved amazing, but we were nervous about how he’d relate to his peers. We had the same fears most parents face. Would he make a friend? Would he be lonely at recess? Would he get bullied? I remember relating to Julia Roberts’s character in the movie, Wonder, when she watches he son, Auggie walk into the school building and whispers, “Please God make the kids be nice to him”.

 Our concerns were amplified by E’s social anxiety and difficulty reading social cues and communicating verbally. Selective mutism was suggested, as E spoke to teachers and aides but tended to freeze with peers. This looks like flat affect, and a frozen, staring face. Often, he won’t respond when a peer says “hi” or asks to play. When he sees peers playing together, he wanders around them waiting for them to invite him to play. Despite role play, he struggles to verbalize his desire to be included. My biggest prayer wasn’t about reading or math. I prayed that God would send him a real friend to make his school days more comfortable.

           
God gave more than I asked. He gave E. your child. When we ask E. who he played with at recess, instead of hanging his head and saying “no one” like he did in the beginning, he mentions your child’s name with a grin. When E. struggles to transition back into the school week after a weekend or longer break, we remind him that he’ll reunite with your child. That helps. Your child gives him something to look forward to, someone to comfort him when he gets homesick.

Your child was okay with taking the lead, which my child needs. Your child not only asked mine to play, but they were undeterred when E. didn’t respond to their invitations and greetings. Instead of (understandably) running off and finding a more receptive playmate your child persisted, somehow recognizing that my son’s companionship was worth the extra effort. Your child kept asking, kept greeting, and kept inviting. 

I remember the ice cream social during the fall of first grade. E. clung to me, overwhelmed by the excited voices bouncing off the cement walls of the cafeteria and the lines of people. To be honest, I was a bit overwhelmed myself, though I didn’t show it. I saw you and your child. We all exchanged greetings. E. was overloaded and didn’t say “hi” to your child, even with prompting. He remained glued to me even when your kids asked him to come outside and play on the playground. E. tugged on me to go with him, but I was in line for his coveted ice cream ticket. Your kids ran outside.

Moments later, they were back. I watched in grateful amazement, as your child amended, “E., do you want to play with us?” to “Come on, E., let’s go play.” I watched your children gently but firmly take my child’s hand and lead him outside. By the time I made it outside the kids were chasing each other and rolling down the hill. E. was sweaty and laughing. He’d forgotten about me, and more amazingly, he’d forgotten about his ice cream melting in my hand. I’ve never been so happy to have sticky vanilla running down my wrist. That night I got to watch my son run and play with friends - no social worker, aide, or parent prompting him – just being a kid. This was possible because of my son’s bravery to venture away from his comfort zone, but the opportunity was offered, no, insisted upon by your children. We all chatted while our kids frolicked, and I got to be just one of the moms. I went home from that ice cream social with high spirits.

Your child is so much more than a playmate. Your child is the friend who encourages my son to raise his hand in class. Your child has made him comfortable asking for sensory and movement breaks, referring to these accommodations as cool privileges. Your child often accompanies mine on these breaks, and while I’m sure they enjoy the break from class too, they engage my child without asking why he’s given these breaks.  

When your child invites mine for playdates, he hesitates, not because he’s not excited to play, but because leaving his familiar environment and predictable afternoon brings its own challenges. Often he asks that your child come to our house instead. He always has fun at your house once he’s there, but your child is just as happy to roll with the punches and play at our home. On one of these playdates, we were having some work done in our basement, and our internet cable was accidentally cut. I was informed it would be two days before it could be repaired. In general, dusty, noisy home repairs and a cut internet cable equals first world inconvenience. For someone on the spectrum, an unexpected change on top of a noisy disruption in their safe environment is a potential recipe for a meltdown. This particular week, my son’s fixation is building a boat in Minecraft with his brother. Per our therapist’s recommendation, he gets this at the end of his day. When you’re looking forward to something and it doesn’t happen, you probably feel disappointed and maybe frustrated. To my child, unexpected disappointment can feel like the end of the world.

            
But it can look like a bratty temper tantrum to the outside observer. I get it, I do. I’m telling you this because on this day your child witnesses a full-blown screaming, crying, throwing the X-Box remote at the (already cracked) television screen, and falling on the floor. I won’t add a full dissertation on the difference between a tantrum and a meltdown but suffice it to say no seven-year-old CHOOSES to have a meltdown in front of a peer – especially a classmate. But here we were. While attempting to deescalate, I glanced over at your child lingering at the threshold of the family room with a pensive frown on their little face.


In that moment, I froze. I didn’t want your child to be scared, but I didn’t want to embarrass my child further by attempting to explain. Before I could decide how to handle the situation, your child came into the room, walked up to my child, and without missing a beat, said, “E., I’m sorry you don’t get to play Minecraft today. That’s sad.”

My mouth hung open. Without prompting and in the sweetest voice possible, your six-year-old did what I’ve personally witnessed countless educated adults fail to do in these situations – validate feelings and show empathy. Your child didn’t see a kid “too old to be acting like that” being a brat. Your child saw a friend and fellow human upset, and showed understanding without judging whether or not his reaction was too much. My child didn’t respond immediately, but ultimately your child coaxed him out of his fixation and into another activity. 


I’m rambling now, but this event made me think. As an advocate for my child, I feel the need to learn every single fact about autism, therapy, and how to diffuse meltdowns while also raising awareness to other people. I believe those stares and passive aggressive comments (always from adults) in public sprout from simple ignorance rather than cruelty. After all, autism is an invisible disability. However, I doubt your child knows or understands that my child is on the spectrum. They probably haven’t stayed up until 1:00 A.M. reading articles and scouring online support groups. They don’t have any letters after their name (yet). In this moment, none of that was needed. Good old-fashioned human empathy and validation did the trick. What would life be like if we all responded that way? Maybe the opposite of ignorance isn’t knowledge but compassion.


In my long-winded way, I’m circling back to you, parent. Your child learned empathy and compassion from somewhere. They learned inclusion and kindness. They learned that sometimes the most valuable friends are those you have to work a little harder to get to know. Maybe you’ve sat your child down and talked about differences. Maybe in the beginning of the school year you reminded your child to be kind to classmates and look for the kid keeping to themselves at recess. Either way, I can safely assume your child has learned the most from watching you.

            We don’t know each other well, dear parents, but we know our kids watch us even when we think they don’t, and they’re always absorbing like little sponges. When you approached the new, socially anxious mom hiding in plain sight in the farthest corner of the classroom, they were watching. When you offered a kind word to someone having a bad day, they were listening. When you responded with compassion instead of snapping back at the cranky barista, they noticed. So, thank you for modeling acceptance, understanding, and perseverance. Our kids are only in first grade. Chances are they’ll lose touch over the years. But your child will always be the reason my child didn’t play alone in first grade. Your child will always be the reason my child didn’t have to feel different. Chances are my child will remember these friendships and sense of belonging well into adulthood. I’m not saying this to be cheesy. As an adult, I can name every bully, but I can also describe in detail every classmate who showed kindness. 

Through their persistence, your child gained an invaluable friend. E. is the most loyal person you’ll meet. E. is a fun, silly, imaginative, and complaint playmate. Your child took the time to learn this. Thank you for sharing your child’s pure heart with our family.

           

With love,

A Fellow First-Grade Mom