Complicated


My family went to the park today with my friend and her two kids. We had a picnic, we played basketball, we rode scooters and bikes, and we played. (Well, some of us did. Some of us just had a picnic.)

It was fantastic. It was a tremendous amount of fun. But there was a point when I started to watch Jack and I got sad. And I’ve been trying to figure out why.

Jack was completely happy at the park—or at least he seemed to be. He ate some food then he found the horseshoe pit and played in the sand for an extremely long time. Then he moved to a different sand pit. Then he transported handfuls of sand from the second sand pit to the basketball court.

At the same time, the other four kids were running, chasing, playing, talking, laughing, and making friends.

And Jack laid in the sandpit and poured sand through his hands.

Later, when he wanted company, he found me and insisted on running through a script of a story that he likes. He would say his part and then he would tell me my line, insisting that I recite it exactly. He refused to do much more than look at any other people. While everyone else was running around wildly and yelling to each other, he was enthusiastically pantomiming a piano performance for me. I don’t know that he spoke a word to anyone other than me. And maybe a little bit to Alex.

Why was I so sad while I was watching him?

Is he happy? He seems happy. He doesn’t seem to notice that he is different. He doesn’t seem to notice that he is alone. He doesn’t seem to care.

But I was quiet and lonely as a child. And I would go out of my way to pretend not to care, when I desperately wanted to have friends. I know that Jack is always thinking and processing and deciding and I don’t want him to have to hide his desire to have friends, knowing it is easier to act aloof than it is to scale the wall of interaction.

He is so obviously different from all the other kids. His silence, his gestures, his behavior—all of it sets him apart. Do I care? No, I really don’t. I love the way Jack sees the world. I love that he is such a sweet little soul. I love that he was born into a family that is going to let him grow up to be him.

Then again, I do want him to learn how to interact with other children and adults. I want him to be successful in the world. And I know that success doesn’t hinge on his playing basketball with other kids at the playground today, but it would be encouraging to see some interaction. Today there was zero.

While climbing on the play equipment, he is entirely oblivious to other children, seeing them only as obstacles to move around. His refusal (or inability?) to see that he is upsetting other children by not waiting his turn, or by trying to climb over them instead of waiting for them to move so there is room to go next, can be hard to watch.

And I could have stepped in to facilitate some play with the other kids. But everybody else was moving so fast, while he was moving at his slow and steady pace. I know how hard it is to facilitate interactive play when it is just me, Jack, and another kid at our house. It seemed insurmountably difficult to do so in this situation.

Plus, Jack clearly is so dependent on me already. Ask him who he loves; he says he loves me. Ask him who I love; he says I love him. I think I was the only person Jack saw at that park. Sam wanted to play with him at some point. He tried to call out to Jack, but Jack ignored Sam completely, because he was so set on the script he was playing out. Sam even asked me, “Who is Jack now?” And when I told him that Jack was being Frog, Sam tried to get Jack’s attention by calling out for Frog. But it wasn’t in Jack’s script. So Jack didn’t pay attention.

I do a lot of telling myself that age will help Jack immensely. It’s hard to be a little kid, even without extra challenges. Jack will be six next month. When will all his hard work start to make a difference? Will all his hard work make a difference?

It is just all so complicated. He is a complicated child. And my feelings about him are so complicated as well.

In my life, all I want is for him to be happy. I want him to be happy now and I want him to be happy in a month and in a year and in ten years and when he is 56 and when he 98. I want him to be happy.

And it makes me sad when I see things that will be obstacles to that happiness. Maybe he isn’t like I was. Maybe he’s not hiding behind a mask of aloofness. But I’m so afraid that even if he’s happy now, he won’t be happy later. And that makes me sad.

It’s complicated.

32 thoughts on “Complicated

  1. OMG, you’ve put into words so much f what I have been feeling but haven’t managed to articulate.

    Thank you.

    BTW, have you read “Send In the Idiots” by Kamran Nazeer? It’s about little guys like ours, grown up. It’s given me a lot of hope about what Teo’s future might be like. Probably not the most popular kid, with lots of friends, but connected to a few people other than his parents, managing the world with some help.

  2. Oh Stimey! My heart goes out to you for feeling the things you do and worrying about Jack. You are a fabulous mother and I wish I had an answer for you but I don’t. I think everyone measures happiness in different ways and maybe while what we might not perceive as being happy is Jack being happy in his world. Not an answer but food for thought and a huge hug!

  3. Oh hon. I don’t know what to say! I guess we just do the best we can, as we’re able. Jack will live his life happily because he will have learned how to from you. His hard work will pay off, and it will likely surprise you. But it sure ain’t easy now.

  4. So much of this resonates with me… You had me at sand pit.

    If we didn’t have days like this then it just means that we’re not paying attention. It’s hard to watch but important to understand – or *try* to understand. And I’d like to think you’re right about age. And that the hard work will pay off.

  5. oh babe.

    I want to give you a big cuddle.

    Yesterday Boo came to me to get me to script with him. Just like Jack. But Boo’s script is a movie he is making in his head about the Power Rangers. And this particular story was about the Pink Ranger wanting to kiss him.

    And it tore my heart in two.

  6. Oh Jean, what a gorgeous, beautiful, heart wrenching post.

    I don’t have answers for you but there is one thing that I know for sure. Jack knows he is loved fully and completely and even more than that, that he is accepted. What an incredible gift.

    But yes, I can understand your hurt and your worry and your fear. The biggest of hugs for you.
    ((((((((((((((((((((((JEAN))))))))))))))))))))))

  7. Big hugs to you! Maybe what will make him happy (and his definition of being happy) will just be different. And he will know that he is loved and accepted and can be who he is…and therefore his definition of happy will be safe, too. I know that what I am going through with E is not the same as what you deal with, but I can understand how complicated these little guys are (and how I get that lump in my throat and that upset stomach when I watch him sometimes). Keep on keeping on and just think about all the wonderful leaps he has made so far (I am trying to think about “little victories” and when you add em up…bam, we’ve got huge progress). Love ya!

  8. I read this on Trusera last night and couldn’t comment then; I was crying and couldn’t see. :-(

    You have so eloquently expressed the complicated jumble of love and fear, hope and hesitation that I think many of us feel about our children —especially thos who are different in any way from the “norm.”

    None of us can say what the future will hold for our children (or ourselves, for that matter). All we can do is love and nurture, accept and guide, and pray that we’ve done a good enough job. From where I sit, I think you can rest assured that you are doing a good job with Jack and that he will find his way because he has the love and support of a strong family.

  9. You are such a good mom. Heartbreaking. And beautifully written. I do know that because he has such great parents, Jack has the best chance at a happy future. (((HUGS)))

    Maybe all the stimuli at a park on the first finally-is-it-spring-sunny-day were more than he could process.

  10. It would be nice if you could climb inside Jack’s head for even just a little while, to think what he thinks and feel what he feels. Unfortunately the only definition of happiness any of us has – is what makes US happy. So it’s hard, very very hard to know what happiness is – or will be – for Jack. Trying to, means you’re a good, loving and caring Mom. And you’re bound to have bad days, sad days, and days where you wonder if any of it is enough. And then you will pick yourself up and go back to the business of doing all you do. Because you love him.

  11. sigh. I finally began letting my children define their own happiness. I give them opportunities, I facilitate or I step back, I encourage, I support. I don’t force my perception or society’s perception of happiness on them. I believe if they trust me and I trust them, they’ll let me know if they are unhappy and/or I will see it in their eyes. I am very happy when I garden…it’s me, the dirt, and no people. I would be really sad if someone told me I couldn’t garden because I had to go do something ‘social’ instead.

  12. What a great post. I think it’s human nature to project onto our children (we value having friends), and to want the most for them. And yes, the line between wanting the best and acceptance is blurry at best.

    And I love the title of this post. Too often, acceptance and treatment are defined in black and white – choose a side.

  13. Wow.

    He is a wonderful little boy. So sweet, so thoughtful … and so loved.

    He’ll be okay. He will.

    He’s got you, after all. And know what? You’ve got us to lean on when you need to.

  14. I watched TC at the park the other day. He happily plays alone but will try to interact with others (sometimes with difficulty). It is hard to see. (HUGS)

  15. I see a lot of myself in you. Watching, hoping my child has the kind of social experience that I think would make me happy. We just never know what makes our kids happy – and I’m trying to convince myself that my definition of happiness is simply different than his. And that he would define his social experience as happy even if it would not make me “happy.” Complicated. But hoping wishing and trying our damnest for our kids – - its what good moms do, right?

  16. My good friend’s son is in high school and thriving thanks to his mom’s dedication and love – just like you w/your son. She’s been lingering in limbo between diagnosis; is it Autism or ADHD?
    In the meantime, he’s become bilingual, bicultural and has found his passion: making movies and the tech side of this. I hope to have her write a guest post for my blog soon.

  17. You are a lovely person, and I love that I know you.

    I have similar fears about my nephew, who simply cannot keep up with other children, and who is imiediately left behind in a group of more than two children (he’s fine with Patrick alone, but if another, typical kid shows up, Patrick and that kid will start a game and try to include him, but it never works out). However, Brandon seems completely happy. I have to believe that children who perceive the world differently also percieve emotions and their reality differently. If he looked and seemed happy doing his own thing, then he was. He wasn’t doing what would have made you or I happy, maybe, but then maybe doing what we would want to do would make him miserable. If he wanted to participate and couldn’t, or was being rebuffed, that would be one thing, but he had his own agenda, and was able to follow it. He may not change in that way as he gets older, and neither may my nephew, and then it will be up to us to rebrand ourselves as OK with that. Of course, it will probably be easier to be OK with it when they can communicate a little more easily about their emotions, so we can be sure that they *are* OK, just as a final measure.

    You have to be really brave to confront not only his personal issues every day, but your own reactions to them. You’re doing a fabulous job, and your willingness to allow him to be whatever he will be unhindered regardless of your personal comfort level is testament to that fact.

  18. I’m not sure I can say anything that would help you to feel less sadness, but I think that all mothers feel this way about their child. Every child has there strengths and weaknesses, successes and challenges, and as a mom we feel them more so than anyone else. Jack is a beautiful, smart, wonderful boy who will grow into exactly who he is meant to be. And you are an amazing mother who gives so much of herself to her children, that is why you think about these things in the first place! Big hugs to you!

  19. This is a beautiful post. I think the work will pay off, for sure.

    I always come from a place of believing that kids, no matter their challenges, want friends, and I help them work towards that whether they’ve clearly shown it or now. But that doesn’t mean that they can’t have some down time to process things (through scripting, often) on their own at the park and be happy doing that, too, you know?

  20. I attended a lecture over the weekend about introverts and extroverts. About 75% of the US population would be classified as extroverts. Among the gifted population though (the context of the lecture), it’s split 50/50 between introverts and extroverts. The bigger point being, that because most of us are extroverts, we tend to look at introverts and want them to be like us- we want them to join in and be more social, etc.
    I worked myself into a tizzy years ago when I saw my son eating alone during school lunch. He was okay with it; I wasn’t!

    I want to echo NiksMom’s comment because it’s so right on: “You have so eloquently expressed the complicated jumble of love and fear, hope and hesitation that I think many of us feel about our children —especially those who are different in any way from the “norm.”"

  21. Time and time again I’m reminded of what a friend told me before I had Benjamin – that once I was a mother I would carry a giant weight around on my heart.

    It’s so easy when they’re in their infant bubble, when we can control everything in their lives. Letting go and watching them get hurt, physically and otherwise is sometimes just too much.

    There’s so much about growing up that’s hard, but when you add in things that are outside of what every other kid has to deal with, well, I just can’t even imagine.

  22. xo

    I agree with some other comments that he is learning to be loved and happy- from you,
    his wonderful mother :)

    I think this post resonates with every mother,
    ugh-we just want them to be happy,
    our little men :)

  23. Sigh…I have felt exactly this on more than one occasion. You write about it so eloquently. Jack will always have you looking out for him.

  24. Reading this post made my heart break. My 7 year old son has autism. Well, I know it’s hard, but you do have to kind of facilitate play.

    Here is something I did: When going to the park bring a backpack. In the backpack I have…….lightsabers! I’ll have Shawn find some kids about his age and he’ll ask them to play light sabers. Squirt guns are good too. I bought a big pack of them from WalMart for $5 bucks. This gets my son interacting in a fun way with the other kids. Having juice bags or little bottles of water helps too.

    My son honestly doesn’t know what to say or do in park/play situations. And the park (and playground at recess and the lunch room) is a difficult situation to navigate socially.

  25. I have been thinking about this ever since I read it several days ago. I thought sooner of later I would come up with the perfect comment that would make everything better. Yeah. Not so much.

    All I know is that I could have written this exact thing myself. Well, not exactly because you are a much better writer than me. If I tried to write about this it would come out “O noes! Assburgers!” Your version is better. But I have struggled with and dealt with and worried about and wondered about all of the things you have written about here. And damn it all, I don’t just don’t know. Sometimes parenting is sucky. Sometimes parenting an exceptional child is exceptionally sucky.

    For what it’s worth (not much) a lot of the stuff that Jack is going through now is stuff that Joseph went through too. He still does but as he’s gotten older it has gotten less intense. He’s less rigid, less dependent, less aloof, more connected. I am not saying that the same will happen with Jack, just throwing it out there that sometimes things DO improve with age.

    To sum up, longest comment to say the least ever.

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