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.