His Unspoken Victories

I was peeling sweet potatoes in the kitchen when I heard my wife call out.

Uh…who left a can of soda on the dining room table? Because now it’s everywhere.

I looked over to see my now-former beverage slowly turning into a dripping mess all over the floor. With a confused look, I asked a question that would have been ridiculous a year ago.

How did it get knocked over?

My wife, in a sarcastic tone and a give-me-a-break look on her face, repeated my question back to me. She said it in a way that turned the reason for my question into the actual question.

How did it get knocked over?

As the words spilled from her mouth like Diet Pepsi onto our tiles, Lucas wildly ran around her in circles. He had his iPad, blasting ABC Mouse, up to his ear and was bouncing all over the room like a pinball machine as he laughed along to the songs.

It’s long been known that my non-verbal son turns TV into a full contact cardio workout. His propensity for running at top speed during his video watching is the stuff of legends. When he first started to walk, it pretty much became his gimmick. No matter the structure, he knocked it over. No matter the drink, he spilled it.

godzilla1Yet, here I was – shocked that he had spilled it. And, in that moment, I couldn’t be prouder.

Yes, you read that right. As I bent down on my hands and knees with a paper towel to wipe up what I was pretty sure was the last can of soda in the house, I was beaming with pride. It was bizarre. All I could think was that it had been so long since he knocked something over that I had forgotten that he even did that sort of thing.

My son’s ability to avoid smashing and crashing into things in our home didn’t happen overnight. At first, it was an insurmountable obstacle that I almost felt silly asking his teacher about. After all, if it was done out of spite, it would be easy to correct. It wasn’t. Lucas does almost nothing out of spite. He never wanted to knock down your Lego house, but if it was standing between him and the big screen TV’s presentation of Elmo’s World, then it was bye-bye house.

I expressed that concern to his teacher and the response was so simple that I felt silly for never thinking about it.

Why don’t you and your daughter set up things that you know he’ll knock over like a giant block tower in the middle of the living room? Then you all could pick them up together. He’ll learn not to do it that way and she’ll probably think it’s fun.

It was one of the best pieces of advice we ever received about Lucas. Olivia and I would construct massive towers of blocks in the middle of the room and then put on one of his favorite TV shows. As soon as it would begin, Lucas would come tearing into the living room and knock it all down like the Big Bad Wolf. I would pause the show and all three of us would laugh and pick up the pieces. We called it playing “Godzilla”.

From that point on, I made him pick up everything he dropped. Our remote controls, which are basically broken pieces of plastic that you have to hit with a hammer to change the channel with at this point, were regular victims of Godzilla. They would be knocked off tables or countertops or any other spot more than half a foot from the floor. When it would hit the ground and the batteries would spill out, I’d stop what we were doing and make him pick up each piece. I remember thinking how adorable he was in that moment, searching and carefully picking up each battery, but I stayed professional. When he handed it back to me, I’d always tell him he did a good job.

Thank you, Lucas. Good work.

Yet, throughout all of that, here I was a year or two later wondering why my soda was knocked over. All of that work on the task that seemed impossible to fix was now mostly finished. In fact, I’d say he and I are pretty much tied for the amount of stuff we accidentally break or spill in the house.

No one notices that though. Sure he’s not knocking things over on a regular basis, but you don’t notice things that people don’t do. You notice what they do. No one ever says, “That’s really good the way you didn’t hit that car when you parallel parked just now.” Nope. But smash into a few Toyotas and suddenly everyone wants your insurance information.

lgThe fact of the matter is that one day, Lucas stopped randomly barreling through things in our home and we didn’t even know it. Chances are we were focused on some other task. We’re all constantly moving forward so we sometimes forget how things were in the past. One day, we’re complaining about spilled drinks as we pick them up. The next day, we’re not constantly wiping up spilled drinks…but we don’t realize it because we’re too busy dealing with what’s coming up next.

It wasn’t until Lucas spilled my soda that I remembered how far we have come since the days of destroying Magnatile mansions and uncovered cups of water. That moment, which seemingly should have sent me into a frustrated fit of eye rolling had the opposite effect. It reminded me how hard he had focused to overcome this issue and how we had all worked together to make it happen. In this small moment that could be seen as a failure, I saw nothing but big-picture success.

I’m proud of him for learning to watch his steps and stay aware of his surroundings. It might sound strange to a parent of a child who never struggled with this, but it’s our reality. In a world of baseball trophies and Honor Rolls, they don’t make bumper stickers that say, “My Child Didn’t Break My Daughter’s Barbie House Today”. Essentially, you don’t get many chances to brag about how your child stopped smashing the things in his path.

Until now. That’s kind of what this is – me telling the world how proud I am of my boy. It may not be a major thing to those outside our house, but to us, it’s all his trophies and honors rolled into one.