Lucas was barely three when we took that last cruise. That’s the cruise where we decided that we hated cruises.
They just seemed to be a lot more fun when my wife and I were younger and free from kiddie clothes in our luggage. Plus, while my daughter could enjoy all the daily activities on-board, my son, who is non-verbal with Autism, couldn’t. As was common at the time, I felt pretty guilty about that.
It was still the stage where I felt pretty guilty about everything when it came to him. Every event he couldn’t be a part of was another moment that I held myself responsible for. I just wanted him to have fun and, still early on in his life, I was unsure how to make that happen. I felt like I was failing him daily.
So when we finally found the kiddie area of the boat’s pool, we were thrilled. Lucas loved it and, because of that, we loved it. We all sat in a corner and, while his sister ran through the cascading streams, Lucas happily splashed his hand on the ground. It was a welcome moment of fun for him and a relief for all of us. I was happy that he was happy.
Also in the vicinity was another boy, who was maybe around ten. He was playing a bit rough with some friends, but not doing anything that really warranted my attention…until he came over.
Lucas, who hadn’t moved from his seated spot in the corner, was still splashing away when this kid came by. He stopped short near us and then came shuffling over to me with his grubby little hand pointed at my son.
Um. He just splashed me.
Without hesitation, I looked this kid straight in the eyes and said:
Yeah? He probably doesn’t like you.
Then I stared at him with a blank stare until, confused, he waddled away.
Now keep in mind, I was watching the whole time and know my kid didn’t splash this boy. Also – and this was the kicker – we were in a giant maze of active sprinklers. There was water splashing on all of us the entire time. Even if Lucas heaved a gallon of chlorine on this kid, much less whatever he could drum up with his tiny hand from a seated position, it wouldn’t have mattered given how much was raining down on us all. Still, that doesn’t really excuse my reaction.
Although, to be brutally honest, my first thought was to imagine tossing this kid from the boat Titanic-style. In that small window of time, I envisioned his silhouette against the sun and heard Celine Dion in the distance as he floated away on a piece of driftwood.
I mean, let’s be frank here. It was the first real moment of fun that Lucas was having on this entire trip. He had done everything that we asked. Now, in the one moment for him, he has to have some kid trying to “get him in trouble” for no reason? I know kids do that to each other, but not this time. No way, pal. Not Lucas.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m protective of my daughter too But I realize that she has different interactions in the outside world. I stand up for her when she’s treated unfairly but allow her to stand up for herself as much as possible. I know what she’s capable of and I give her the space to demonstrate it.
While I know that Olivia can defend herself. I also know that Lucas can’t and, to be honest, he has never had a reason to. When he and I are together, I make sure that he respects people around him without hiding who he is. If we’re at a quiet event and he begins to shout out and disturb the performance, we will walk outside until he calms down. If we’re in a place where other children are yelling too, then we won’t. It’s a case to case basis and it’s simply about common courtesy for those around us. That’s a rule I follow for both of my children.
Because of that, Lucas gives no reason for anyone to have any negative issue with him at all. Zero. He doesn’t bother them, they don’t bother him, and everyone is happy. Any negative issue that someone might have can’t be traced back to something bad that my boy did. I make sure of that. I know it might come across as protective and, if it does, then I’m fine with it.
Perhaps my biggest motivation to defend Lucas is Lucas himself. While my little guy may not have a lot of the positive social behaviors of other seven-year-olds, he also doesn’t have a lot of the negative ones. Lucas is never rude or vindictive. He rarely, if ever, has done anything out of spite. The extent of his sneakiness is grabbing a cookie from the table when I look away. When he smiles, it’s genuine. When he loves, it’s real. He’s a unique person in a world where we all profess to have such admiration for unique people. I honestly wish we all could see the world as he does.
So, with all that being true, anyone who would do or say something unkind to a person like him is a truly terrible human being and one that I will gladly stand up to. In times like that, I’m actually less upset about anything they may have said or done and more depressed about the fact that my kids have to live in a world with such horrible people. That’s definitely a huge part of what fuels the, as others might see it, “protective” instincts.
Keep in mind, I’m not speaking for all children – on or off the spectrum. I’m just speaking for mine. He’s the reason I once stared down an eight-year-old for trying to nudge the iPad from his hand. He’s the reason I almost Celine Dion’d that kid off the side of a Norwegian Cruise Line. Simply put, he’s mine and I’ll watch over him forever.
At the end of the day, I’m protective of those I love – whether they need it or not. In my son’s case, he needs it. So here I am. Who knows? Maybe one day, he’ll be able to stand up, speak loud, and defend himself.
And when that day comes, I’ll still stand up and protect him.