My eight year old son doesn’t really need to do anything special in order to have a good time. If you hand him an iPad, a box of Cheese-its, and a bottomless cup of water, he could party like it’s Studio 54. He has his own idea of fun and nothing else can compare to it.
Lucas is non-verbal with Autism and can’t tell me any of that with words. He doesn’t have to. I observe it myself. I watch as he runs from room to room excitedly clapping for his favorite videos. He comes to get me when Raffi sings the songs we dance to. Everything about him screams pure joy as long as he has the things he already loves.
Introducing something else into the equation can sometimes explode in our faces. On many occasions, I’ve attempted to replace video time with something different in order to mix things up. We’ve tried bouncey places lined with trampolines, to name just one. Kids love those things, right? My daughter always has. He was sure to love it too.
He did love it for a minute. Then, as some parents with similar children have already guessed, he got tired and laid down…right in the middle of everything After all, that’s what he would be doing if only he had the iPad and Cheese-it box that his dad ripped from his hands earlier.
The only difference is that now there is a small army of nine-year-olds all jumping over him, on him, and around him. I grit my teeth and waddle in on my knees with parents glaring from around the inflatable tundra. With every hop, Lucas, seemingly oblivious to the imminent danger, lounges like Leisure Suit Larry beneath their stockinged feet. I shakily crawl in on my knees to retrieve him, finding myself battered by feet as well, and watch as he bounces away on the springing floor because my knees have shifted the weight that was balancing him in place. Steadily, he fades into the horizon.
By the time I track him down and scoop him up, I say the same thing every time.
Never again, buddy. You’re all Bouncy Housed out.
I’ve watched him cry through Planetarium displays and whine through flea markets. He slept more in Disney World than I do in my bed. A lot of sure-fire hits are just not Lucas-approved.
Even the events he enjoys sometimes take some convincing and don’t last too long. Swimming, outdoor runs, bowling – they all are on our agreed upon list of activities. They all could also last for less than ten minutes and they all sometimes require leading him by the hand while he cries to return to the comfort of his Youtube Kids. There have been many tears shed on the way to the pool, even though he happily splashes once we’re there.
When these trips eventually end and we walk back into the living room, he dashes for that iPad or TV set like it’s his long-lost child. Within a minute, he has a huge smile on his face and it lasts much longer than it did at the bowling alley. It begs the question. Why do it? Seriously.
Why take him out places? Why rip him from his pajama’d paradise at home? My life could be so easy. I could take Sesame Street-length naps on my office couch and just wake up to press “next” on the Chromecast when he taps me on the forehead.
I don’t do it for the pictures. I know that. I rarely post photos of these outings on social media and the images I use on this blog cover his entire life, so there’s enough to last. I may joke with him at the time by saying, “Let’s just get a quick pic so we have proof we did this. One, two, three. Cheese. OK, let’s go.” It’s not serious, though. Snapshots and selfies aren’t the reason. I could Photoshop him anywhere on Earth. It’s 2019.
It’s not for me either. I don’t like kiddy gymnastics or mini-golf. If I had my choice, I’d be pajamaing right there next to him in the den. These destinations aren’t for me. I don’t bring him because I want to share these particular places with him. Sprinkler parks don’t hold a special place in my heart. Yet here we are.
It’s not even for him. As mentioned, it’s hard to drag him away from what he loves. On the off-chance that I find something that works, it seems unlikely it will ever surpass his love of videos. The easiest parenting choice there is, letting your child watch TV by himself, is the thing he wants to do the most. It should be a no-brainer. Let him do it. Play a video game. He wins. I win. Right? Not quite.
The honest answer is that we do it for us. Not just him. Not just me. It’s for our family to create a memory together. It’s to share an experience that neither of us may particularly love, but still share. It’s like laughing with your friend over the time you took that awful horseback ride or the birthday that you saw that terrible comedian. Those events weren’t wonderful, but the memories of doing it with the people you love are.
Among them, too, are moments that are wonderful. We have last-minute trips to the park and runs through the school yard that filled my phone with pictures. You never know for sure when those days are coming, but when they arrive, you’re glad you took the chance, instead of taking a nap.
He doesn’t ask for anything. He doesn’t expect anything. And that’s why I want to give him everything. My goal is to maybe find the one elusive activity that clicks with his personality and that he’ll love every time. I hope I can discover something that he can really excel at or uncover a passion he can follow. That’s not the sole reason for trying new things, though. Part of that hope is accepting that it might never happen and that, even if it doesn’t, is OK too.
I refuse to leave him sitting in the living room for every non-pertinent trip outside our house. I want us to experience the world together. Some days, we might have to drag our feet to get there, but we’ll get there. There’s a whole world outside the door and we’re going to experience as much of it together as possible. If, for no other reason, then because I’m the Daddy and I say so. When all else fails, I can always fall back on that.