When I make his meals, my son is usually in another room watching television. Those lamenting about how today’s children spend too much time plugged into a TV without getting enough exercise have obviously never watched a show with Lucas. He turns the favorite pastime of couch potatoes into an all-out physical event.
There’s clapping, hopping, and all-around cheering. Since he is non-verbal with Autism, there are no words to express his excitement. There’s just unbridled emotion and happiness. He darts from room to room at breakneck speed, quickly waving hello to all the people throughout our home, before dashing back to his television. It’s a full-scale house party that usually sees him jumping for joy over his favorite videos. Then, my voice will ring out and ruin the fun.
Lucas! Come eat!
With that, he’ll come barreling into the room like Kramer on Seinfeld. There’s a dash to his chair, a quick sit down, and a drive-by bite of his food. Then he’ll jump up and go sprinting back to his waiting TV, still playing Ready, Steady, Freakin’ Wiggles from the other room.
I’ll lunge for his hand and grab him before he can disappear. He’ll stop suddenly and look up at my face as I point back towards his plate.
No, Lucas. Eat your dinner. First we eat. Then Wiggles.
I take out my phone and start fumbling through the app to pause his show. As I do, he takes a handful of French fries – the equivalent of a large order from McDonalds – and stuffs it directly into his mouth. I don’t know how he fits it all in his head, but he does. His mouth barely closes as he attempts to chomp them all down. I can see the nauseating clump of potato pushing against his teeth through his anguished chewing lips. Again, he will jump up and try to run out.
This is when I stop him completely. If I haven’t gotten the app up and running yet, I will go into the other room, shut down the television by hand, and redirect him back to his chair.
No, Lucas. We don’t do that. We don’t rush dinner. We sit and eat. We relax and then Wiggles. Sit. One at a time.
I pull up a chair next to him and the two of us proceed to have a restful dinner where I make sure he’s eating the right amount per bite and not choking on his chicken nuggets.
The truth is that I’m a bit of a hypocrite. It’s not that “we don’t do that.” In fact, we do do that. I definitely do, although maybe not with Wiggles and food. The slow down approach that I preach to my son is the same one I should be preaching to myself. His wild trampling through the house might be a more literal expression of the go-go-go attitude that plagues us both, but it still is a common issue between us.
I’m usually on the move. Even when I’m at rest, my mind is racing with many of the things that need to get done. Between parental responsibilities and personal priorities, I feel like my brain is never done trying to decipher when I can do the next pressing thing.
Often, it’s that moment when I take his hand, sit him down next to me, and force him to relax that becomes my first true restful moment of the day. I don’t realize until I’m there, trying to teach him a lesson about chilling out that I, well, chill out.
Like so many things in our lives, I feel like I’ve learned from Lucas as I’ve tried to teach him. As I lean my head back on the couch, trying to get him to watch his shows in a more restful way or simply get off his feet for a minute, I’ll realize my phone is sitting in the other room. Distractions gone, I have no choice but to calmly ingest Sesame Street and focus my kid. I’m not thinking about what I need to do later, what I didn’t do earlier, and what I should be doing right now. All I know is that my boy needs to rest.
And, although I hadn’t realized it, so do I.
During these times, he’ll often turn and tap me on the hand. When I look at him, he’ll wave and lean in for a kiss on the cheek. It’s a sweet moment that shows me he’s calm and acknowledging that I’m there with him. It’s usually the least I’ve done all day, but also the most.
At my core, my internal reactions all echo Lucas’s reactions. I get that same excited feeling when watching a show I like or playing a video game. I want to run through the house, tapping people on the shoulder, and screaming, “This show is great! You should see this!” If someone pulls me from it to come eat some lame-wad dinner, I want to shove it in my face and run back to catch the ending. Lots of people would. It’s the textbook example of grabbing life by the horns.
I do these things figuratively. I may not be physically ramming meals down my throat and running through the house at one hundred miles per hour, but mentally I am. My brain is so busy exploding with excitement and thoughts about what needs to be done, that I sometimes fail to enjoy what I’m currently doing, whatever that may be.
Thankfully, my son is here to remind me to take that time. By sitting him down and forcing us both to take a time-out from life, I get to benefit from the moment as well. Sure, I may be the one that takes his hands and says, “Relax. Take a break.”
But that look in his eyes and the tap of my hand, though, is his way of saying, “Yeah. You too.”