My daughter had her first basketball game of the season this past weekend. She, as always, was cool as a cucumber while I was balled up with concern.
I wasn’t worried about whether she would win. I was worried about bringing Lucas. My eight-year-old son is non-verbal with Autism, so spectating long events can bring about some pretty difficult behaviors. I’ve wrestled with him through orchestra concerts and girl scout tree-lighting ceremonies enough to know that there was a strong chance he and I would be the sideline entertainment for parents in attendance.
I made sure to load up his backpack with tons of quiet toys and distractions. From potato chips to board books, the idea was to find items that wouldn’t encourage him to scream out with delight, but still cause enough to comfort to keep him calm. As we walked into the building, I was sure I was doomed.
He was whining before we even parked the car and, with each passing step into the building, his agitation grew. I rubbed his back and tried words of encouragement, but his baby elephant impression, as I call it, was already in full swing.
By the time we took our seats on the hard gym floor, I was stressing over whether we would be able to make it to the end. I would have bet money that we wouldn’t have, if they took bets on that sort of thing.
Luckily, they don’t and I didn’t because, lo and behold, he made it with flying colors. Sure, we had a few hiccups here and there. Every time-out or break in play caused him to take my hand and try to lead me to the door, but that was minimal compared to my expectations. Lucas was a half-court angel and even able to clap along as his sister’s team, I’m proud to say, crushed it.
When the final buzzer sounded on her win, he was all smiles. The ball bounced over to us and I placed it in his hand. He was beaming at this point and when Olivia came over to see us, I snapped some amazing pictures. That, as most dads can attest to, is the holy grail of fatherhood.
It was victories all around. Friends remarked to me about how good he had been. It filled me with pride. I like to think that he shared in that feeling too. He earned it.
I was content with my boy’s progress for the rest of the day. He had been growing and learning at such a rapid rate that it sometimes becomes difficult to keep up. I project the bad memories from a year ago onto my son from now, forgetting that time brings maturity and learning. He’s not the same kid he was 365 days ago. Heck, he’s not the same kid he was yesterday.
As I laid my head down to sleep later that night, I was still thinking about how well he had done. Just as my eyes were about to close, I began to dream about… beeping.
Yeah. Beeping. It was like a steady “beep, beep, beep.” In my semi-conscious state, I imagined an oil tanker backing up or something. It was distinct – a sound I knew. When I fully opened my eyes, I realized that was the warning sound telling me that the refrigerator door wasn’t closed.
I walked into the kitchen to find the fridge more than ajar. Its door was completely pulled open. It was confusing, but in my hazily exhausted state, I shut it and moved on. A small part of me was worried that I was still sleeping, and Freddy Krueger would reach out from the vegetable drawer to say, “Want some carrots, Daddy?! Hahaha!”
He didn’t, though. Instead, I returned to my waiting pillow and, with the door firmly closed on Elm Street, waltzed into dreamland.
A few short hours later, I was awakened to the sound of beeping once again. At this point, I was positive I was dreaming. How could the fridge be open again? I got up and returned to the scene of the crime to find, once more, the door to our refrigerator beeping at me to close it. The light inside was still on, indicating that its opening had been recent. It was weird, but it was also early and I was still reeling from a bizarre dream about Donald Trump. So I slammed it back and went about my morning routine.
I made some coffee as Lucas gobbled up his breakfast. When he started to walk from the room, I figured I would test a theory. Putting my hand on his shoulder, I halted his departure and tapped the fridge door.
Lucas. Did you open this refrigerator? Do you know how to do that now?
I gestured towards the door and he stepped forward to double-tap it. It’s his international signal of acknowledgement. I do it with his school projects and requested foods. I always imagine him saying, “Yeah. This thing. I see this thing right here.” So, I made sure to verify it.
You can open this? Show me.
Then I stretched arms out towards it like the model at an auto show showing off the latest Camry. That’s when he took a step forward, extended his arm straight out, and rotated his wrist counterclockwise. Then, with his hand in that position, he grasped the handle and opened the door with ease. With the light shining on his face, he looked up at my dumbfounded expression.
Wow. Um. Yeah. OK. I guess you do that now. Uh, good job.
And he walked off.
Time moves on for all of us. Just because he can’t tell me, “Daddy, I can open the door now” or “Daddy I can sit quietly during a basketball game” doesn’t mean he can’t do those things. Advancement is advancement but it’s not limited just to the things that reduce my fatherly stress levels.
Do I want him to be able to sit quietly through an event? Yes. Do I want him to open the fridge on his own at 3AM? No. But his achievements aren’t about me. It’s not limited to what makes my life easier. He’s not just my little guy. He’s his own man. Learning and maturity stretch across the board. They have to be about him and making him into a complete person.
Truth be told, for as annoying as this new fridge skill might end up being for me, I’m still proud of him for it. He’s learning and he’s growing. That’s the goal. Sometimes that goal hands you perfect pictures on a basketball court. Other times it hands you melted ice cream and sour milk. As a parent, although it sounds insane to say out loud, they both equally fill me with pride.