As the father of a non-verbal child, I’m able to tell my son anything. No matter how colorful my language or kid-inappropriate the humor, we talk about it.
In fact, I make deals with him while we go about our routines. As I slip his shirt on or help him brush his teeth for bed, I will say:
Lucas, if you use your words and tell me to do something, I’ll do it. Say “no bed” and you won’t ever have to go to bed again. You can stay up forever. Seriously. “Screw bed.” You say it. “Screw bed, daddy!” Whatever you say. Say, Daddy, go beat up the neighbors. I’ll do it. I’ll ring their doorbell and say, “Sorry. Lucas said.” Then I’ll go buck. You dare me? Seriously. Say it and Daddy will go nuts. I will.
He will sometimes stare at me like I’m giving a Ted Talk during these moments. To punctuate the point, I’ll tickle his belly at the end and send him into a Pillsbury Dough Boy laughing spree. When friends hear about this, they laugh at my “funny joke.”
Yeah. Joke. I would never do that just because he asked.
Nah, I might. I know, it’s crazy. You’re not supposed to be serious in those moments, but I think I might be. If my son looked me in the eyes and, through some magical moment in the universe, said, “No more bed”, there’s a good chance he would never have to go to be ever again.
Sure, part of the reason is my desperation for him to find language and make his life easier to navigate as he gets older. The other part is that, well, he’s my little guy and, as the least squeaky wheel, he tends to get the least amount of grease. He doesn’t ask for anything. So, if he does, I want him to have it. I want him to have everything.
This poor kid misses out on a lot. Other kids get to go on exciting adventures and have the gifts they demand showered upon them. He barely requests a thing outside of his iPad and pizza. He doesn’t need video games or playdates. He doesn’t need anything. It feels so lopsided that I can’t help but shake the feeling that he deserves so much more.
I struggle with this inner urge to spoil him rotten in lots of instances. It’s never more prevalent than on those rare weekday mornings when he isn’t awake before I am. It’s a rarity, but it happens. I’ll get out of bed, ready to prepare him for school, only to find my guy still clutching the pillow and trying to return to his dreams.
And my gut reaction is to keep him home.
I know most parents can relate. They sometimes consider the same options for a second or two when they see their own children protesting another day. I have done the same thing with my neurotypical daughter. It flashes into your mind and then, just as quickly, it flashes out.
With Lucas, though, it’s different. I don’t consider it for a second or two. I consider it for a few minutes. I watch his tired little face as he grabs his blanket and flips his body over, with the quilt sailing behind him like a wave of comfort. I watch his eyes close, drifting in and out of sleep, all the while trying to decide if I should just let the poor guy stay there.
Inevitably, I get to that point where I start to think about all the learning he would miss out on, how a responsible parent doesn’t allow it, and, if that hasn’t convinced me to do the right thing yet, I land on the phone call I will have to make within the hour.
Hi. This is Lucas’s dad. He’s not coming in to school today because he’s tired and cute. He doesn’t get to do freakin’ anything fun and it’s not fair. So, we’re going to watch TV shows today and probably eat a lot of mini muffins. Don’t send home any work. We ain’t doin’ it.
Yeah. Once that phone conversation flashes in my brain, I go and find him a smart pair of pants to wear for the day.
I know what most people are thinking. “Oh, but he loves going to school. He can’t tell you otherwise. That must help the process.”
Don’t mistake a lack of words for a lack of expression. Lucas, like most of us, doesn’t want to board a bus before 8AM and have the wheels go round and round to his classroom. He may have fun there, but he’d rather be home having fun here instead. Sure, he can’t vocalize it, but he can let his feelings be known.
How? Well, recently, he’s discovered a new way to show his unhappiness. When I take his coat out of the closet and place it on the bench in the den next to his backpack, he picks it up, runs down the hallway, and throws it into my office in an act of protest. He’s been doing that almost every morning for the past month. It’s both hilarious and heartbreaking every time.
As he returns from his sprint, sans jacket, I will offer him a scowl and, in a humored yet stern tone, insist, “No, Lucas. You have to go to school today.”
Because, he does. He has to do all sorts of stuff. It’s for his own good. I can’t let him stay home from every day because his sweet face pleads with me not to get him out of bed. If I did, he wouldn’t learn anything new. I can’t give him every treat he points to because then we’ll have to roll his eight-year-old carcass to the big and tall man store for his blanket-sleepers. I can’t let him ignore the rules of life because I feel guilt about times he might be overlooked. That’s the easy thing for me and the wrong thing for him.
I have to stay strong as a parent in order to make him a strong adult. That’s my main job. Sure, I can give him what he wants when those things don’t conflict with what he needs. I just have to make the decisions based on what is best for him as a person, not what will make me feel best as a dad who laments over his son’s unrequested wishes.
You usually tell your kids, “One day you’ll thank me” for tough decisions like this. In our case, he might not be able to, at least verbally. But, if he grows into a strong and responsible person, that’ll be thanks enough.