Lucas was sitting on the couch for most of the morning on Monday. It was his first day home from summer session and I was excited about what we had planned.
Hey buddy. Let’s get you dressed. We’re going to the park. You want to go to the park? See your friends? Yeah? Come on.
I speak excitedly to him during excited moments. While his receptive language is much better than I assume sometimes, I’m never totally sure he understands some of the more abstract statements I make. If it falls outside of requests, it can be hard to determine if he “gets” it. As a non-verbal nine-year-old with autism, my son’s approach to the world can sometimes be hard to decipher.
As he hopped to the floor and into a pair of shorts, though, he seemed ready. The park was fun and, as he’s begun to take part in occasional playdates, his zest for social interaction has gotten much better. He likes being out and I like taking him.
As we walked up the stairs and to the car, there was no push-back. He buckled in and, without so much as an iPad, he was content to just be content. A hand on his chin and a glance out the window was all he needed as we pulled down the block and towards the park.
I pulled in just as his buddy Christian was arriving. We waved and parked the car before I happily sprung from the driver’s seat to open his door. That’s when the baby elephant came out to play.
Spoiler alert – my son is the baby elephant.
I call him this for two reasons. First, he makes a whining noise that sounds like a baby elephant. It’s a slow and steady, “eeeehhhhhhhh.” If he had a trunk, he would be waving it in the air and spraying those around him with water.
The second reason is because he becomes as heavy was one. Make no mistake, my little man is a meatball. At this age, most kids in my family go through a beefy phase that they grow out of eventually, but he’s firmly in it at the moment. He a solid kid and, when he doesn’t want to move, he shifts his weight down to become incredibly heavy.
After a small eternity, he finally emerged from the backseat, still pachyderm’d out. Eeeeehhhhhh as he stepped out. Eeeeehhhhh as he stepped forward. Eeeehhhhh as we entered the enclosed park area.
Then, as we crossed the playground threshold, he stopped making the noise. Know why? Because he stopped moving.
Just feet from the entrance, Lucas plopped to the ground. Right there, on the blue bouncy safety blacktop beneath the swings.
It was an act I had seen before. At school events and at playground outings, he will often plant himself right there on the soft surface and refuse to move. I try to reason with him with an outstretched hand, but he just stares at me. Sometimes, he’ll take my hand and hold it in an act of silent disobedience. His gravity has shifted at this point and it’s like hauling a Buick. He’s basically a massive lump of Lucas.
The usual tricks parents might use on their kids don’t work on him. I’ve tried before and I tried this time. I gave him a serious expression and said the words that moms and dads have said for decades.
Fine. You sit there. I’m leaving to go have fun. Goodbye. Bye, Lucas.
Step, step, step…
Bye. I’m going to have fun now.
A few feet more…
I’m really going! Goodbye!
He watched as if I was doing performance art. Soon, he was a small dot perched atop a sea of blue. He hadn’t moved a muscle. I approached one of the moms in our group.
Hi. Where’s Lucas?
I pointed at the dot.
He’s over there by himself. I figure if someone is able to pick him up to kidnap him, then good for them. They’re obviously too strong for me to fight anyway.
I stood there for a while and stared at him. He’d occasionally glance up or just peer off into the distance. Finally, he won the standoff. He always wins the standoffs. I did the walk of shame back to his spot.
My shoulders were hunched over in defeat as I collapsed to the pavement next to him. He was indifferent.
What’s up, buddy? You’re staying here? You don’t want to get up? You don’t even want these Goldfish?
His eyes lifted and his ears perked up. That he knows. He knows freakin’ Goldfish.
I took the single serve bag out of my special needs parent survival backpack and held them aloft like my magic sword. Suddenly, I was the Pied Piper of the Playground because my little lumpy elephant was marching behind me. Soon, we were sitting on a bench and he was slowly munching one cracker at a time.
Yeah. I know food is a terrible reinforcer, especially considering his Beefsteak Charlie stature, but if not for the snacks, he’d still be sitting there today. He’s not, though. He got up and, believe it or not, he had great time at the park after that.
He spun the steering wheel thing, rotated the letters, and even went down the slide. We spent nearly two hours there with his buddies and, by the time we left, I couldn’t have been prouder.
Why am I telling you this? Because a few years ago, everything inside of me would have told me to freak out. A voice in my head would say, “Yell. Scream. Take him home! Why make him get up if he doesn’t want to? Why make him get out of the car if he doesn’t want to? You can just go home and watch TV. That’s what he wants anyway!”
But it’s not. It’s not what he wants anyway. He just doesn’t know it yet. It’s my job to show him that there’s a whole world out there. Friends, fun, and everything else awaits him and he doesn’t need to spend his days behind my front door. No matter how firmly he plants himself on the ground, I have to be willing to do whatever I can to make sure he, at least, gives it a try.
I did, he did, and we both couldn’t have been happier because of it. Hopefully, next time I won’t need to fight him to get out of the car or off the ground when we pull up the park. Hopefully, he’ll be excited for the day ahead.
If not, I have plenty of Goldfish.