On paper, this should have been the perfect activity for my son. We were to take part in an interactive experience that specializes in allowing special needs children to play with dogs. My son Lucas is non-verbal with autism and the few times he has been around furry little friends, he’s been happy. It felt like a match made in Heaven.
His best friend Christian and Christian’s mom Lauren gave him the gift certificate on his birthday and joined us for the hour of fun after school. We were in high spirits as we drove over with visions of adorable interactions dancing about in our heads. This was going to be wonderful. We could feel it in our bones.
Our bones, it appears, were mistaken. I will figure out a dog pun soon to illustrate how terribly it went… because it did.
The moment we arrived, Lucas was whining. There was walking. Lucas hates walking. There was sun. Lucas hates the sun. There was outdoorsy stuff. Lucas hates outdoorsy stuff. He’s like Grumpy Smurf without the hat. The moment I saw his scrunched-up face, I knew we were in for a dog of an afternoon. Ah. There it is. Pun.
Still, Lucas appeased us. He trotted along making his under-the-breath baby elephant whine the whole time. By the time we made it to the puppy activity area, he had already dropped to the ground as he’s known to do. That’s when the woman had an idea that I knew was going to doom us. All I could do was watch.
Would you like to give the dog a treat?
She handed my perpetually hungry son a small dog treat that, if I’m being honest, looked like a pecan sandy. He grasped it in his hand and started to move it towards his mouth. Inches from his open lips, I pulled it back away and tried to explain, “No, that’s for the dog. We don’t eat it.” All I managed to get out was…
Screams. Yelling. Agony. Before we knew it, things had fallen from bad to much worse. In a matter of seconds, my boy had gone from merely sitting with a scowl to being Richie Valens’s mom at the end of La Bamba. We were going down in flames.
That was the start of our slow burn goodnight. From that point on, everything made him miserable. Walk the dog on a leash – miserable. Watch the dog run around – miserable. Pose with the dog on your lap – super miserable. It was misery on a number of canine levels.
Me? I did the old dead-inside smile. I learned long ago that getting upset didn’t make things better. That only made things worse. Sure, we could just leave. That’s always an option and one that I’ve taken in the past.
I didn’t want to do that just yet though. I still thought that, in the right mood, he would have loved this. There’s always the hope that he might still turn it around before the meter runs out on our adventure.
Christian wasn’t having a rip-roaring time either. Sure, he wasn’t having a Chornobyl meltdown like my boy, but he was indifferent to the scene. You’d think that the event was for me and Lauren with our kids coming along for the ride. To an outsider, you’d have no idea that, much like Wu-Tang, this was for the children.
At one point, the woman who handed him the treat had even given a suggestion which was nice, but…
I sometimes give little hotdog treats to the dogs. Maybe he’d like one of those. It’s OK if he eats those.
I politely said, “No, thank you.” To be honest, it was a nice gesture on her part. But the day that I let him whine his way into eating a dog treat is the day that I give up.
When we finally got back into the car, Lucas was asleep within minutes and Christian was chill. The day had taken its toll and it was a moment like this that made me grateful that Lauren was there.
The thing that those without special needs children don’t realize is that the worst part of days like this isn’t the day itself. It’s not the actual meltdowns, but the post-outing second-guessing that goes on in our heads. As a parent, you question why you bothered to try and struggle to stay positive enough to try again next time. In those moments of doubt, you need someone there who will offer the encouragement to try again. Lauren does that for me. It’s the same encouragement I offer when it’s the other way around.
I don’t question why I take my son to do these activities. I know why we do this. Luckily, Lauren does too. We’re on the same page when it comes to doing right by these kids and, although we both exhaled as we drove away, we didn’t regret the effort. We were glad it was over but also glad that we tried.
Success isn’t measured by whether our kids enjoyed this one specific day out today. It’s measured by trying every day. It’s by figuring out what works and what doesn’t and, in order to do that, you have to go and go and keep going. We’ll never figure out that they love swimming and bowling while we sit on the couch. It’s trial and error. That’s a big part of our jobs.
Our priority list begins and ends with giving these boys the best lives we can and making sure that we expose them to as many possibilities as possible. There’s a whole world out there for them to see. You don’t know what you love without figuring out what you hate. One bad outing doesn’t end our journey. In fact, we’re just getting started.