Lucas slept through dinner again.
I don’t just mean that he missed a meal. I mean he physically slept through dinner at a restaurant. It’s a long-running gag with my non-verbal little guy. Blame it on autism, fatigue, or secret late-night raves in his room, but he can (and will) doze off anywhere. Whether it’s on a roller coaster, during fireworks, or with his face pressed against a restaurant booth, my teeny fella checks out and clocks out.
Normally, he raises his face up with the indented line of the table and scarfs down some sort of sustenance. Like Popeye, he will get the energy to awaken. All that’s missing is the snappy music and bulging forearms. He ams what he ams.
This happened the other day when I returned home from a business trip. Both kids joined me for dinner and we set out to have a great time. Although my little guy snoozed through the first half, he was up for the second half. I guess he figured that food is good. So, he might as well stick around.
Come on. Let’s go, Lucas. Out of the booth.
Let’s go. Time to leave. Ready? Come on.
Stare. I knew what was happening. I knew what he would do when I asked again.
Come on, kid. No more playing. Up.
That’s when he did it. With his eyes still locked on me, he leaned all the way back and almost melted into his seat. The face he gave me said, “Yeah? Now what?”
He had a point. My little guy is not so little. He probably weighs as much, if not more than me. It’s been an issue and one that I have tried to work on in terms of diet. Regardless of food intake, he’s growing by the day and the thought of dragging him from a booth at a chain restaurant isn’t as appealing as it once was.
But I did it anyway.
That’s right. I reached in and grabbed both his feet and started to slide him towards me. He went boneless to make the job harder but I held strong. As he slid out, his body started to come off the bench parallel to the floor. I released his feet and put my arms under his arms Weekend-At-Bernie’s-style and lifted him from the seat to a standing position. I impressed myself with that one. He’s the reason I exercise every day.
As his feet hit the ground with a plop he let out a loud whine and his sister gave him a hearty, “Ha Ha.” We walked out.
Do you know what the people around us did when this happened?
I don’t. I didn’t look. I didn’t care. We had stuff to do and if anyone questioned it, they could send me a singing telegram. I was out.
Ten years ago, I would have been obsessed with public perception. I wouldn’t want to be embarrassed by this bizarre dance to the parking lot. That was then. This is now. Now, I do what I have to. I do it for me and I do it for him.
My boy is growing. As he does, he realizes there are situations he can bully his way out of. If he wants something, he can grab it and many people can’t do anything to stop him. If he wants to stay in the car and not go into whatever event is waiting, he will lay down in the backseat. He has laid down during calls to bath time and dinner bells. As he leans back, his expression seems to say, “Come and get me.”
So, I do.
I have pulled and lifted him every time. There’s nothing violent about it and he doesn’t get hurt. But it’s a strong jolting that he never fully expects and reinforces that I’m still the father.
A few weeks ago, he wanted to go downstairs to watch TV. It was right after I had picked him up for my half of the week. The hour or so I had been with him was a collection of whines and cries. As I was standing in front of the door, he shoulder-checked me out of the way and tried to shove me aside to get past. It was a surprising first. I told myself there was no way I would let this be the norm.
Almost automatically, I took two fingers and pushed them against his chest. He backed against the wall, where my hand held him, and I looked him dead in the eye.
No! Hey. Look at me. No! We don’t do that. I don’t know who you think I am or what you think this is, but I’m not playing that wit you. You hear me? We don’t push in this house.
The words didn’t fully matter but the tone did. His eyes got huge as he mimicked the no-no-no-hand motion we do when something requires it. When I removed my fingers and gestured for him to go downstairs, he did. For the rest of the day, he was an angel.
Lucas might not understand everything, but he understands ways to get his way. Allowing him to do this without any sort of pushback is dooming him to a life of conflict and trouble. As a boy growing into a giant man, the last thing he needs is to learn that the world will bend to his will if he’s forceful with them.
At moments like these, I flash to all the awful comments on past articles about his early propensity for stealing food. People would predict he would be in jail one day or threaten anyone who would dare touch their dinner plate. It scared me for him as he never did these things to be a bully. He was learning how to navigate the world. I have to teach him how peacefully coexist otherwise there’s not telling the terrible things that could happen…especially when I’m not there to help.
My son is gentle and I’d love to keep it that way. Encourage your kids to be the people you need them to be and they will be those people. Sure, it might take some arm strength, mental toughness, and elbow grease. But it’s for his own good. It’s for all our own good.
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