This past week, my girlfriend Lauren and I took Lucas and Christian to a pumpkin patch. Both of our boys have autism with Christian being minimally verbal, while Lucas is non-verbal. They have sensory issues and can be upset for undefined reasons at times. For that reason, it’s hard to tell if a trip will be fun or terrible until you’re in the thick of it.
I’m happy to report that a great time was had by all. We took such wonderful pictures. That proves it. Look. Look at the wonderful pictures. Go on. Look at them. Put a little heart next to them. Maybe a smiley face hugging a heart. Yay. Pumpkins. Hashtag blessed. You get the idea.
OK, that’s the social media stuff. You got it? Good. We’re all friends here. Let’s be frank with each other. It was not wonderful.
Lucas was on his least cooperative behavior. Dragging him through the rotting vegetables in the field was like dragging him through Vietnam in 1967. He cried like he was being kidnapped and screamed out with sounds that made parents around us, most with young children, timidly glance over without being too obvious. He kept resting his head against me, drenching me with tears and whatever else was leaking from his face.
His buddy, Christian, wasn’t really feeling it either. Better than my boy on this particular afternoon, but still struggling, Christian too would become unhappy out of nowhere. At one point, we tried to pose him sitting on a haybale and he reacted as if we were setting him on fire.
The problem with an outing like this is that it’s not just aggravating for us as parents. It’s also heart-wrenching. If your child is neurotypical, like my daughter, and they act up, you can reel them in. It’s a stern look and a firm, “Cut the crap.” Life moves on, they often get scared straight, and everyone drinks some cider.
With our boys, it’s different. Nothing will stop them. No threats or cross looks will deter their cries. It breaks your heart as it boils your blood because you know that this children’s activity, designed to make them happy, has had the opposite effect.
It’s moments like this when I feel so grateful that Lauren is here with me.
This difficult day of fun could be a catastrophic day of chaos with the wrong person by your side. Days like this become days of blame, animosity, and aggression. The parent who suggested it could be chastised for trying when “you knew he would hate it anyway.”
It’s a common issue among special needs parents. Trips to the pumpkin farm are a crapshoot. Nine times out of ten, our kids might hate it. That one time, though, is a memory forever.
Even the miserable trips, however, have sprinkles of happiness thrown in there. My kid might cry his way through a hayride, but smile at the scarecrow. I never know. If the alternative is to stay home, I don’t want to do that. I don’t want to lock my special needs child in the house for fear he might hate it outside. It might be easier and he might enjoy it, but that’s not what a parent does. Parenting isn’t about doing the easy thing for our kids. It’s about doing the right thing for them.
The entire process can feel thankless for parents who are really trying. Force the whole family to go somewhere for your special needs child and then have him hate it. The aftereffects can feel terrible. It’s worse than the terrible activity itself. You’ve wasted your day. You’ve wasted theirs. You question why you do it and whether it was worth it. You look at your own life through the worst lends possible and cry inside over the future.
Now imagine others blaming you for it. Feel your buttons being pushed in their most vulnerable states. It happens more often than most people realize and is one of the hardest parts of special needs parenting.
Lauren and I don’t have that type of dynamic. We both bring our kids to things that we know full well could be disastrous. We cross our fingers, grin, and bear it. When it’s good, it’s great. When it’s bad, we make it better for each other.
It’s one of the many reasons why I fell so deeply in love with her. She’s a lot like me when it comes to parenting her son and inspires me to push Lucas to do more, as I watch her with Christian. I know it’s worth the effort and I feel like a better parent because of her. I have never known a soul so beautiful inside and out as her.
When all is said and done, I know there’s no blame to go around. She’ll never ask me why we bothered or claim that I’m at fault for dragging him somewhere he hated. Not only does she understand my motivation, she is my motivation. I have always strived to be the parent to my children that she is to hers. I strive to be the man that she deserves.
It isn’t just one-sided either. There are occasions when she’s the one at her wit’s end, ready to snap after a devastating activity misfire. Plenty of other times, I’m the one prepared to slam my head into a wall with frustration. When those difficult times happen for one of us, the other person knows they need to ease the situation. In times when patience is running dry, I offer my calming spirit to bring her back to even. She does the same to me. We’re yin. We’re yang. We’re a perfect balance. I found my diamond in the roughest world imaginable.
Christian and Lauren are our family. Those who know me, know I don’t take that word lightly. I recognize how important it is to find the right people for that spot in my heart. Every day we count ourselves lucky for having them and their people in our lives. It’s like discovering a missing piece that you never knew wasn’t there. Everything is better when you’re whole. I have never breathed so easily and smiled as brightly as I do with her by my side.
Find your missing pieces. Make life better for those around you. I’m grateful that we did. I’d rather have a bad day with these two than a happy day with anyone else. That’s what love is and, after so long, I know we found it.