People think that I hover as a special needs parent and I do. When my non-verbal son with autism is out and about, I am usually a step or two behind him. My fear is that this eleven-year-old little guy will need me and I won’t be there to help.
At home, though, I’m not the one hovering. When it’s just us, he is the hoverer. Within our walls, we switch positions. Pretty soon, he’s the helicopter kid. I’m just the parent.
Why does he follow me around? I don’t know. Lots of reasons and no reasons all at once. It’s that wide array of possibilities that makes it, well, kind of annoying.
One such irritating example is mealtime. As a single dad, I serve people food. By the time I’m done dolling it out and cleaning up, everyone’s done. It’s then that I sadly sit at the table like an old man at the diner with some soggy piece of toast. I picture invisible diners, eating together at their own tables, and whispering “how sad” at the sight of me.
Just as I finally do rest my weary body down, here he comes. Lucas, all round and fed, walks up with his iPad up to his ear. He takes a moment to listen…then he touches my arm.
What, buddy? I am eating.
Hard eye contact. Arm tapping continues.
Please. Let me just eat. One second.
Hand to his mouth. Arm tapping.
No. No more food. You ate.
At this point, he makes a face that is hard to describe. It’s not confusion. That much I have to make clear. He knows damn well what I’m saying. Many times, he will even offer the “no, no, no” hand motion I taught him. He understands what “no” means. That part is fine. It’s accepting the “no” that we need to work on.
Arm taps, hand grabs, and every other attempt is made to get my attention. His insistence ramps up until I finally stand up.
What? I am up.
No. No food.
A loud whine and one more hand grab before he walks me over…to the pantry. Please, kid. Stop eating.
No. Dude. You literally just ate a box of chicken nuggets.
Go downstairs and play. Maybe something else soon.
It’s then that we engage in a sumo game of chest bumping. Defiant to move, he stands tall. Trying to coax him to the basement, I bop him back. He’s pretty solid and we both have the mass to back each other a few steps back. I do it to make him laugh. He does it because he’s a jerky little boulder who tests me every day to see when he can take me. Not yet, pal. Not yet. Bop yo’ butt down the steps.
So, he goes downstairs.
And comes up again.
And back downstairs.
And back up again.
You can hear his feet stomping on the steps like Fred Flintstone in a drag race as he does. I usually meet him at the door to the stairs.
What? What are you doing?
Hand to the mouth.
No. Stop. Go downstairs.
Go. Down. Stairs. I’m serious, kid. Please. I’m old and tired.
He then does this manic flailing of his arms as if to summon the Gods of Pirate Booty to come smite me so he can enjoy his precious snack. With that, Lucas turns around and returns to the basement, so he can come back up again in 20 seconds.
In keeping with the Fred Flintstone theme, do you remember the Great Gazoo? Fred’s mysterious flying alien who would magically appear above his shoulder when you least expect it? That green thing?
That’s my kid. Lucas is my Great Gazoo.
I have physically jumped in the air over this silent boy floating behind my head. I mean it. In one particularly embarrassing situation, I had to apologize to him for yelling so loudly. I have a heart condition, for crying out loud.
It’s like he’s at an Open House whenever we’re home. Lucas goes from room to room, looks around, and walks out. If his sister ever leaves her room unattended, he runs in and wraps himself in her blankets. This kid rolls through the house like a Roomba.
While our home might be homebase, anyone’s home is fair game. Lucas likes to take it all in and see what’s around. Once he finds your food, he knows where to go. Be warned.
Annoying? Yeah. But do you want to know the craziest part of all this?
No matter how incensed this makes me when he does it, I miss it when he’s not here.
Yeah. Draw a sad tear on my emoji face because the days without the kids always feel empty. My son’s tailgate-style stalking is at the top of the things I miss most. Even now, writing this, I wish he was tapping me on the shoulder.
He follows me around because he knows I will always take care of him. If he needs something, he knows that I’ll have it. If he wants something, he knows that I understand.
Most importantly, he loves me. I love him too. I hope he always sees me as such an important part of his life. Just maybe he can wait until after I’ve finished eating first.