Kids are hard. Let’s be honest here. We’re all friends.
My daughter will ask me ten times in one day if her Amazon order is coming. Not if it came, but if it is actually going to arrive. I don’t know what that is about. She complains there’s no food in the house even though it’s full of all the food she asked me to buy two days earlier. That one’s annoying too. In a nutshell, no matter the kid, there’s always going to be something to drive a parent batty.
Yet, when people talk to me about her, I don’t bring that stuff up. I present my daughter as the epitome of what a 14-year-old should be. It’s just hardwired into me as her father, plus it’s the side of her I want the world to know.
Wow, she’s becoming quite a young woman.
Thank you. She’s great.
Good response, right? Right. Now imagine that instead I roll my eyes and say:
Yeah? You want to come over and deal with her when she’s a jerk? Not so great then, huh?
Let that simmer for a second. Now imagine the scene.
People would gasp. She would be appalled. It would be the subject of Thanksgiving 2050 and everyone would agree that I’m a terrible dad. How could a parent say such a thing?
They can’t. I couldn’t. Not many people would.
My daughter is overwhelmingly fantastic. Even on difficult days with her, I would never badmouth her to a friend or ridicule her. I’d never huff, puff, or complain about how tough she is to raise. The reason why I wouldn’t do that is that it’s wrong.
It’s not just because she has the ability to understand me.
Understanding is a big word here because the perceived lack of understanding can lead to a lot of strange decisions sometimes. As the dad to a wonderful non-verbal eleven-year-old boy with autism, I know how that lack of understanding on his part can affect how he’s treated.
I see it when acquaintances, who I personally like, don’t say hello to my non-verbal child. It rubs me the wrong way and, sadly, I don’t interact much with those people because of it. They might not know why I seem cold and, to be honest, I don’t feel like telling them. When it comes to greeting my son, you shouldn’t have to be told to. If you can’t figure it out on your own, then maybe you’re not our people anyway.
We’re not limited to missing hellos either. People say weird things around him or misunderstand him regularly. They sometimes don’t even realize the offensive thing that they’re saying. The ways in which my boy is misunderstood can sometimes be frustrating to witness. I want people to know he’s more like them than they realize and that starts with me.
So when we have one of our rough mornings, where every step of every process is agonizing, it can be tough to remember this lesson. We finally pour ourselves into the car and out to the world. Someone sees him all clean and happy, unaware of the crazy battle at home earlier, and remarks:
Look how good he is.
My instinct – and this is me being honest here – is to spill all the dirty tea. I want to tell them about our monumentally painful morning. They should share in my struggle and appreciate what we went through. Lucas wouldn’t know what I’m saying…fully, right? The temptation to get some of that sweet sympathy is there for us all. Instead, however, I simply say:
Thank you. He’s happy today.
The truth here is that most people already realize how difficult some days can be with Lucas. That’s not the problem and they don’t need me to tell them. They can watch as he makes movements and bellows out for reasons they can’t understand and easily realize that finding communication with him can be challenging for me to do, but I do it. I can’t imagine many go into a conversation with a special needs parent thinking, “This dude’s got it so easy.”
So why play into that? They know the hard stuff. Sure, they might not know the extent of it. They might be harassing you over the five dollars you owe them or whether you can come to their stupid barbeque during a particularly stressful day, but that’s not because they don’t get that you have a tough life. They just don’t care. Telling them won’t make them care either. It will just make them back off for a few hours…and think bad things about your child.
What most people don’t know is that my son is wonderful. This is not me being a Sunday Morning PSA trying to sell special needs parenting as “brave” or “courageous” either. The word “wonderful” isn’t some code word or magic self-deluding phrase. I’m saying it in the most real sense. Lucas is wonderful.
I never knew it was possible for a person like him to exist. He is kind, sweet, loving, and pure. Without words, he obviously tells no lies, but there’s nothing mean-spirited about anything he does at all. Sure, he might get agitated or upset, but he’s not duplicitous or cruel. It’s just not a part of who he is. In a cruel, duplicitous world, that makes my son pretty damn wonderful.
And that’s what I tell people. Does he understand my words? Maybe. That’s not why I do it, though. I do it because he’s brought love into our lives. If that doesn’t earn him the right to have us be his personal public relations team, nothing does. I want everyone to know this kid. I want everyone to be like this kid.
That’s why I write these and that’s why I put his best foot forward every time. Sure, we have our rough mornings, but that’s not a part of special needs parenting. That’s a part of any needs parenting.
Hell, it’s a part of life in general. We all deserve to have people sing our praises. I’ll sing his until the end of time.