We spent most of the day at home. My husband was home after a week of traveling and we were lazily enjoying being together as a family. But it was hot. By early afternoon, the humidity drove my husband and the kids out to the public pool. Which went refreshingly well. Back home again, after a big dinner off the backyard grill, we decided we deserved a treat and felt brave enough to head out again. Sunny Daes! That’s all we needed to say and the kids sprinted to the Subaru already deciding what flavor of ice cream or sorbet they'd order.
It was a lazy day. After all, it was father’s day. A day to take it easy and do nothing, to take a break. But the difficult part of high functioning is you get so easily lulled into thinking you can let your guard down. And it’s days like this that’ll do it.
I let down my preventative defenses. I knew how many events we had had already; neighbors over to the house, playing at the pool and now, out again, on a still hot evening, late after a long day, to a place that gets him excited. But I ignored the warning signs. We gave something of a parental preemptive measure, a bribe, a promise that he could have toppings. Other than that, we simply went with the hope for the best.
Once there, the kids were out of the Subaru in a flash. C.S. ran up to the counter, approached the staff appropriately and ordered perfectly. He tried his best to politely share his excitement while she served him. And of course his amazing smile charmed her.
The big silver lining for C.S. is that he wants to engage with people. He wants to be friendly. He wants to play. For a child testing a solid high probable for Asperger's, this is a something to be hugely thankful for, I realize that.
Still, socializing is a huge challenge and at times his peculiar interest in people is unfortunately awkward. For example, he sees someone and is fascinated by him or her because he wants to press his hands into their fleshy stomach. Or he is curious to know if differently colored skin also feels different. He wants to look closer at their eyes or suddenly away from them. Often, his interest in engaging is strongly encouraged by his desire to touch and feel. But today was a little different. Today, he didn’t want to touch, he wanted to smell.
We ran into a family from our church we hadn’t seen in months. They greeted us with such a sincere and warm its-been-so-long welcome. Now they know vaguely that our son has issues if only because they know he went to a special pre-school and they had taught him on those few times we attempted Sunday school. But that’s probably the extent of it. And we really hadn’t seen them in forever.
And so, I could certainly understand if, after my son repeatedly tried to stick his nose as close as possible to smell her ice cream, they decided to keep a comfortable distance, but I am thankful that they didn’t.
They stayed. Even after C.S. ran out of the store when I tried to redirect him. Even when he wandered in the bushes outside the ice cream parlor, talking to himself, they continued chatting with my husband. My son and I rejoined the conversation a few times, but he was frustrated and he tried to smell again, not an ice cream this time, but her husband and he was aiming for a not so nice place on his body before my husband intervened. But this friendly man, understanding woman and their dutiful children, took it all in stride, not missing a beat in the conversation with my husband. Of course, they couldn’t with me. I was in full interference. My son was now starting to engage with his frustration. He was starting to kick and to punch. But, every time I was able to re-enter the circle, the re-engaged with me. Even when I reverted to my old defenses—to keep him from kicking, to soak in the moment a little longer, I picked him up. I squeezed him tight against my body and rocked him. It worked well when he was a infant, like a charm when he was a toddler and although just as well now, tightly rocking a squirming 4-foot, eight-year old while someone is in the middle of an interesting anecdote doesn’t look as normal or go as unnoticed as it once did. And still, they made every attempt to let it appear as if it did.
How little they flinched was a huge gift to us. My husband, all of us, got to go out like a family, run into someone and have a full conversation without feeling like we left in retreat. It was a perfectly laid back father’s day.
The best we could hope for was graciously delivered.