Monday, September 28, 2015

Can we pretend that airplanes in the night sky are like shooting stars....

I am over at Mom Babble today, talking about finding magic when you have a child with special needs! You don't need magic wands or vehicular produce (although how awesome would THAT be?). You just need to believe. Do me a solid and stop by Mom Babble to check it out! 
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Saturday mornings mean soccer. Now that fall is
upon us, Saturday means cleats and soccer balls and the amazing support and love PJ gets from his soccer buddies, Anthony and Nick. This particular Saturday, PJ insisted on accessorizing with a vaguely Freddie Krueger-ish hat he found in my in-laws basement. As one does. It was cool and cloudy and slightly Pope-y, and PJ had a great time.

After soccer, we headed a few minutes away from the field to the Air Victory Museum, a small airplane museum in Lumberton. We met my in-laws and the younger boy cousins there, and the kids took in all of the planes and aircraft memorabilia crammed into the space. Everywhere you looked hung some small piece of aviation history, and the boys were drinking it in.


After a bit, though, the museum started to overwhelm PJ. There were a lot of things that he couldn't touch, and yet so many things to see. He held up well but as the visit started to come to a close his frustration started to mount. As Pete walked him out of an exhibit, he flopped to the ground, rolling away and kicking at Pete.

Pete's dad wanted the kids to pick out a toy plane as a souvenir, but by then, PJ was past the point of being able to make a decision. I tried to calm him, but he was angry. I caught a head-butt to the cheek just as a package containing an airplane kit appeared between our heads. It was held there by the elderly gentleman who ran the front desk of the museum.

"Hey, buddy," he said. "If you're a good boy you can have this."

Dude. I felt the last of my patience drain out of my ear. The kid was slapping me across the face. It was like putting your hand inside a beehive and let me not even get started on giving a toy to a child who is behaving that way. Of course, I knew where his behavior was coming from (a good, old-fashioned case of fatigue and hunger, exacerbated by Autism) but to anyone else, it looked like a bratty kid having a fit in the souvenir section. Whyyyyyyyyyy would you butt in and hand this child a toy right now?

Thankfully, I managed to gather some semblance of grace, and switched gears.

"PJ, our friend said that you can have this plane if you are ready to show me your best behavior. Are you ready?" I asked. He agreed, and the tantrum seemed to melt away. He thanked his benefactor and we went outside to open his new package and check out the large military helicopter on display.

The boys ran to see the helicopter and I thought about what had just went down. Not so much the tantrum- it was not the first or last time PJ would lose his mind in public. I couldn't stop thinking about how a stranger was willing to jump right into the fray, and an elderly stranger at that. Autism can be a difficult thing to understand when you know what is happening. If you're a bystander who happens upon a kid losing his shit, it looks like a kid losing his shit. Older people, in particular, can have a hard time understanding Autism because it just wasn't a thing for them the way it is now. He could very well have yelled at PJ. He could have asked us to leave. He could have made of of those judgey "Can't you control your kid?" statements. He could have ignored us and avoided eye contact, which is the response I get from 95.3876% of people.

Instead, he saw me struggling, saw an unhappy child, and tried to help. It didn't matter that PJ didn't deserve a toy just then, and it didn't matter that if his meltdown got worse it could have put all of the tiny planes on the shelves in peril. He came over with a green plane in a paper package and said "Here. This is what I've got. If it helps, it's yours."

It made me think of one of my favorite internet finds- a TED talk by Ash Beckham. I have mentioned it on this blog several times- it's something that I come back to often. The message from the top has to do with coming out of the closet, which is something I personally can't relate to. But the sub message is that it takes a lot of bravery to have a conversation you are scared to have. She gives an example of an awkward conversation with family friends, who desperately wanted to show their support after she came out. The interaction, on the whole, was a hot mess of sweetly misfired attempts to show that they still loved her. She admitted that it could have irritated her, but instead, she realized that it may have been just as hard for these folks to start the conversation in the first place. She could take it for what it was- a show of support, no matter how weird.

It occurred to me that just before the gentleman thrust the plane between our faces, he may have wondered if it was the right thing to do, if the crazed child was going to destroy his gift shop, or if I might yell at him. But he decided that above all, he wanted to fix the situation. So, plane. And in the end, I was so grateful that he made the decision to connect rather than ignore.

Thankfully, we made it through he rest of the visit without incident. The boys got to check out the inside of a helicopter and have lunch together. PJ wore that weird Freddy Krueger hat the whole time. Our day wasn't ruined by a moment that could have tipped over into disaster.

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