Monday, January 6, 2014

5 things I learned at the playground

Mondays are hard. Period. And today was no exception. Autism Behavior Therapists come to our house at 8:30am. I teared up in my room as I heard Parker's piercing screams floating down the hall.

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I try to stay out of it when he is in the middle of a melt down, because often my presence makes it harder on him- he claws at me to take him away and sobs, but today I caved. A braless, frantic-haired, pajama'ed Mom joined along in the play room and we played and worked along until the screaming stopped.  

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When we first started Monday through Friday Behavior Therapy, I was crushed. I was afraid I was doing something wrong or harmful- stealing my boys childhood away. Sometimes in the moments of screaming, I still feel that way, but for the majority of the time, I am at peace with our choices and our schedule. This therapy helps them to function better in the world, and helps them to be safer and happier. I used to get sad that it isn't me teaching them everything- everything from drinking from a cup to understanding the ways of the world- but I am happiest when I remember that I have to unlearn everything I expected parenting to be and just accept what is. 

This is the life they are supposed to have- me too. This is how our story is supposed to go- complete with the autism portion. And although at times it is hard and it makes me sad, fighting that fact takes so much more energy than accepting it.

If circumstances in your life can't go away, make peace with them.

And once I accepted that this was our life, I also realized that many aspects of it were still up to me. Sometimes all I want is for someone to tell me EXACTLY what to do and exactly how to do it. In Life and friendship and marriage and even in autism therapy- but there is no one sized fits all for any of those things. It was hard- so hard to come to peace with the fact that we are doing the right thing for us. Michael and I are both very involved with the boys therapy, their teachers, the programs they are working on and their schedule. We make sure therapy also involves walks outside and trips to the park. We think outside the box to add fun and functional aspects to their every day. It's up to us to write our littles storybook, and by golly- I'm gonna do what I can to make it a good one.

The past couple of weeks we have been blessed with beautiful weather, and therefore our days have been infused with extra park visits and fun in between therapy. (However we are sending warm, blue-skied thoughts to our friends deep in snow right now.)

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Today I realized that my boys teach me so much more than I teach them. It's kind of an amazing thing and a gift from Parenting I never expected in the first place. In fact, here are the 5 lessons I learned at the playground today.

Wait your turn and share- little kids are so good about sharing the swings and slide. Better than adults on treadmills at the gym right after New Year. Better than adults in a mad dash at the grocery store right before a snow storm. Yes, they may only do it because we make them- and they may even yell and scream first- but they do it. They take their turn, and then move on to let someone else have a try. Everybody gets to play. 

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Check on the people who are hurting- Today Greyson slipped and fell off a playground walkway. The sweetest little girl with big pools of brown eyes came and sat with me while I rocked and held Greyson until his tears stopped. Did he fall down from there? She asked, pointing. Yes, he did, I let her know. He's sad, but he's going to be okay, she told me. And she sat with us until he stopped crying. She placed a hand on his back. It was honestly comforting beyond measure. She didn't see differences, she only saw the same. She didn't tell him not to be sad. She didn't say it could be worse. She just sat and kept watch until all was right again. I don't think something like that can be taught to a child only by words only. Something tells me her Mom shows her in action. There are so many teachable moments we aren't even aware of...moments that may feel mundane and exasperating, but in reality are sacred and important. We don't always know which moment is which, so we just show up for them all. 

We are all equal. At the playground, we are all equal. No judgement allowed at the playground. Gay, straight, black, purple, big or small, rich or poor- it doesn't matter-- we are just here to play. It doesn't matter how big your house or how fancy your car, how many toys you own or how much money you have. We are all the same, and the equipment is there for all of us to share, no matter who you are or what you have.

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Sometimes we need to do what makes us happy- not do what everyone else is doing. Both of my boys usually prefer crawling up the slide-a big no no in playground land. 

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Any time you see a child walking up the slide, there is usually a parent a foot away saying, STOP THAT-You are going the wrong way! I used to correct Greyson and Parker too and persuade them to do the slide the "right way". I would get so annoyed. But today I realized, playing is subjective, and who am I to determine the "right" way to play?  If going up the slide is more fun, then up the slide we will go (as long as no one is taking a turn coming down right then of course). They remind me- Do what feels fun, not what you think is supposed to be fun according to what others are doing.

Talk to strangers and make them friends. Emma is three. She went pee pee twice on the potty today. Just pee pee though. And she likes pink. And has two brothers. She doesn't like to go down the tall scary slide but she loves to swing. Either Emma is a talker or I just look like someone you feel comfortable talking to- or both, but today Emma made me so happy. I like to surround my boys with extroverted talkers when I can- because it helps to pull them ever so slightly out of their shell. Autism is in part a social disorder, and my boys do not interact with others- not even each other. That's why the park is a necessary part of therapy for us.

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When I go to a crowded play ground, I often find a little one, happy to talk to me. Hearing words come out of their mouth feels like a miracle. They tell me everything, and it always makes me smile. When you are my age, you usually mind your own business and stay quiet. You avert eye contact with people you don't know. You don't tell perfect strangers your life history. You keep to yourself. Sometimes it feels lonely being a grown up. I want to be more like Emma, friendly and welcoming to the people that I see.

So those are the lessons I learned at the playground today- of all days on a Monday. Sometimes I think it's me- not my boys that has the most to learn. I hope I can apply my new skills everywhere else in the world.



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  1. I just realized I didn't comment in a long time, even though I've been reading your blog regularly :P I need to get better at commenting :D ...I think about you every monday because I know how much you don't like the first day of the week and I always say a little prayer hoping that this monday will be a bit better for you :) ...when I was little, I used to love walking up the slide - I did it all the time and I still remember the great feeling - I actually liked it much more than sliding down - slides just weren't my thing :D're lucky to have such nice weather that it's possible to walk around with no shoes - I'm waiting for spring to walk outside on the streets with bare feet again...we don't have snow but I could use a little bit of the blue skies you have at your place :D ...well, this comment is getting long so I'll just end here. I hope you'll have great rest of the week :)

  2. I love your blog. We are 7 weeks into therapy and your first couple paragraphs are exactly how I feel sometimes and what I worry about. Isn't it me that should be teaching him these things? He's a little guy - am I robbing him of kid time? But I know that's my emotions talking. In a short time I already see so many changes in my boy. We are in NYC so it is FREEZING here. Hoping to take my son to the park soon. It's important for us too and he loves it. Wish we were neighbors. Thank you for continuing to write!

  3. You write things that I want to say, but can't put in to words. I loved your statement "If circumstances in your life can't go away, make peace with them." YES, YES, YES. I copied that and am going to post it at home and at work, so I will remember it every day. You are such an awesome writer. I can't wait for your book to come out, so I have all of your writings and wonderful thoughts in one place. I'll buy your first book when it comes out!

  4. I have twin stepsons with aspergers. When they were just about Grayson's age, their OT therapist told us to encourage the going up the slide and climbing as it helps with dexterity in their hands. They loved it too.

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