Perhaps one of my biggest struggles as a parent of a special needs child is that he doesn't APPEAR to be a special needs child. Luke presents as a typical child who exhibits typical child behavior. So often times you find yourself WANTING your child to be typical or for a minute you think they ARE typical ... when in fact, they are not.
Just like many other moms around the universe, in the late winter baseball info came out for spring sessions. Luke had participated in baseball since Kindergarten with the best group of boys and coach. He genuinely likes baseball. Not to the degree that some kids do - practicing nonstop, knowing stats, loving to watch it on TV, etc. He's more of a "I watched Sandlot kid and think baseball is fun." :) And that is ok with us - you don't need to set the world on fire you just need to have a desire to do it and a commitment to the team.
We discussed baseball between ourselves assessing where he's at currently and what we thought he was capable of. In general, Luke struggles with some things baseball requires like FOCUS, DETERMINATION & HUSTLE. Another difficult area for him is the social engagement and appropriate social behavior. However, we signed him up, asked for a specific coach and held our breath.
And in the beginning, it went pretty well. His skills were improving and he was listening. He seemed to enjoy being there and there was minimal jacking around. That thing is that as each practice/game went on his behavior worsened and his ability to concentrate weakened and his social interaction deteriorated. Getting him to the game became harder & harder - God forbid it was hot outside (ya know, like 80). The complaints were rising, the helmet that fit for the last 4 weeks suddenly no longer worked and caused a major meltdown and socially awkward became the norm.
One hard hot Saturday I barely got him to the field and it started. The complaints, the arguing & the list a mile long of all of the things that were my fault. I set up my chair and watched as he proceeded to implode right before my eyes. And I watched the others boys -- the boys were there for the love of the game - to PLAY BASEBALL! My heart ached. So badly I just wanted to flip that switch for him - to make it all ok.
Luke wasn't focused on the good, the game, the fun, the other boys. No, he was fixated and there was no getting him off of the supposed poor fit of the helmet, the heat or the frustration. I packed up my chair and said "Let's go."
As we walked away from the field, leaving his team and a sea of parents hot tears rolled down my face and I choked back sobs of sadness. I walked ahead of Luke and he carried his stuff that quite frankly on a normal day he refuses to carry - but he knew I was upset.
Once we got to the car, I put my head on the steering wheel and wailed like a baby. Uncontrollable sobbing. The kind that you cannot control. The kind where it feels like someone has hands on your heart & they are squeezing it. The kind that you can't catch your breath or see through your eyes.
Luke said "I'm sorry mom. I'll go back. I didn't know you'd be so sad. I'll try again Mom."
But in that moment, I knew we were done. I was done. I'm done asking him to behave in a typical environment when he isn't capable of that. I'm done fretting over every little thing from the side lines. I'm done begging him to like something he doesn't like. I'm done dragging him places he doesn't want to be - he just thinks he wants to be. I am done.
It wasn't so much a 'giving up on him' deal as much as it was a BIG SMACK OF REALIZATION. He is different. He cannot perform or manage typical 8 year old tasks. I cannot keep expecting him to perform typically, when he isn't typical. SO WHY DO I KEEP DOING IT? For myself? To pretend he's high functioning, when he is not? It's not fair. It's not fair to the kids & coaches that show up for the love of the game. It's not fair to him to expect him to behave in a way he simply CANNOT. It's not fair to me to try time and time again expecting different results. If I'm correct, that IS the definition of insanity. Yes?
So it was time to stop the insanity. It felt simultaneously HORRIFIC and LIBERATING.
We came home and he wrote an apology letter to his coach (I've still got to get that into the mail!) and I wrote an email explaining the situation. Our decision was met with kind support and understanding. I am grateful & humbled for that.
I guess if you are reading this there are a couple of things I hope you take away.
- Just because someone doesn't look disabled or special needs on the outside, doesn't mean they don't carry that on the inside. So when you see that "bad kid" acting out at the grocery store or ball field - give the child (and that parent) GRACE. You have NO IDEA what is causing that meltdown. Sensory overload? Heat? Exhaustion? Mental deficit? Anxiety triggers? WHO KNOWS. There is no such thing as a bad kid. There are bad choices, bad circumstances and bad decisions - but not bad kids. Most often these kiddos didn't DO ANYTHING to warrant their brain make-up or deficiencies.
- I realize there really is no "NORMAL" and that is a taboo word today. I used "typical" throughout my post for a reason. Typical means - the standard of expectation; the middle ground; showing characteristics expected ... in the future, I'll likely write more on my thoughts about "normal" & "typical" expectations.
- We aren't quitters. We made this decision with a lot of care & thought and it was a very very hard choice. However, we believe it is the right choice in our circumstances. I'd ask that as a population, we be less judgmental about the choices other families have to make - for the SAKE of their family. No one EVER wants to let others down, but I also NEVER want my family to suffer in a way I can prevent.
Baseball is awesome. I loved watching the boys grow, develop & learn on the ball field. I was excited to go and watch and see the boys each week. I miss the moms that I got to connect with on a deeper level too. I think there are a lot of lessons that can be learned on the ball field - and it looks like our family learned a lot from baseball too.