It was a typical weekday evening, an hour before dinner time. That’s when I usually take C for some outdoor play. What we in my family sometimes refer to as his “eye-care” time, away from home screens and out where nature and distant sights of the world await.
The ground outside was fairly wet this evening, thanks to an unexpected afternoon downpour.
We were at our usual spot for a bit of football fun. A nice corner at the void deck of an apartment block next to ours. It had open spaces that let us see the greenery of the town park opposite a large canal. It also had concrete walls and columns that bounced back our ball when we kick it about.
The perfect spot, though not exactly my favourite thing in the world.
But, as I posted before, a father does what he must to be part of his sons’ world. Even if it involves his least favourite thing — football!
“But it’s just a puddle of water, son!”
This day was different though.
Thanks to the many puddles left behind by the rain, my ten-year-old seemed more fascinated with staring at them than playing.
He couldn’t seem to take his eyes off our football as it floated on the pool of water near our feet; bobbing on the inch-high puddle instead of rolling down the path after being kicked.
“Look daddy!” C calls out to me, even as I stood there wondering how little it took to fascinate him.
And it made me sigh, shrug my shoulders and almost mechanically replied “yes son, isn’t that interesting?” Even though what I really wanted to shout out with barely-suppressed irritation was “but son, it’s just a puddle of water!”
Inside, I can feel once again my father hopes and aspirations softly drop, like a football down a stair.
Living with autism
One of the unavoidable realities of living with autism and various special needs is this: the caregiver must learn to celebrate the small things in life that mark a big achievement for the child. Or a big discovery.
And to do it daily!
This never came easy for me.
Even today, daily living, I often forget this truism. Instead, I choose to look or sound exasperated whenever C points out something he notices. Something that I wouldn’t bother looking at once, let alone twice.
Like a puddle of water.
Yet to him, it seems almost like an Olympic medal moment when he sees or does something seemingly commonplace to the rest of us.
Like staring at, and then leaping over, that puddle of water!
The first time he rolled over. Sat up. Stood up. Made his first step. Said “Papa” for the first time. These are stuff you celebrate when your child was still a baby or a teeny-weeny toddler. No doubt about it. Parents everywhere would agree and sigh blissfully, with chests puffed up and eyes misting over.
But a ten-year-old boy looking triumphant after leaping over a tiny puddle of water on the ground?
“Look Daddy!” — It’s the small things that matter
“Daddy, look! Daddy, look!!”
Now we’ve left that puddle and are at the nearby playground and fitness corner. My dear C is delighting me with his “athletic prowess” as he tosses his ball into a small exercise feature that included a gaping hole at the top.
Don’t ask me what that contraption’s for! A toddler’s intro to basketball? A temporary bump rest?
Now please don’t get me wrong. I’m not some callous bloke indifferent to his son’s small moments of seemingly-big wins.
I get it, I really do.
But every single day? And nearly always the same few things?
In C’s case, it’s usually stuff like what I described above. Or his need to call out every road sign he sees as I drive him daily to and from school. Or his obsession with lining up straight his collection of toy vehicles along the edge of his play table.
I mean, it feels for me simultaneously like a win and a loss.
Of course I know well enough by now this is the lot I was signed up for.
But sometimes there are days when I wish…
And that’s just it. Over time, daily living, one word repeatedly comes to mind when I’m in this funk.
And for that I have, in my daily living, the great teacher “Experience” to thank.
With it and C, I’ve learned each time I feel frustrated that it’s because my expectations, dreams and hopes for him must be parried down yet one more rung. Like Jack coming down the beanstalk after the high adventures he had up in the clouds inside that great giant’s castle.
Well, at least Jack didn’t climb down empty-handed. I, on the hand, feel often defeated and resigned; that each day playing with C looks so much like the day before. That all I can show are empty palms, unlike Jack with his hands filled up with his beanstalk adventure bounty.
And I can’t help asking once more that age-old question every special needs parent has at one time or other asked: “When will my child outgrow _______ (fill in whatever the child’s obsessed with)??!!”
Another day I would probably be “woke” enough to write like other parents. About how each small moment, each small win, will build up our special needs kids to bigger things.
But right now, I can only wallow a bit.
Right now, I can only wonder at it. No sugar-coating. No hollow-sounding platitudes.
For this is what it is. The reality when living daily with autism.