The Playdate My Son (and I) Will Absolutely Never Forget
So, I love to talk about my son, Caleb, who has autism. I love to talk about our pride in his accomplishments, his amazing journey contained in only eight years on this earth, his great love of the world and the marvelously simple yet complicated way he sees things. But right now, I don’t want to talk about those things. I want to talk about his friend, Noah.
I met Noah at the end of Caleb’s first-grade year. I walked into his classroom, and this little guy ran up to me, jumping up and down and grabbing my hand. He introduced himself and asked if Caleb could come over for a playdate. Tomorrow. “Please, tomorrow!?”
Now, in the world of regular things, this does not sound like a big deal. In our world, it is truly exciting for Caleb and truly terrifying for us. You need the strategies of a military campaign, the finesse of a politician and pure, raw hope. Do I send Caleb to a stranger’s house with no idea how he will react to anything he sees? How he will react if he eats the wrong food? Or how they will react when he says something inappropriate or just ignores Noah because it is a totally new situation? (Because those are things that happen daily). Do I try to role-play every possible scenario that might occur and hope it sticks? (Or, more likely, get him more confused and make him nervous). Do I tell Noah’s parents about his autism and watch the invite dry up and excuses made? (Like so many, many, many times before). Or do I just invite Noah over to our house and hope for the best?
Unsure of what to do, I am completely caught off guard when Noah calls the next morning at 8:00 a.m. because he is so excited for them to get together. I take the cautious approach, and we invite Noah over here to swim and play. As I cross all available digits, he arrives, and I proceed to hover discreetly and watch as everything and nothing happens. For four hours, I watch Caleb play with Noah, ignore Noah, laugh with Noah, argue with Noah and throw a tantrum when they don’t play what Caleb wants, and I watch Noah take it all in stride.
And while I am sitting there in stunned wonder, it suddenly hits me: Noah has seen this all before. He has sat in a classroom for the last year and seen Caleb at his best, his worst, his sensory overloaded, his happiest and his stimming. All of these different emotions are just a part of Caleb. It is who he is in Noahs’ eyes. Gracious. I almost weep with the knowledge — the knowledge that a child understands, enjoys and loves our son as we do and, greatest of all, wants to be his friend.
Making new friends is something most parents take for granted and can just let happen naturally in school, in their neighborhood or at the park. For us, it’s not so easy: we have tried many times with friends’ children, but Caleb never clicked with anyone or, worse, he had a moment and was rejected. You may think I am overreacting, but in four years of school, he had only been invited to three birthday parties and no playdates. Seriously. Three parties, no playdates.
A friendship made completely organically is a gift that comes so rarely to children like ours. It feels like mountains were moved, but in reality, it was just love, kindness and understanding without judgment. It is truly one of the most genuine and beautiful things I have ever seen with my own eyes.
This weekend, I watched Noah across the pool as Caleb ignored him for the umpteenth time while Noah called his name over and over. I saw him take a deep breath as a look of determination crossed his face. He walked over to Caleb and started being silly, and while Caleb stared into the water, a smile broke across his freckled face. Then they went splashing into the pool.
I know that look of determination I saw on Noah’s face. That determination to bring Caleb into the experience that feeling of not giving up. I knew I had been taught something profound. Noah was teaching me that the world was not going to pass our son by — it was going to pull him in and open its doors wide. There is a generation of love and kindness coming, and when they inherit the earth, there is no thing, no accomplishment, no friendship and no experience that will pass them by. What a wonderful world this will truly be.
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