63: Field Day

63: Field Day

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Raising Kids on the Spectrum

Field Day

Tears are the safety valve of the heart when too much pressure is laid on it.

~Albert Smith

The parking lot is packed. As I drive around in circles trying to find a spot, I begin to wonder what my son’s first Field Day will be like. It seems like all the other “special days” that typical parents look forward to with their typical children always turn out to be a nightmare for us.

Would it be like the Tea with Teacher Day when my son grabbed and ate his new classmates’ cookies? Or like Picture Day when he ran uncontrollably and almost took out the photographer’s entire backdrop display and equipment?

Miraculously, I find a parking space and as I get him out of the car, I try to get him excited about the field day festivities to come. “This is going to be so much fun! You’ll get to watch a lot of running and I bet you’ll even get a ribbon at the end!”

Since my six-year-old son is on the moderate to severe side of the spectrum and is currently nonverbal, I do this not knowing if he understands what in the world I am talking about.

On top of the ASD, he also has a rare genetic anomaly which affects all of his motor movement, so I have a tight grip on his little hand so that he doesn’t fall flat when he trips. As we are walking and stumbling along in the crisp spring air, I can see the flags waving against the blue sky, the PA being set up, and a bunch of overly excited kids with their parents on the field.

“Oh, look at the flags blowing in the wind! Aren’t they pretty? This is so exciting!”

I blather on with a smile plastered on my face, while my mind races with negative scenarios, imagining the sting as I watch kids skillfully run relays while my son is stimming on the sidelines. I keep the smile on my face and say, “Wow! We couldn’t have asked for better weather!”

I leave him with his class, and move around the field to find an opening so I can see what is happening. I smile and nod at the other parents while they talk to me — “Kaitlin couldn’t sleep last night she was so excited and she took forever deciding what to wear today!” and “Ryan started playing soccer and he is the fastest one on the team, so he should do well today!” Since I can’t really relate to anything they are saying, I just smile and nod, smile and nod.

Another mom I don’t recognize comes up and asks me which one is my child. I point out my sweet boy and she points out hers, who is another kindergartener but is in another class. As they start getting into their groups for competition, I notice her staring at my boy. She then turns to me and asks, “What’s wrong with your son?”

My smile slips a little, and I want to reply, “What’s wrong with you?” but I decide to take the high road and educate her on autism. She says, “Oh! Well he is such a cutie!” and walks away. At this point, the only thing I can see when I look over the grassy field at my son is what is “wrong” with him. He walks haphazardly, can’t talk, and probably doesn’t even know why he is here. I realize I must leave.

I rush past my neighbor, who has an older son in a wheelchair, and she takes one knowing look at me and says, “I’ll take pictures for you.” I race to my car, slam the door and start sobbing. People are taking quick, uncomfortable glances in my direction, but I don’t care. Tears are running down my neck, but the pain is so heavy in my chest that I cannot breathe. Why me? Why my beautiful son?

Even though I cannot see through the tears, I put my key in the ignition, but something stops me from turning it. I stop and think about my son, my angel.

Yes, he walks haphazardly, but at one time we weren’t sure he would walk at all. And yes, he cannot talk, but he tries with all his might to speak and is starting to say approximations of some words. I just know he is going to speak someday! And sure, he might not know why he is there, but how do I know that for certain? In fact, he probably does know and is wondering where his mother is so he can show off his new moves! This makes me giggle a little between the post-blubbering heaves. I dry off my face with my sleeves and blow my nose, thinking that there is nothing “wrong” with my son. He is his perfect little self and no one does it better. He deserves a ribbon every day.

I get out of my car and put one foot in front of the other to go back up to the field. I hear cheering and whistles and something else — a chant.

“Aidan! Aidan! Aidan!” Why are children chanting my son’s name?

I walk up to see my son holding hands with his aide as he clumsily puts his feet in the tires on the obstacle course, with his entire class on the sidelines cheering him on. My son, with a ridiculously huge grin on his face, knows exactly what he is doing. The weight lifts, and this time I start sobbing tears of joy.

Whenever I start thinking about all that is “wrong” with my son, I just say “Field Day” out loud. I know that he may never come in first in a competition, but I know in the end that he will have touched the spirit of everyone he meets. And that is worth more than all of the ribbons in the world.

~Adrienne B. Paradis

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