Kids With Special Needs: Playtime
I see the other moms—women I know from the neighborhood—sitting on benches and standing in groups, hands wrapped around their chai iced teas. They are talking and laughing. Some are even reading, their kids climbing, running, playing tag, checking in only to ask for a juice box or a snack.
The moms wave to me. I wave back. I hope they don't think I'm being rude. I would love to join their ranks, graduate to being a mom who sits on the sidelines, but even though my son is nearly 6, I have no choice but to shadow his moves on the playground in the same way the toddler moms trot behind their tiny charges.
My son lives his life somewhere on the edge of the autistic spectrum. In addition to his challenges socially, he struggles with issues of motor planning and gross-motor delays. On the playground, he's an awkward, unsteady kid who very often misinterprets a gesture or a remark from his peers. I keep pace with him in the woodchips to make sure he stays safe on the colorful metal bars, but also to help ease his way into childhood conversations. I am spotter, interpreter and best friend. I am taskmaster and cheerleader.
"You can do it," I say quietly, so the other children won't hear that he is afraid of the tallest ladder and the twistiest tunnel slide. "First one leg, and then the other."
When he is left behind as a game of tag turns into climbing the plastic rock wall or jumping from one elevated pod to the next, I beg him, "Please don't let the other kids see you cry."
As I follow my son from one play area to the next, hanging back or stepping in as needed, I think of those other moms and I long to know what it must be like to have that kind of confidence—to look away while your child swings from the monkey bars or barrels down the slide headfirst. I will never be that mom. And when I see those moms, I feel the little flutter in my chest that comes from wanting something I can't have, wishful thinking and a touch of envy.
I'm not above sometimes feeling sorry for myself—or my son—but I think I've come to terms with the kind of mom I have to be. So if you happen to spot me standing in the woodchips, it's OK, go ahead and wave ... just don't expect me to stop and talk.