My son and I went to the park today. He’s 9 now. And yes, I still go to the park with him. Why? Because if I don’t go, he won’t go. He would gladly spend 30 hours in a 24 hour day playing Minecraft or watching YouTube videos of people playing Minecraft.
So after dinner tonight, I suggested that we go out for a walk.
“Only if we can go to the park,” he said.
Absolutely. Park time, play time, 60 minutes of required physical activity for each child per day time. 55 minutes of mandatory staring at my phone time for me.
We saunter down the big hill, upon the top of which we live, and arrive at the school yard which leads to the park. Because I’m a little crazy and a big proponent of barefoot walking now, I take off my flip flops and walk barefoot through the grass, newly damp from the thunderstorm we had two hours before dinner.
From a distance, I see them. Sitting on the playset near the slide. I try to guess how old they are. They’re at least 11. They’re not in high school; they’re still too small.
“Ok, see those kids,” I tell my son, “They’re not going to want to play with you. They just want to sit and hang out. So don’t worry about it if they don’t talk to you. Just do your own thing.”
And I’m praying to all that is holy from the soles of my feet mushing into damp clover to the dark roots of my bleached hair that they’re not smoking. Because I don’t want to end up being angry, screaming, psycho mom today. I just don’t have the energy to yell at other people’s way-too-cool kids.
“Oh hey, Jimmy!”
It’s my son’s best friend with those kids (Jimmy is not his real name, and I highly doubt his mother reads this blog, but on the off chance she does…).
And I see it on his face and I hear it in his voice. The last person in the world he wants to see right now is my son. His “special friend” with the “special needs” who makes him laugh and does silly fart noises and makes up Lego worlds and acts out cartoon heroes with in after school daycare. Because he’s embarrassing. Jimmy will never fit in with the cool kids by being friends with my son. Fact.
My son, being the friendly, outgoing kid he is, goes up to the cliquey clique and starts asking for names. There’s someone already calling him “kid”. There’s another who is ignoring him. There’s another who’s telling him to stop making pig noises. And the girl is too busy bragging about having a boyfriend at age 12 to care that someone is trying to say hi to her.
“You’re a weird kid.”
They only say that because they know I’m standing there. If I wasn’t there, I know the R word would have been thrown his way 10 times already.
“Yeah, well we’re going to be swearing a lot, so you might not like that.”
“Mommy?” my son calls over, “Is it okay if I listen to swearing?”
Some of them guffaw at this kid who is asking his mommy for permission to say bad words.
I eyeball all of them. “Dude, you have said words that are worse than any of them could ever think of. So you tell me. Are you okay with listening to them swear?”
Because if I hadn’t been there, and he was being pushed out of the group, and they hurt his feelings, neither Jimmy nor anyone there would be able to rein in my son’s temper. The joys and perils of being a spectrum kid. If he learns to harness that temper and use it in situations like these and say “fucking stupid motherfuckers and assholes” to their faces in his lost-all-control voice, those way-too-cool kids would probably shit their pants.
I call my son over. He’s trying too hard to fit in, the only way he knows how – by humour, talking, and being charming. They’re all ignoring him. Especially Judas, er, Jimmy, who, at this point, had home to get freezies for everybody.
“Dude, they don’t want to play with you. Like I said earlier. So, ignore them and do your own thing, okay?”
“Yeah, they’re kinda weird.” My son goes off to do his own thing, and doesn’t react when Jimmy comes back with freezies for all of them except him, then tries to dictate what they’re going to do next.
“Nah, I think we’re just gonna eat freezies and take off,” says the girl who is now bragging about how many boyfriends she’s had since she was eight.
So I watch my son go over to Jimmy, after all of that, and offer him one of his cars to play with. Jimmy looks mighty uncomfortable when he refuses. Not because I was there. But because he’s now stuck between a rock and a hard place. The bribe for the cool kids backfired. Yet, he still can’t let himself be seen with the weird kid, who, when nobody’s around, he calls his best friend.
My son decides to play on the slide and it’s taking every single ounce of control for me not to go over and start smacking kids on the head or giving my son a hug.
“Mommy, why do you look sad and pissed off?”
“I’m okay,” I call back.
He runs off to the other end of the play park, and horses around on the swings by himself. I’m listening to these kids try to outbrag each other, and I just want to tell them off for being assholes in general. But that’s not my place. If their parents aren't concerned about their 12 year olds talking about crude sex acts with their alleged boyfriends and girlfriends, I'm not going to devote my energy to being concerned, either.
And then I see her. She’s about nine, maybe ten. She has the cutest polka dot skirt with a pink blouse and is being pulled along by a medium-sized dog. The dog pulls her right up to my son, who starts talking to the puppy and asking the girl what the puppy’s name is.
Soon, my son is doing what he does best – chatting up a girl and making her feel special. And the gang of kids? They’re too busy using Jimmy for snacks, and Jimmy's too busy letting them.