Tonight as we walked in the door I tried to pull up his pants so no one would see the pull up he was wearing. I had spent the better part of the day cutting his hair (which is no easy feat) and cooking the cheese potatoes as I alternated between the basement to make sure he was still clean and the oven to make sure the potatoes were not over cooking. I put on my jeans, my stylish boots and straightened my hair. We loaded up our three children and our contributions to the meal and hit the road to our families house. Inside, I tried to talk myself out of thinking through all of the possible outcomes of this meal. I noted that we had left all technology at home and this would be a technology free experience. I thought what if he has a messy accident while we are there and I have to change him? What if he steals food off everyones plates as he always does? What if he turns off the football repeatedly? what if _______??????…..
I walked in and as everyone said their hellos and hugged my eyes were scouring the place for anything that might hinder our success. I took note of the table and the number of chairs that circled it. I began counting the number of people in attendance noting immediately that this table was going to be tight and that was going to be an issue. As the food began to be set on the table I knew right off that ham on the table was not going to survive until dinner was to be served. I did everything I could as he circled the table. It eventually came down to me sitting in the doorway of the kitchen and living room to keep him away from the half set table until I gave up. I walked into the kitchen and opened the ham and starting cutting off pieces for him as the rest of the women worked in the kitchen to finish preparing the meal. I hoped I could feed him before the table was filled wtih all the food and the guests. That would be my only hope for any real connection with the adults in the room.
Finally, as dinner was finished being set we all sat down aiden to my right and sabrina (my 5 year old) to his left). It started almost immediately, he began stealing the ham off her plate, then mine, then he was trying to get up, he kept trying to pick the oranges out of the fruit Jello mixture before him. I noted one of the guests getting increasingly upset out of the corner of my eye but I was doing everything i could. FInally i started sending all of his favorite foods down the table after filling his bowl with all of the things i knew he would go after. At this point I was standing, doing anything I could to keep him at the table with us while protecting the rest of the food. I could feel the anxiety setting in as i continued blocking his hand and saying, “No Aiden, eat off your plate” as he reached to my plate and stole more ham from my yet untouched plate even though he still had a helping on his plate but I didn’t care this was hard for him and I wanted to help him through it. Again, he reached over to grab another orange and that’s when it happened, another guest at the table slapped his hand away (not hard but still) and that’s when it happened. I saw Aiden sink in his chair as he began to slap his hand. I could see the hurt look in his eye. I felt the anger building up in me. I wanted so badly to say something but I just leaned to Aiden and placed my forehead on his and said, “You are a good boy, I know this is hard for you. You are doing a great job. Don’t hit yourself” and kissed him.
After a few moments I saw his face gradually lighten and he went back to himself. I just sat silenced just picking at my plate. My soul was so downcast within me. I kept begging in my mind, “cant you see that this is hard for him? Cant you see that he is trying to fit in here? Can’t you see that he doesn’t understand? Can’t you bend for him just as much as he is bending for you? Can’t you just show love?” My heart was bursting. Finally, after having enough dinner to satisfy his hunger Aiden got up from the table and said, “couch”. “You can go to the couch baby go ahead”. Aiden got up and entered the living room where the tv was playing and I felt the anxiety begin to pass as I began to join the conversation around me until I saw it out of the corner of my eye. Another guest was growing increasingly annoyed that Aiden was changing the channel on the Television as he always does. Me personally, I didn’t even realize that the television was even on. I couldn’t see it from my angle and from what I was experiencing everyone was engaged in conversation until, that is, I heard “AIDEN, STOP CHANGING THE CHANNEL ON THE TV!!” I just looked at my husband and he looked at me as the host of the party said, “you shouldn’t even be watching tv anyway when you are at the table”. At this the guest went silent and that’s when I gave up. Still hungry I walked away from my plate and went in with Aiden and cuddled with him on the couch.
After dinner and conversation ended everyone began to filter into the living room where aiden and I had been sitting and I would just interject here and there as I cuddled my son often reaffirming that he, “is a good boy” and that he was “doing a great job”.
We arrived home and as he disappeared into the basement to play on our PS4 I sat in the living room with my other two children feeling sad. I felt sad for Aiden, I thought about how hard he works everyday and still its not enough. I kept seeing that look on his face and him hitting himself and wondered if that guest even noticed what his reaction caused? Was he even aware of the pain both Aiden and I had to push through to get through the rest of the meal? Was the football game really more important than helping a boy through a day? Did anyone see how hard I was working to maintain his behavior for their comfort not ours?
My friends we need to do better. We need to see past ourselves and understand that our children with challenges are doing the best that they can. There is so much more going on than what is seen on the outside. If you find yourself getting annoyed, just stop and ask yourself how their parents are feeling. Just stop and know that we are all doing the best that we can. Just stop and know that this child is struggling. This child doesn’t understand. They need your grace. They need your kindness. Please remember that your momentary discomfort is our everyday. Please know that your impulsive reactions are affecting our children in ways that you may not even know. Please help us just by being kind and if you can’t be kind please just ignore us but don’t react in anger or frustration. Please know We are doing the best that we can and know that just getting him to the table was a huge step that took hours and hours of therapy. If he touches your food and you dont like it, give him the food and build another plate. no harm done. no broken hearts. No hitting himself. No look of defeat on his face that I have to relive as it sticks in my brain longer than you know.