Thursday, May 15, 2008

School Picnic

Max's school picnic is tomorrow night. According to the information sheets, it sounds like a really big deal. The celebration features a buffet with families carrying in side dishes and desserts, and a variety of entertainment including music, a dunk tank, and a moonwalk. It's the kind of event most kids look forward to and have a blast at.

I've been dreading it.

And Max? Well, I don't know. I assume they talk about it at school, but he's never tried to show me the handout and he has no other way to initiate communication about it at home. (I've avoided bringing it up because I've been on the fence about attending.)

Then again, maybe he doesn't even know about it. Or if he did, maybe he's forgotten. I feel safe in the assumption that it's not something he'll think about this weekend and feel full of sorrow for missing, at any rate.

He'd probably have a grand old time there. He loves jumping in a moonwalk. He enjoys music. He'd be excited by the entire dunk tank concept. He adores people and his school, and there would be many familiar faces there.

But there will also be tables of food. Lots of food and chips and drinks and cups. All within easy reach of his quick little hands. There will be hundreds of people and chairs and things to run into or behind or around. I can picture him clear as day in my mind, running up to random people with a big ol' grin and SMACKING into their midsections, as their plates jolt and drinks slop, and the men try to unobtrusively shield themselves, wishing they had worn a cup.

And I will be trying my best to keep up with him, and foresee potential problems, and steer him clear of danger or damage, while hissing through my teeth for backup but trying so hard to keep that smile plastered on my face and meet other families and kids.

But I know that this is what we need to do. This is why it IS so important to be there. I am not crazy about it, but I'm not there for me! He is a part of that school, and establishing a supportive family presence would be valuable.

Max is a well-known character in those halls, and I'm sure "his people" would laugh at my fears, and tell me not to waste another minute worrying! I mean, it's not like they've never met him before! They know how he can be....but, really -- he'll be fine!

But he does seem to pull out all the stops in situations like that, and many times a slightly different side of him does come out! The routine goes up in smoke, the stimulation is cranked up high, the temptations are everywhere (at eye level, no less!) It's hard. Really hard. For both of us. (Well, actually, for ALL us, but that's a different story.) His fun gets a slightly frantic edge to it, and he just can't reign it in.

And then? The AFTER-party effects. He comes home all wound up. He bounces off the walls, makes crazy noises, thinks everything's a game (Diaper? Catch me first! whee!). He stays up late. He's off schedule then the next day...yada yada yada...the gift that keeps on giving.

So that's the background.

Now then. You know how it is when you have something specific on your mind and then you start to see it everywhere? Well, in the last few weeks, while I've been fretting about this picnic, I've read several different things where parents of kids with disabilities are talking about the same basic topic.

First there was an email about a local restaurant sponsoring an Autism Awareness night, where families with autistic members were invited to come dine during set hours. The staff was going to be "prepared", the restaurant would be full of like families, and the environment would be welcoming. The flier acknowledged how hard it can be to simply go out to eat sometimes. (We didn't go, but I was really impressed by the idea.)

A few days later I was looking through a book, "The Elephant in the Playroom", which contains essays by parents of kids with special needs.* I flipped to the titles that seemed to reflect my own concerns, and the first two essays I read mentioned the difficulty of being in public situations with their kids.

The other day I woke up just feeling like I was through the Dread Phase, for some reason. There was no epiphany, no big pep talk. (I suppose it did help to read other parents' similar comments and remember it's not just me.) But for whatever reason, it was suddenly obvious -- Of course we'll go! The celebration IS a big deal; Max possibly being difficult is NOT a big deal. I had to stop and remind myself that each situation doesn't need to overwhelm me; it's just the accumulation that makes it feel that way. My priorities were all back in order.

Now, here's the ironic thing. I looked at the calendar and realized that we won't even be here! We'll be out of town! Apparently I was too busy with the hand-wringing and whatnot to notice that.

I do feel a little guilty that he won't be there now. But at least it's that wistful guilt that he's gonna miss out on something good, instead of the guilty guilt from playing hooky. Parenting is hard enough, but I find that there are all sorts of special rules and expectations and qualifications and consequences I add the equation when it comes to parenting Max. I mean, I wouldn't think twice about skipping my older kids' school picnic. No big deal! And the Mommy Guilt; it really has become the Jujyfruit blueplate special! I have got to start laying off the extra gooey layers of guilt with the order of overthinking cherries sprinkled on top; it's really starting to weigh me down.

But here's the positive thing that came out of all this: I feel good, like a passed some sort of test. I made the right decision, for the right reasons. The fact that we won't be there is almost irrelevant at this point. Now I can let it go. (until the next time, that is...)

So for now, have fun at the picnic, everyone! I'm gonna go enjoy my weekend, too!


*I will be coming back to this book in future posts. It had some excellent quotes, and some very chewy food for thought.

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