Thursday, May 17, 2012

Where I'm Looking

When I drop Ethan off at school each day, the routine is the same.

We walk in, stand in the hallway with the parents of other drop-off kiddos, and wait. We watch the kindergarteners march in from their busses. We watch several moms chase their rambunctious toddlers around. I watch another mom of an (I think) special needs little boy and try to think of a way to start conversation that somehow doesn't offend her for assuming her child has special needs.

And I watch Ethan's peers learn to chat; to become social.

At the beginning of the year, it was not like this. Earlier on, each of them kept to themselves, still in the shy adjustment phase and the typical world of three-year-olds who prefer parallel play; who don't reach out and chat in the hallway just for the sake of "talking."

But now the year is almost over, and everyone has turned four, and each afternoon they form a little group in the hallway. I don't know what they talk about. But I can see the change, see the way they seek out each other's company.

This, while Ethan sits at the bead table, playing alone.

Or this, while Ethan stands, back to the wall, refusing my suggestions to go over and say hi to his classmates.

This hurts.

I'm not sure what hurts. Is it the mamma bear part of me that knows how funny and outgoing and charming he can be, that wants everyone else to see it to? That wants kids to seek him out and see him for what he is and can be, when he's at home and comfortable? Is it the worried part of me that wonders: Will he ever make friends? First, will he want friends?

Or is it this troubling thought that cuts like a knife: What would be worse? For him to not want to make connections with kids at school, or to want to but not know how and to be painfully aware that he doesn't fit in?

There are some days when I think of how it would be easier to hide in the world of the special needs classroom. In the autism room, Ethan is the "shining star." His speech therapist told me the other day that out of all the kids in the program, she was most confident Ethan could handle something like swimming lessons with typical kids...or t-ball next year, as his PT suggested.

In conversations with the parents of kids with autism, I sometimes get comments that I understand all too well. The comparison comments. "Oh, my little guy's not that far along," one said to me. Another said something very similar. But wait! Don't write us off, I wanted to say. He still has his challenges! We can still relate! But I know where they are coming from, because I am guilty of the very same comparisons.

And so we have moved, as is nearly always the goal, to the world of the mainstream, to inclusion, which is oh-so-good for Ethan. It's so good when he's say, invited to a birthday party and I see him jumping in a bounce house with typical kids, laughing, calling out to his friends, having the time of his life (that was in April).

Some days it's just not so good for mom, standing in the hallway, watching.

One day as I sat and watched I heard very clearly God say, "Keep your eyes on him."

I knew exactly what that meant.

If I keep looking around and comparing, I only see Ethan in terms of how he measures up to everyone else. I am blinded to who he is and all of the wonderfully awesome things he's learned. I lose my sense of wonder and gratitude --

...that my boy gives me hugs and kisses every day and says his prayers at night

...and can count to 100 forward and backwards, count by 5's and 10's and is learning to tell time

...brings me dandelions plucked from the backyard

...has gone from rarely speaking up in class to being, in the words of his teachers, a chatterbox who just won't be quiet

...was dancing like crazy this morning in his room to something on the radio starting to invent stories, actual stories about imaginary things he did

...the list goes on and on.

I realized, as I stood there and thought in the hallway, how grateful I was that God looks at each one of us and sees us as individuals -- not in how we measure up to everyone else.

"Keep your eyes on him."

Keep my eyes on Him.

So often so much depends on where and how we are looking.


Floortime Lite Mama said...

OMG what a beautiful post !!
"What would be worse? For him to not want to make connections with kids at school, or to want to but not know how and to be painfully aware that he doesn't fit in? "
I know exactly what you mean
Keep your eyes on him is an amazing mantra

Anonymous said...

Powerful stuff, Deb. So often we set foot in the comparison trap. Thank you for this new strategy: keep my eyes on Him. Thank you.

Deenie said...

This is a lovely post. Thanks for the reminder.