Friday, April 29, 2016

To the Other Mom

I am not ignoring you.

I know you think I am, as we both chase our two-year-olds around during our older sons' baseball games. You think I am being aloof, or unfriendly, or are giving you the cold shoulder because of the somewhat minor skirmishes our sons have had, mostly on the bus, over the last two years. You probably won't believe me, but I'll say it anyway: I'm not. That's not to justify my actions. I feel as if I should probably just speak up and clear the air, but I haven't.

It's because I'm afraid of being misunderstood.

Here's the thing: Your kid is not a terrible kid. Neither is mine. They are kids. They do stuff. They act bratty. Some are more difficult than others. Some get along better or worse with their peers. I understand all of that.

I try to remember all of that, and I try to remember not to immediately blame the parent for a child's behavior, and to not always blame the other person before my own kid. I try to do all of that while still stepping into "Mama Bear" role because who better to look out for my son and to make sure he's not feeling intimidated, scared, or stressed about something that happened at school?

Your son is not the worst kid in the world, but he did tell my son he didn't like him, and that Ethan had to do what he wanted if Ethan wanted him to ever play with him. He did grab his arm hard enough to hurt him on the bus. He did egg Ethan on about a girl, constantly hounding him to say things about "kissing" and then running off and reporting Ethan to the principal once he did so. He did tell Ethan to pick up other girls (forbidden) and carry them around the playground or he wouldn't be his friend. And he did grab Ethan's hand one day on the bus and make him punch his "private parts," as Ethan reported.

You know all this, because I've chatted with the principal via phone and email on several occasions, and the principal spoke with you, too. I'm sure you weren't thrilled, getting a call from her. I know I wasn't. I know it's kind of mortifying, when the principal is calling about your kid. I appreciate you having him write a letter of apology to Ethan and delivering it to him the next day. Thank you for that. After spending most of the year separated on the bus by design, recently the boys have been sitting together and seem to be getting along okay. I'm having trouble imagining that happening on our end, however.

I could be wrong, and I hope I am. But I feel I'm being judged. I feel as if maybe you made an assumption. Please, I have to say this. I am not one of those parents who thinks my child can do no wrong. And I am not throwing around the "autism card" as a sort-of "Get Out of Jail Free" card for Ethan.

My son has some social issues. This comes with the diagnosis. I realize he may put himself in a position inadvertently that opens him up for ridicule. He may be an easy target sometimes. He may even be annoying and not realizing how much he's pushing someone to their limits. I thought we had talked this over, last summer. You know, when I ran into your husband at the playground and we went over the skirmishes our kids had been in? I explained about Ethan...I tried to balance being an advocate for my son without placing all blame squarely on the other side.

So here we are, nearly a year later, after a rough start to the school year, with the two boys and the bus. Now they're on the same baseball team, and now you stand at the sidelines nearby and don't say a word. Maybe I really annoy you. Maybe you think I'm furious. No. I'm just trying to understand how to communicate without sounding as if everything I say is an excuse.

Your husband helps coach the team. I gave the coaches a heads-up about Ethan. Sometimes he's great. But you just never know what might set him off. Usually, it's losing, striking out, allowing the other team to score. Suddenly my typical kid comes across as much more immature and struggling with how to deal with emotions. There may be tears or a tantrum. I don't know yet. And today I sit here wondering if you are wondering what I have been carrying on about with the principal, because Ethan seems like a regular kid, darnit, who's blending with everyone else just fine, thank you.

But they've won both of their games, I want to tell you but don't, except here. He hasn't made any huge gaffes yet, and they've stayed ahead almost the entire time. It's weird to almost want your kid to meltdown just to make a point. This is what happens when your child has a more "silent" disability.

I am not complaining. On the contrary I am immensely grateful that Ethan is able to play regular sports and is enjoying himself. His coaches and teammates have been great. We have given him strategies to help him keep his head and emotions in the game. These are things you don't see. Before the games, before the bus. There are "prep" sessions in the car and the social skills groups and plans for keeping him motivated and talks about what he might say if someone does this or breaks that rule or asks him to.

This isn't such a burden. It's just a little bit different approach. It's what we have to do to help make him successful. Not perfect, mind you. He will lose. He will break rules and get in trouble. He will sometimes have to answer to the principal himself.

But he is my boy and I have to look out for him first. That's not throwing down the autism gauntlet, it's just being his parent. And so, I hope you will understand. I don't run off and look for ways to tattle on your son to the higher ups. There will be things we will let go. There will be things, sadly as time goes by, that I will never know about that I would have had to let go. There are times I will ask for understanding while acknowledging that this is the hand Ethan has been dealt, and sometimes, getting along with others may be just a bit more challenging.

I don't hate you. I wish we could get along. I just am not quite sure how to get the conversation going.

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