A friend of mine used to tell me that I should be more forgiving of myself for not having achieved what was clearly expected of me early in my life and career. "After all," she would say, "look where you started from."
Since I grew up white, and fairly affluent, I would always dismiss this notion as lacking in credibility. Never mind that my family life left me utterly without confidence or most social graces. Peers with my kind of start in life, not to mention my intelligence, had accomplished far, far, more by the age of _______ fill-in-the-blank.
A couple of weeks ago, my employer hosted a company / family outing at Canobie Lake Park in NH. Tickets were $5 and lunch was included, and though I despise most amusement parks with all my being, I felt it was important for us to go.
Tigger gets to go to Canobie with his summer camp at least once a year, but Pumpkin has never been. Big crowds and new situations trigger his hyper-silliness which results in some bizarre and dangerous behaviors - like running away from us and deliberately slipping in between other adults so that to stay on top of him, I would have to barge through crowds and nearly knock people over. Then he has the nerve to get all upset with us when we lose him, which we have, briefly, a number of times.
It's the stuff heart attacks are made of, frankly. So mostly we stay away from those kinds of big parks, crowds, museums, and Disney World.
A whole lot of my childhood took place at Disney World (it was the only place my parents ever traveled for vacation), and I have never been able to bring my own kids. All other amusement parks pale in comparison to Disney World and although the boys are almost too old for it now, we still want to take them once, stay in the park, and do the trip right.
As Pumpkin gets older, he is starting to realize that his behavior is causing him to miss out on a lot of things. He sees his brother go off to camp every day, Pumpkin can't go because I don't trust him to follow directions, and I don't trust the teen-aged camp counselors to be able to handle him. During Scout or other activities, I frequently have to pull him out of the group and keep him in the back of the room so he doesn't disrupt the other children who are supposed to be paying attention. At school he has a classroom aide whose job seems to consist mostly of keeping him on task, and removing him from the room when his silliness becomes too much of a distraction for his classmates (this situation is a whole topic unto itself).
In spite all of this, I felt strongly about taking him to this amusement park / outing. We had plenty of time to prepare him, to coach him on our expectations. I have also been with my team long enough to forewarn them of Pumpkin's erratic behavior and its likely causes (the park was so crowded we didn't run into any of my immediate co-workers anyway). We've been trying to do more things as a family lately, and though not perfect of course, things are getting better. We impressed upon him that this was a test to see if we were ready for Disney. And. And.
And, we have started Pumpkin on ADD meds.
Again, this is the subject of another post, but for now, I'll just say that while it's not the dramatic difference we saw in Tigger. It's different enough.
For a hot-as-hell day at an amusement park, things went remarkably well. Pumpkin stayed with us, he came back immediately when he got called out for getting too far ahead; no arguments, no tantrums. He waited in line with more patience than I have ever seen in him. There were minimal disputes between the two boys. I fought off the vague nausea that I get at amusement parks (even before I go on any rides). I sucked it up and went with it because it was important for the boys to have an experience that many other families get to have without thinking about it.
Most of the time, I'm not the kind of person who thinks that "normal" is something to aspire to. Normal is usually either boring or mediocre. Normal is not enough.
We have crossed the seven year mark as parents of special needs kids. They don't look like special needs kids, and the other parents looking at me cross-eyed over their behavior clearly don't know or maybe don't care that they are, but they are. The fact is, these two boys started from a very different place than many of their peers. It's easy to forget that in the heat of exasperation.
In our family, a little slice of normal is an accomplishment.