Yesterday was a mixed bag for me. For starters, when Kaleb had his yearly physical on Tuesday, he couldn’t read the eye chart – which was bizarre considering he’d never had a problem reading it in years before. Honestly, at first the nurse and I both thought he was just screwing around – when we realized he really couldn’t see it I immediately called Sho-Sho to see if she could get him an appointment to have his eyes checked. So, yesterday morning I picked him up from school for his eye appointment. Honestly, I was anxious. Nobody likes having someone messing around with their eyes, and Kaleb had only been to the optometrist one other time, when he was way younger. I prepped him as best I could, and promised if he was brave and did as the doctor asked I would put Minecraft on his tablet and he could play after he got home from school until dinner time (He’s on the tail end of an electronics ban).
So, off we went. It helped that the eye doctor is a friend and mentor to my mom, and the same person who gives me my exams – she also knew enough about Kaleb to take a really light approach with him. After a series of tests, which he handled like a champ, we were informed that he’s near-sighted. After the issue at his physical, I couldn’t say I was totally surprised, yet I was still a little shocked. So, the boy needs glasses.
This should be interesting…
The appointment took way longer than I expected, so I ended up just bringing him home with me, since there was only an hour left of school and there wasn’t a whole lot of sense in sending him back, especially when his eyes were going to be sensitive to the light for a while. As promised, Minecraft (the newest obsession) was installed on his tablet, and off he went to play.
Kaleb’s first flag football game of the season was at 5:45 last night, so we ate an early dinner, loaded up the car and headed out. He was really excited to play (even though it’s not “real football”), and I spent the car ride reminding him of what he should (and shouldn’t) be doing on the field. By the time we got there he was pumped and ready to go. He helped me carry the stuff out from the car, and then took off to join his team. It was obvious right from the start that it was going to be a bit of a difficult night. Not like he wasn’t going to behave, but he was really spooled up, and I could tell immediately that he was going to be all over the place. His coach is a good guy, and super patient with him, even when Kaleb is jumping all over him and constantly invading his personal space.
The game started, and things didn’t get off to the best start for Kaleb. He was told where he needed to stand, but he was too busy spinning around and shouting to really pay attention. His teammates were getting frustrated with him, but eventually he pulled it together and got into position. As the game progressed things headed downhill. Kaleb was on offense, standing to the right of the center, supposed to be blocking. Time after time he would get distracted and his teammates would have to yell to him until he would snap out of it and go where he was supposed to. After each and every play he would shout and scream – if his team progressed, he would scream “Yeeeeeeesssss!” and basically try to fist-bump everyone – if they didn’t gain any ground or missed a catch he would scream “Nooooooo!” and stomp around in circles for a minute.
Regardless of any of this, I’m proud of him. When the ball is snapped he’s paying attention, and at least trying to block. He’s keeping his hands to himself, and he’s having fun. Three years ago I couldn’t even imagine that he’d be out on a football field, interacting socially, of his own free will. But he’s out there, and he’s doing it.
The clock continued to count down, and about ten minutes into the first twenty minute half I’m frustrated for him. The kids on the other team are laughing at him, his own teammates are frustrated with him, and he doesn’t realize any of it is going on. And then it all went to hell – for me anyway.
The lady sitting to my left had a kid on Kaleb’s team. She and another woman had been talking for the majority of the game, and I’ve picked up on enough snippets of their conversation to learn that they’re both teachers (though I have no idea where). At this point, the kid playing center is yelling at Kaleb and telling him (once again) where his position is. Kaleb at this point finally stands where he’s told with a little huff and a stomp – not the angry kind, but the kind of out of control, wild and crazy Kaleb mode kind.
Then the women next to me start commenting. Now granted, we got there early enough they obviously don’t realize they’re talking about my kid. But the fact of the matter is, they’re sitting in a group of people they don’t know – it’s poor form to talk smack about someone else’s kid – especially when that kid’s parents could be sitting right next to you. The conversation started like this:
“That’s how I feel all day long. I just told you what to do, why don’t you do it?”
“I know, right? What is he doing?”
“*giggling* I don’t know. How many times do you have to be told where to stand before you do it?”
“What is wrong with that kid?”
You want to know what is wrong with that kid? NOTHING. He’s accomplishing a goal, despite so many odds stacked against him. Hell, he can’t even see the ball and he’s still out there! Here’s the real question – what is wrong with you?! He’s a little kid, sure he’s all over the place, but he’s still just a kid. And come on now, seriously, at this point it’s not hard to see that he’s different from the other kids. You’re teachers – are you telling me you have had absolutely no interaction with special needs kids? But what kills me is the absolute gall. You wanna talk shit about my boy? Fine. But do it when you get home. Not when you’re sitting on the sidelines with a bunch of other parents. If you’re going to be cruel to a little boy who just wants to be part of the team, do it where other people don’t have to sit and listen to you spew your ignorance.
At this point, I’m in a spot. I could turn my head and throw a bunch of venom in my voice, informing them that he’s autistic. I could start a fight. I could be a complete and utter bitch – we all know I’m more than capable of it. But I don’t. I opt instead to do what these women obviously aren’t capable of doing. I hold my damn tongue. First of all – my kid’s abilities and limitations are absolutely none of your business. Second – the last thing I want is to have these horrible jerks looking at me with pity. They don’t get to pity me – it’s my turn to pity them. Your world is tiny compared to mine. My mind is open, my heart is open, and I was at least raised with enough class to keep my thoughts to myself if they weren’t polite (when in the company of strangers at least!).
So I kept my mouth to myself, as I so often tell the boys to do. I left fingernail indentations in my palms, but I kept my mouth to myself. When halftime came and the kids all came running over to the sidelines, I gave Kaleb a high-five and handed him his water. While he drank I reminded him once again not to yell in people’s faces, or hang off the coaches, and try really hard to get into position when the rest of his team does. I didn’t even glance at the women next to me. Until he went back to the huddle. Then I looked – and offered a silent challenge. Say another word. Now you know. That kid you were talking about? His mother is sitting right here. Say something else. I dare you.
The last play of the game, the other team had scored and was going for a two point conversion. Kaleb actually managed to strip the flag off the kid with the ball – after he’d already crossed the line and got the points – but that doesn’t matter. He did it – he really, really did it – and he was so proud. He wasn’t the only one. I wanted to take that flag home and put it in a frame.
I’m not going to lie, after we got home and the kids got settled into bed, Watson (our elf) moved to a new locale and I had a glass of wine – I cried. My heart hurt for my Monster Man. He was doing something he loved – and yes, he was doing it poorly, but he was still going out there and putting in the effort. He shows up to every practice and every game. He watches training videos and reads articles to try and improve his game. And all the while he’s being laughed at. But the blessing in disguise? He had no idea it was going on. I did. But he didn’t. He just kept on being himself and enjoying the sport.
Both of the boys have games tonight, so we shall see how it goes. But no matter what I’m proud. I’m proud of them both for putting on their cleats and walking out onto that field with their heads held high. And I will sit there and cheer for them both, for every time they manage a block, or strip a flag. I’ll cheer, and I’ll know that in this moment, we are the real winners – no matter the outcome of the game.