I had a topic all picked out for this week's column. A happy one! We took Noah to a Halloween festival at his school on Friday night -- a festival that turned out to be bigger, crazier, and more costume-focused than the flyer in his backpack had led me to believe.
In short, it was EXACTLY the sort of thing we avoid like the plague, because Noah simply can't handle that sort of thing.
But guess what! He did great! He had fun! While we had some initial costume-related resistance and freak-outs at home, he willingly donned his Jedi robe (over regular, soft clothing) once we arrived. The other kids and adults in costumes? No big deal. We found a Darth Vader and Princess Leia while waiting in line and they all had an imaginary battle of poses and the occasional swipe of a glowstick.
Inside, Noah not only handled a scarier-than-I-expected "haunted hallway" presented by the fifth graders like a fearless champ, he begged to go through it again and again. He got over some anxiety about the school and classrooms looking so "different" and even sat down and decorated a pumpkin in the art room. The only time he got genuinely upset was when it was time to go home.
I was THRILLED. And so proud. It was the kind of positive my-kid-enjoying-normal-childhood-stuff experience I can live on for a month.
And then today happened.
A few mornings a week, I have a babysitter. She's been watching the boys for close to a year now. She knows and understands Noah's quirks and challenges about as well I think anyone can. She's read every book we have on SPD and special needs and participates in daily sensory diet activities. I am routinely jealous of her seemingly endless levels of patience with him. WE LOVE HER SO MUCH.
She took the boys to the library today, because it was raining. There was a special Halloween kids' book and craft activity there, and everybody was to come in costume. She'd brought their costumes, though I'd warned her that Noah probably wouldn't put his on until he saw other kids wearing theirs, like last Friday. Or maybe not at all, and that was okay too.
Less than an hour later, they were back at home. It had been a disaster. Noah freaked out at the sight of the costumes and started screaming (in the library!) for everybody to take them off. He cried and tantrummed. He wouldn't sit still or participate and demanded that they go home. She tried to stick it out for poor Ezra's sake (because he, of course, was having a blast), but eventually hit the point I've reached so many times at birthday parties and gym classes and weekend activities I was sure were going to be SOMUCHFUN.
Right before they left, another mother looked at Noah and turned to our sitter and said, "Wow, he's a real pain in the neck."
It was all she could do to tell me the story without crying. "She didn't understand! Why would you say that to someone? About a little kid?"
She was embarrassed because everyone looked at her like she was a bad babysitter. She was frustrated because she wasn't sure she'd made the right call to go in the first place, to stick it out, and then to finally grab the kids and bail. She was angry that people were judging Noah when they had no idea what his real problem was or that he wasn't behaving that way on purpose. She was FURIOUS that someone would say something like that about him, right where he could hear it.
Basically, she felt everything that I've felt, and everything that I would have felt, if it had been me at the library today, instead of her.
I was really upset for awhile, after mulling the story over. I was saddened that Friday's success story didn't carry over, and guilty that maybe Noah could have been better prepared via some social stories or that I could have done something different if I hadn't had to work that morning. (Even though, given our overall track record, I know that's not really likely, because I am not -- as I've repeated ad nauseum -- made of magic when it comes to stuff like this.)
And of course, I was overcome with the urge to track that mother down, call her on the phone, and school her proper on sensory issues and pervasive developmental disorder and the need to keep her trap shut when she sees a small child obviously having a rough day for reasons she knows nothing about.
I still am, a little bit. But instead I've decided to focus on the fact that man, my kid could not have better people in his corner, to protect and encourage and defend him the same way I would, even when I can't be there for him.