I was so nervous to ask. What if this boy says no? What if he was just being nice to Liam at school, but had NO intentions of striking up a friendship? What if he says YES? Then what?!!
I wouldn't know unless I asked.
For months, Liam had been talking about his friend, Zach, that happened to be in band with him. Liam talked about how cool he was and how he was always getting "first chair" in band-playing tests. Because, with Liam, everything is a contest. I have never met someone more competitive than my child. I don't know if it's better or worse that his mother simply doesn't care about winning per se. I just don't have a competitive bone in my body. So, maybe we cancel each other out? - or, maybe his competitive nature makes me want to drink...not sure.
But, in his talking about Zach, there was a longing. A longing to have a friend. He saw his brother have friends over and spend the night out- why couldn't he? And, I don't have to remind you of all the years I have been writing about birthday parties. Birthdays are painful reminders that he, more often than not, doesn't always get those invites.
So, I prayed. I have been praying this prayer for a long time actually. Lord, just one friend. That's all. I would love it if you just provided one person that would see Liam for who he is and accept him-nay, ADORE him the way we all do.
(Now, I don't want to freak this kid out. I mean, I'm sure more than one friend will come along....hahahahahahahaha...seriously, though, will you be his friend???!!!)
So, needless to say, his mom said yes, and (gasp!) that Zach was really looking forward to coming over!
When I told Liam about this, he was beside himself! Pacing, eyes staring off into space as his wheels turned thinking about the possibilities of the slumber party events.
I imagined his thoughts were something like this:
"First, I'll show him my video games and how I like to play them. I will win every game we play. Then, we will go outside. Then, he will watch me play a computer game. I will win all of those as well. The end."
The whole back and forth thing hasn't been nuanced quite yet in our house. He would prefer if everyone just did exactly what he wanted to do the entire time, no questions asked. We're still tweaking that one.
(hmmm...sounds like a few adults I know as well...)
So, in an effort to have a back up plan in case Liam sat in front of a screen for 6 hours while his friend twirled his thumbs, I decided that we needed a destination.
"Where do you want to go with Zach when he comes over?"
"Chuck E. Cheese".
I panicked. Do 13 years olds still think Chuck E. Cheese is cool? Doesn't Charles du Fromage (what we used to say in order to "hide" it from the kids) peak around age 9-10?
I reluctantly agreed.
|Yes! You are!!|
The day came for Zach to come over. Zach rode the special ed bus to our house like a champ! Didn't even bat an eye! He earned major friend points in my book for being willing to be seen on the not-so-short bus. (I don't know about your school, but the SPED bus at ours is SWANK! It is not short, and it is really nice!)
He walked in, confident, but not too much. He was great with Liam. He was patient, kind, funny...do I sound desperate? Because I totally am. I had to tell myself to quit asking him if he was having a good time, or if he needed another snack, or if I bought the right snacks, or if I needed to pay him money to stay. (Okay, I didn't ask that, but I thought it!)
The thing of it was, that I think Zach really DID want to be there. He knows that Liam is different than he is, but it's not a deficit to him- it's a bonus. He totally thinks Liam's ways of doing things are funny. And, he gets a kick out of seeing him excited about a video game, or an 89 yard touchdown on YouTube.
He also knew when to set boundaries with Liam and when to let the small stuff fly by! He knew that Liam would be anxious about what time they would be going to bed (there would be no improvising or playing "outside the scale" on the schedule!), so Zach said, "you know what Liam, let's play one more round of USA Soccer on Xbox and then go to bed at 9:30"!
I have to admit, I was high-fiving myself at that point!!
Call it what you will, but as much as people my age want to complain about the new generation coming up as being emotionally stunted from technology, or having issues with socialization, or even being exposed to too much too fast, I have to say that there is a new wave of compassion and empathy that my generation missed out on.
These kids have been exposed to children of special needs from the get-go. No longer are the SPED children sent to another building to be "dealt" with. Kids with autism, Down Syndrome, cerebral palsy, and other neurological disorders are included in the mainstream classrooms. Kids today most likely have seen a child with autism have a nervous breakdown in the middle of class, or watched a child in a wheelchair struggle to move around a classroom. And, because of that exposure, they are not intimidated by differences- they embrace them. I do not think I would have been that patient or kind as a middle schooler. I was much too impressed with myself to give unconditionally to others with differences. So to now see these kids getting involved and helping their peers is so very inspiring!!!!
Now, I do know there are sad stories of bullies and mean-spirited kids who have taken advantage of this inclusion of SPED children. I do not pretend to believe that there will never be someone who will be mean to my son. But, the overwhelming sense that I have gotten from all the classrooms my son has been in is that once his peers know what is going on with him, they are ready and willing to help him along. And Zach is a great example of someone willing to go the extra mile!
His dad picked him up the next morning, and we have seen this family several weekends this fall at various school events. Zach even plans to have Liam at his house this weekend, Lord-willing! :)
The other day I asked Liam about Zach and his friendship with him. Liam replied, "Sometimes Zach disobeys me."
Like I said, little tweaking here and there.
My hope is there will be more steps, and more friends like Zach.
And maybe, just maybe, this journey won't be so lonely after all.