My seven-year-old son, Ben, called to me as I was cooking dinner, “Mom, someone’s at our house.” As I walked to the front window, I heard him gasp, “It’s the naughty boy from the bus, who has been bothering me.”
A week earlier, as we were lying in bed, Ben told me, “two boys are being mean to me and keep ripping my paper.” I was surprised, because my son rarely initiates a serious conversation. You see, he has Asperger’s Syndrome, a disorder on the autism spectrum.
To most children, a piece of paper has little significance. Ben’s strip of paper is his security blanket, his “stim” of choice. He carries it with him wherever he goes. At bed time, Ben carefully places the paper on the headboard. When he wakes; it’s the first thing he looks for.
I don’t know what transpired on the school bus between the boys. I imagine other children on the bus think Ben is different. He is. Researchers struggle to find answers explaining autism spectrum disorders. I don’t expect a bus full of elementary school children to comprehend why my child is enthralled with a fragment of paper.
Parenting a differently-abled child can be overwhelming. Although I adore my child, sometimes I envy other mothers whose lives seem so much easier than mine. Certainly my parenting responsibilities are more daunting than theirs.
When Ben and I answered the door, John, the boy standing before us, wasn’t quite the bully I imagined. He was small. He looked as if he had been crying for a week. John apologized to Ben.
My chest tightened. I wanted to hug the little boy standing there. He seemed lost, frightened.
Ben was excited. He blurted enthusiastically, “Maybe you could come to my house to play some day. How about Sunday?”
My heart ached, knowing Sunday would never come. Watching this sweet, loving boy unconditionally forgive John, and open his heart to a peer, was almost more than I could bear. It’s possible, my child may never find the friend he so desperately wants.
I felt tears stinging my eyes. I glanced at John’s mother. Tears were in her eyes too. She was gracious and kind. I wondered. Would I have had her courage? Would I have approached a stranger’s door? Would I have brought my child to apologize, knowing he was scared and uncomfortable, regardless of the lesson?
Sometimes we get lost in our own journey. Parenting is an enormous task, regardless of individual circumstance. It’s especially difficult when a parent dedicates themselves to doing it right. Today reminded me of that. John’s mother taught him something today, but she educated me, as well. She’s a mother who did it right.