So you might not know this about me but I don’t do play dates. Ok, I’m trying to change this about me because I know that how kids find friends and socialize today has drastically changed since I was a kid. There is often a vetting process and sometimes it can feel like a dating game just trying to let your kid make a friend. And I recognize that in order for my autistic child to have friends outside of school hours, I will probably have to really step up my play date game.
That being said, I have had some terrible play date experiences. Specifically church mommies wanting to get together with their little ones so they can have social hour. Trust me, I get it, having a baby is isolating. Having a baby and a toddler and trying to just leave the house can be daunting. But when moms invite you and your little ones, and tell you that they will help each other keep track of all the little ones… And then you end up packing the chunky baby on your hip and following your autistic toddler ALL over the park… While the mothers sit in a tight circle and occasionally stare after you like you’re a nut job because your toddler has the escape skills of a fugitive…. And this didn’t happen just once, but multiple times over the span of your younger motherly years…
Let’s not even get into the times I have been tracking my toddler and helping my baby at these “play dates”, and then losing my toddler and screaming for him and still… None of the mothers have jumped up to help me find my special needs child who may have been taken or ran into traffic… And after coming close to tears searching high and low just to find him hiding behind a tree quietly because the world was too loud… So then I would pack up and quietly head home feeling defeated and utterly exhausted…
I think you get the point.
Just the thought of showing up to where a group of moms are and bringing my bundles of joy with me, gives me the feelings of isolation, outcast, unwanted, misunderstood, ostracized, and judgement on PTSD levels of anxiety.
Just because my first born has autism and has special needs does not make me a bad mother. Just because my toddler didn’t socialize or pick up on social cues or rules like his peers did not make me an inattentive parent. And just because my autistic child has sensory issues and anxiety around transitioning activities does not make me a failure of a momma.
I heard the whispers, I saw the looks, and I had uneducated adults try to correct both my child and my parenting- from those who did not have degrees in child psychology- despite the hours of play therapy my child and I were undergoing at the time.
So when I tell you that last week we were invited to a play group of church mommies… and I agreed to take my three children to it… You can set down your phone, go pour one for me and raise a toast to our success right now before continuing your reading of this post.
At first my autistic son Mr. L said no and without hesitation I let our invite down. But then he surprised me and came back to my door in his swimsuit and said he was ready to go run through the sprinklers at a stranger’s house! So I text the kind mother back letting her know we would be on our way soon, I gathered my courage and children and out the door we went.
At first it was bumpy. There were a lot of kids and I’m not sure my kids recognized any of them. Eventually Mr. L settled in inside where the air conditioning was, Little Miss A got a snack and soon found a group of kids to run around with, and after explaining to the host that some kids weren’t including Mr. C she found another group he could play with.
And if you’re wondering how I did, well here is an interesting fact about me; I am well balanced in being an introvert and an extrovert. So as long as my children are happy and safe, I am capable of making small talk with anyone and can entertain a small group of adults in conversation. Even if on the drive over I was contemplating how to bail out.
But I just want to say how proud I was of all three of my children.
Little Miss A was so brave to mingle with other kids especially when she was feeling shy. And once she felt accepted, she was off running with a super hero mask and shield in hand.
Mr. C was brave not just in meeting new kids, but he came to me and told me when the kids had made a game up to single him out. And then when I spoke to the moms and let them know we would have to leave if the game continued, he was willing to overcome that and try again with another group of kids instead of throwing in the towel and just going home.
And then Mr. L not only settled in, he ate the new foods provided, he made conversation with others, he shared his interests with adults, and when I wasn’t looking he had asked the host if she had any pizza and when she pulled a cold piece out of her fridge, the host told me- he ate the whole piece! I can’t remember the last time he ate a cold slice! I know asking a host for food that has not already been offered doesn’t fit “appropriate social rules” but I’m still proud of Mr. L for where he is right now. And right now he asked an adult for food, he ate what was offered, and he didn’t make a scene.
I was so impressed with all 3 of my kiddos, and I told them so on the way to visit dad at his work before driving home.
But if your wondering… Play dates still scare me.