Friday, June 17, 2011

Wherein, I become a bad example.

I'm conflicted. I have a happy, wonderful story to share plus a screw-up I made. I think they are both important, but almost separate stories, though they happened together. I'll start with the good stuff first.

Last night, we took our first ever, family bike ride. We rode about three miles. I think John is somewhat hooked, loathe that he is to admit it. He chose to accompany me on my personal exercise time this morning.

We went back to the Riverpark for another three miles. We had such fun. He didn't fall when starting. His stops were smooth. He was usually ahead of me. I'd catch up and find him stopped at a water fountain or looking at something interesting. I'd just wave and keep plodding. A minute or so later, I'd hear a cheerful bell ringing as he'd pass me on the left. One time he passed me and playfully called, "What, are you taking it easy because you're still getting used to that bike?" I reveled in the happy ease of this time. Not many things with John are easy and fun. I don't see him gleefully (or even willingly) participating like this often.

Another time he stopped and was staring into the woods like a hunting dog on point. I stopped and he said, "I smell frogs..." I laughed and told him I was going to get ahead. A few minutes later we came to a bridge that crossed a sea foam green bog. It was foggy and had gnarled trees jutting up through the green. He was elated. "That's why I smelled frogs!" I explained we needed to go back. He agreed but expressed a desire to come back and explore this area again, soon.

I turned, mounted and started to ride. Behind me I heard a female voice call, "On your left." John had weathered every other passing well, but this time he was in the middle of a start. He still weaves a little on starting. A moment later I hear an agitated "WATCH IT!"

There are times I've wondered if I had that Mama Bear instinct. I'm usually quite calm about my children and their interactions with others. I usually am quick to see the other side, finding at least some fault with my children. John used to sometimes do things like step on someone's foot and when I'd get on to him the adult would say "Oh, it's okay. It didn't hurt." I'd be frustrated because whether it hurt or not wasn't the point. I've stood up for my children before, just in a quietly determined way, instead of a fierce way.

Today, I felt fierce. Here was John just over a week into his biking odyssey, he had been doing so well and he wasn't being a menace. He gets a little confused about left and right and I'm sure he scared this rider as she passed. What I heard was an accusation in her tone, like he was intentionally trying to trip her. I detected disdain. I detected judgment. I was angry at her for interjecting that into our wonderful experience this morning.

I yelled as she passed, "Brand new, special needs rider!!!" She hollered, "What do you want me to do?! Go practice!!!" It's a good thing she was in much better shape than me or I might have chased her down. I thought about yelling that's what we were doing and so forth. I wanted her to come back so I could explain how her tone was inappropriate. I brooded on it for a while as we rode.

I came to quickly realize I had behaved poorly. I was conflicted. Turns out, I am a Mama Bear. But, in fact, my child wasn't in danger and he needs to learn how to respond in these situations so he doesn't actually cause harm to himself or anyone else. I also realized the lady had no idea about John's special needs and was, in all likelihood, scared on top of frustrated.

When we got in the car, I explained I shouldn't have done that for two reasons. I was feeling protective but he was not in danger when I yelled. The other reason was that I had used his special needs as an excuse, which is precisely what I've told him never to do. He agreed and said, he'd been thinking about why I yelled at that lady because he realized I was using an excuse. I apologized and said it was a bad example.

He said, "Mom, I know she was being mean because people usually say 'watch out' when they are being nice and 'watch it' when they are being mean. It's like when I hit Hannah when she does something wrong. You always say you can't get on to her because I get in trouble myself with my hitting. It's a lot like that."

Wow! He seems to be quicker than his mother today in more ways than one. I wonder how many other moms out there of kids with special needs won't allow them to use their diagnosis as a crutch while making excuses for them at the same time. What do you think about that? I'm proud that I'm willing to come fiercely to the defense of my son and I'm embarrassed by my need to explain something unnecessarily in terms of his disability. Have you ever had a similar experience?


  1. Yes, I have. But usually it's because I am trying to avoid "The Look". Now that we know what's going on, I don't want people to unjustly judge my Aspie.

  2. I am so impressed with how well John seems to be able to relate his current experiences with something he's learned in the past. For example, he understood that one bad deed does not excuse another, and expressed that to you in his analogy about hitting Hannah. I'm actually learning a more tolerant way of communicating with people by reading your blog about John's challenges. You're helping more people than you realize. Thank you :)