By: Sheila Gaudet
We are a family of January birthdays so today my post is about my younger son, Andrew, who turns 10 today! There are no more single digits in my household, which is both a little bit sad and a little bit exciting. Andrew has been sure to inform me that he is now a Tween and deserves whatever rights come with that. I’m not sure exactly what he thinks those are, but I expect to be engaging in some negotiation soon.
Andrew was lucky enough to have his dad come visit from Mississippi over the past weekend for his birthday celebration. They always have a good time together. Andrew gets to eat a lot of ice cream, stay up late, and sleep in. Plus, he gets to stay in the hotel and that’s always fun. This trip was a little bit longer than usual so his dad got to see his karate school and a couple classes as well. Karate is a relatively new activity for Andrew, but it is one that has been great at working on his ability to focus, getting some physical skills practice, and building his self-esteem. We have talked about karate a lot, but Andrew was very excited to show his dad what he works on and the school and to introduce him to the instructors.
The highlight of the trip, though, had to be Andrew’s first rock concert! Andrew recently discovered the band, Skillet. I’m not sure how he first came across their music but he loves it. For those, like me, who are unfamiliar with the band, they are a Christian rock band formed in Memphis in 1996. They have sold quite a few albums and some of their songs have been featured on WWE events and games. (Andrew doesn’t follow WWE, so I am still uncertain how he discovered them.) I was telling his dad about his new favorite band a while ago and his dad saw that they were going to be playing at Mohegan Sun this past weekend. Next thing you know, they had tickets to the show and Andrew had a great experience. I’ll admit, I was a little nervous about it. Andrew has had a history of sensory issues including a lot of sensitivity to noise. We found that events like Red Sox games are much more enjoyable for him with a pair of earplugs. I sent a pair “just in case,” since Skillet is a very loud band. However, I am happy to report that not only did he decline the earplugs, he also fist-pumped and sang his way through the entire show. Music is something that Andrew truly enjoys (he wants to be the next Michael Jackson) and music was a major part of his father’s life growing up, too. I’m glad they got to share that experience together.
When we discussed a party for this year, Andrew decided that what he really wanted to do was to go see the Blue Man Group in Boston. Again, I blame YouTube and the internet for his variety of interests. What he really wanted to do was bring a group of friends to the Blue Man Group. However, that proved to be cost-prohibitive. We are planning a trip in the next few weeks as his birthday present. In the meantime, his request for his birthday dinner continued in his own unconventional style: Kentucky Fried Chicken and an ice cream cake. Works for me.
Andrew’s first ten years have been challenging for me. His eventual diagnosis on the autism spectrum explained a lot of the challenging behaviors and he has made huge strides in his communication and social skills with fantastic support from his teachers, school staff and many kind peers. He enjoys school, and loves computers and video games, as well as his dogs and karate. He is incredibly compassionate in many ways and yet resists (and always has) snuggling and hugging.
Despite my experience working with children and adults with similar issues as a recreation therapist and youth development professional, I sometimes struggle with decisions about what is best for him. It hasn’t helped that his father and I take fundamentally different approaches to his issues. It has taken me a long time to accept (usually) that both of us come to the table from the idea of wanting the best for him, even when we don’t agree about what that is. It is very isolating when you feel you have to explain or protect your child from misunderstandings with other parents and children. Even with parents who deal with the same diagnosis, each family situation is different and each child is different. There are often times where I feel like no one really understands the exhaustion that can come from the day-to-day issues that were just easy with my other kids. These days, though, I am able to see a child who is happy, for the most part. He has people he considers friends, interests he enjoys, wonderful adult support around him, and has now crossed the bridge to “tweenhood.” My hopes and prayers for him are that he continues to make progress on his weak areas and identify and develop his areas of strength. I am sure his path will not be conventional; nothing about him is. It will be his path though, and I am happy to be along for the ride.