Saturday, February 9, 2013

The Lessons Never End

Last night was my Uncle Steve's 50th birthday party. We made it there a little late - we had to get Luke home from school, feed him dinner, and change his (and our) clothes first. We were home for about an hour before we hit the road for the party.

We arrived - I'll admit, super excited not just to see everyone and share updates from my prenatal appointment earlier in the day - but to eat barbecue prepared by my Uncle Charlie. Oh y'all... SO GOOD. 

But I digress. We approached the door, and Luke reacted in a very un-Luke way: he stopped in his tracks. We led him into the room that was not too crowded, but also decidedly not his living room or a scene he knew, and Luke melted into a puddle of tears. The next five minutes were a whirlwind of hellos, hugs, and concerns. "What's wrong with Luke?" "Luke, do you want to sit in my lap and play with my phone?" "Do you think he wants to go for a walk outside?" And finally, "Lisa, why don't you sit down and eat?" 

Before I knew it, Luke was walking outside with Grand. Soon my mom was asking for my car keys - Luke wanted in the car. Luke spent the rest of the time in his carseat, first with Grand in the car, and later with his Daddy. Within five minutes, tops, we surrendered. Poor Jeremy spent the time relegated to the car (he did at least get to eat awesome barbecue) with a quickly-appeased Luke. I stayed behind to visit with people and make our appearance before we headed home just over an hour later.

We hadn't been driving long before it hit me like a ton of bricks: We mis-played the situation, big time. Granted, it all happened quickly, and no one had anything but good intentions to make Luke more comfortable. BUT... Hang on... I'm going to get to a point, but it will take a bit.

It's been almost 2.5 years since Luke was diagnosed with autism. I've written before about the up-and-down experience it is. It seems that just when you hit a stride, that you feel like you have the hang of things, something happens that reminds you: You have so much left to learn. 

I think we have been in a honeymoon period lately. Luke has adjusted to his new school and schedule so well, and we've seen so much growth from him. But even with his great progress, I think we're still too quick to let "the big A" call the shots. One of Luke's cousins was also at the part and also not a very happy camper... but she stayed. Her parents had her fight through it, tears and all, because that's life. They weren't mean for doing it. They were her teachers, providing her a lovingly stern learning opportunity: sometimes, we have to do things we don't like. But we have to put on a brave face and tough it out.

Jeremy and I talked on the ride home that while there are lots of things that make Luke different because of autism, he is still a kid. He is still a kid who wants his way, and we are still parents whose job it is, in a caring way, to let him know that he can't always win, and that he must handle that with grace. Granted, he is a kid whose diagnosis makes navigating the world and its social events more challenging... but he can't overcome those challenges without practice. At the end of a looooong week for the whole family, we were probably a bit too quick to choose the path of least resistance and let Luke's grumpies call the shots. And because of that, we missed some quality time with our family and friends. They missed getting to see Luke (even if he wasn't his most charming self). In most ways, how the night went isn't a big deal at all. But in small but important ways, it calls to my attention that when we're in a similar situation again, we've got to make a better effort, for everyone's sakes.

If you're a family member reading this, you may be thinking I'm making a way bigger deal of this than necessary. And I promise Jeremy and I aren't at home flogging ourselves right now about this! =D For whatever reason, I just needed to write and make sense of it this morning: to reflect on the lesson in hopes that next time we're in a frenzied situation, I'll be better able to navigate it for the betterment of my favorite little boy. Because you know what? Quirks and all, he is pretty fan-freaking-tastic, with his cookie-eating self. :) 
(Random observation to lighten this post up: if you watch Modern Family, I ask you: is it just me, or does he look like a young Luke Dunphee here?)

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