I am actually forcing myself to write this blog posting because of the emotion it is going to stir in me. I doubt I will get through it without tears. Now, before you stop reading, I should tell you that they are tears of happiness.
A couple of days ago, Mike started Special Olympics bowling. I am fortunate that Mike attends an amazing school with teachers that are beyond dedicated. In short, they are not just teachers – they are family. While none of them have disabled children of their own, they go beyond the scope of the classroom. They volunteer to coach their student’s Special Olympics teams. Their dedication ensures that the students can participate. They provide an added layer of comfort for their students and parents. We do not have to worry about a ‘learning curve’ with a new coach.
As most of you know, Mike ate chicken nuggets for the first time in 14 years at this bowling practice. While I am shocked and thrilled at this progress, it was not the highlight of the day for me. That came from watching my son and quietly acknowledging the progress he has made.
As I sat back and observed him, I reflected on the years of pain I had while watching Mike participate in activities. He required constant prompting and always seeming disconnected from the group. Since he would wander away and his behavior was unpredictable, I always had to hover over him. It was work and, to be honest, not much fun for me. For the love of my son, I pressed on – and on this day, I reaped the benefits of my hard work.
As I watched him, I realized that he has changed. He is not disconnected or isolated anymore – he fits in with his peer group. To be honest, he is actually quite popular. His friends get him and play along. They laugh when he is goofy – they script with him – and they tell him to “SHUT UP” when he is annoying. It is all so very normal – and yet so very magical. (Here come my tears)
When Mike and I arrived at the bowling alley, he bolted through the door and headed straight to his FRIENDS. We have never been to this bowling alley, so I quickly followed him, in case he decided to disrupt other bowlers. My anxiety subsided as I saw him approach his friends. He smiled when he saw them. He greeted them by name. When a classmate avoided his greeting, he bent down to her eyelevel and forced a “hello Mike” from her.
He took off his shoes, put on socks and bowling shoes, only needing my assistance to tie the laces. He grabbed a few balls and placed them in the rack. He waited his turn and watched his teacher enter his name on the scoreboard. He moved around the group of approximately 20 kids and interacted with them. When the bowling started, he followed the game and knew what to do. He cheered and high-fived his friends when they bowled a strike. He looked for praise from others when he bowled a spare. At one point, he ordered food from the snack bar – calling me over to pay, of course.
Directly behind where the kids were bowling, was a sport’s bar area. I sat in there with Mike while he ate and remained there for the bulk of the practice. I was able to watch him, in case he needed me. I was able to sit, relax, and enjoy my son’s bowling practice.
The wonderful part – he did not need me!