Learning to work with special needs children and their parents, one of the first things you come across is the short story, Welcome to Holland. While I have the utmost respect for Emily Perl Kingsley and the many other parents of children with disabilities, I find myself appropriating her analogy to the task of parenting in general and single parenting two children in particular. I found myself abroad just this past weekend.
Liam's long awaited soccer season has arrived. I'm excited that, being newly three, he can now join organized sports in the community. Last year he ran around the soccer field while the 4 and 5 year olds kicked goals and learned the rules. In fact, while I couldn't get Henry on the field, I couldn't get Liam off it. In the weeks leading up to his first day on his own team, I spoke with Liam at length. He seemed excited.
When we arrived I took a few pregame photos (which his brother promptly, but accidentally, deleted) and he ran onto the field. Liam participated happily for seven minutes. Then, out of nowhere, he came to me in tears. He wasn't hurt and he wasn't scared but he wasn't playing. For the rest of the hour, he clung to me on the sidelines. Both boys did as a matter of fact. I couldn't sit or stand for one or both of them knocking me over because they couldn't get far enough away from the action on the field. They begged but I refused to leave and take them to the playground (visible in the distance). The other parents stared at us while cheering for their children who were running, kicking and scoring goals with Coach Carlos.
I was upset. Really upset. Another organized sport session down the drain. These things cost money. These things are important if my boys ever want to fit in with suburban, two parent society kids. These things are expected of them. How will they ever learn to be boys without a male parent if they are not at least willing to meet me, their only parent, halfway? I was so angry I couldn't see straight which is probably why we ended up at the playground instead of the parking lot.
As I sat on a bench and watched my boys slide, climb and swing in the sunshine my anger dissipated. It was a beautiful day. It was Saturday. What was really wrong? Of course my 3 and 5 year olds wanted to be at the playground. I sat a while longer and realized how harsh I must have sounded at the field. Guilt washed over me. Here I was, someone who has worked with children for decades, earned two degrees and waited 20 years to become a mother and yet I hurt these little boys with my words and actions that morning. Why is playing soccer on a team more important than rolling down a hill or exploring a pond?
Ah, finally we get to the pond. Next to the playground there was a large, natural pond filled with frogs, fish, ducks and blackbirds. The boys were fascinated. I took out my camera and started snapping away because I wanted to capture their pure joy. I vowed that I would say "yes" to anything they wanted to do for the rest of the day. Their day. And I prayed that I had learned my lesson and would remember to enjoy my visit to Holland.