Today I took my son to his Special Olympic swimming practice. Every Saturday, from February to the end of May, he swims for an hour and a half, practicing all his strokes. The rest of his Special Olympic swim team gang are there as well…all shapes and sizes of young adults, with their own “special abilities.”
As I encouraged my son, up and down the lane, yelling at him to kick his legs, to look out for his friend, to avoid collision..I couldn’t help but think of my friends and their children. I have one friend that has a son that is a gifted hockey player. Already the big leagues are looking at him..and he is still young. I have listened to her talk about her weekends spent driving to this place or that, hockey game this and that…and nodded and smiled.
I have secretly wondered how she, or any of my friends, would handle having a child like my son. I have wondered how I am handling having a son like my son. My friends with neurotypical children talk about dance recitals and sporting events, vacations and dinners so easily…I am so envious. And I know that envy is a terrible emotion to have. But it’s true. I’d be a liar if I didn’t admit that I felt this way, at least a little, some of the time.
I mean, the freedom to just go to an event…without first knowing what kind of food will be there. How long it will take. How long will your child have to wait between events..and what you will be able to provide as entertainment in between..to know if a place has wifi..and to make plans if it doesn’t..to have a plan in place in case your child has a public meltdown..which, let’s face it, can be ugly in an 18 year old, 6 ft 1 inch boy..to have all the safety measures in place–to just be able to go someplace with a child without having to worry about all of that..that kind of freedom is something I haven’t seen in 18 years. And something most parents of neurotypical children take for granted.
This doesn’t make me any less proud of my son’s accomplishments in the pool–on the contrary, I think it makes me more proud as I recognize how difficult it was for him to win that ribbon. It takes some real concentration for a child with autism to swim to the end of a lane, touch the end and swim all the way back..without being distracted by the ongoing story or voices in their head.
My son will never be picked to play a pro game, make millions of dollars, and buy me a car. My son is on Social Security and Disability. My son will need care the rest of his life. His brief victories are even more celebrated as a result.
So, hockey moms and dads–you rock, soccer parents–you roar–but we Special Olympic’s parents…we keep it real. We are the real winners here. So I will continue to smile at my friends when they talk about their children. And I will continue to bite my tongue and not mention how my son flooded the bathroom once again, and how I had to walk thru toilet water for the third time in a day. I will smile at my friends, tell them congratulations, and if asked, tell them my son swims. And that he does it damn well. He has the ribbon to prove it.