It’s not just about Autism, this post. Though it’s a lot about Autism. Things are always a lot about Autism here.
This post is more universal than that. This post is about parenting and feeling loss for your child.
“My heart has a virus. It is squeezing it shut and making my brain feel angry and sad.”
My son said those words to me today.
“I do not have a friend.”
…and then those words.
And then my heart had a virus, too.
I don’t remember a lot about the first grade, but I do remember having a best friend. Her name was Lori and I couldn’t pronounce the letter “L” very well so I called here “Rori”.
Best friends, it seems, are all the rage in the first grade.
And Everybody’s Boy doesn’t have one.
There is one child that he is particularly drawn to. I would say enthusiastically, but with “enthusiasm” such as he has for Sonic the Hedgehog or Mega Man.
His mission is to make this boy his Best Friend. No game overs allowed.
But this boy has a best friend (and much like politics one’s six year old allegiance can only rest with one friend) and my son is not the one.
A few weeks ago he expressed jealousy at the “chosen” kid. I found myself in uncharted territory as this was a new feeling for him. I talked about how Mommy has lots of friends and that some of Mommy’s friends were “like best friends” but that it’s okay to have more than one friend.
But as it turns out, it is not even remotely okay. First grade = one singular best friend.
As he tried to win this child over, and for whatever reason (I was not physically present for any of this) the boy became increasingly frustrated with EB.
The boy told him that he was his BFN, “Best Friend Never” and that he didn’t want to come to his birthday party.
My little boy was devastated but determined. He kept devising plans on how to win this child’s interest, much like one of the video games he so adores.
So Gus and I talked to him together. We suggested some other friends he could play with. But apparently they were each already paired up, a mathematical pattern that left him odd man out.
Last week EB came home sobbing over this friend issue, trying to wrap his head around emotions that he had just become aware of. Why couldn’t he win the best friend he wanted? Why didn’t this kid like him?
All I could think was, why doesn’t this kid like him? How could this kid not like him?
In one of my not finer moments, I became really pissed off with a six year old.
How dare he reject my son? How dare he hurt his feelings by saying these things?
My precious son, who has a disability, a disability that affects him socially. What kind of bully is this kid?
But really, if I’m honest with myself, that’s awfully heavy for a first grader. He doesn’t like EB. I hate that. He said some hurtful things. I hate that too. But this child can’t possibly recognize the extent of his actions.
I suggested that next time EB’s feelings were hurt that he tell him “That hurt my feelings.”
And so he did…only he screamed it while fighting his aide to get to the boy and it evolved into an epic meltdown on a field trip with the whole first grade. I wasn’t there, but just hearing about it made me wince in agony.
Gus and I talked to him again. We suggested he take a break from pursing this boy.
And it sucked because he kept asking things all weekend like “Will my <not-best-friend> break be over before my birthday party?” but I thought it was gonna be okay. We had a plan to build relationships with a few other kids in the class with his amazing teachers and I had hope it was going to be okay.
But it wasn’t okay. It’s not okay. He spent the majority of yesterday inconsolable at school, unable to leave his self-contained classroom, perseverating on the fact that he was “on a break” from this boy.
Every morning he writes a goal to work on. His goal for yesterday was “Make a New Friend”.
Finally the virus attacked his heart so very much that his loving teacher and principal took him outside to yell until it was better.
And it was for a little while. It was while we played computer and Sonic and ate Papa John’s pizza. It was as we watched our TV shows and as he fell asleep cuddled next to me.
But In an hour I have to put him back on the bus, and send him back to the mysterious world of first grade where it’s all or nothing. He has the awareness that he’s not fitting in. He just doesn’t understand why.
I don’t understand why either so how can I help him to process that?
He’ll go to school today, his schedule will be greatly scaled back, expectations limited, so as not to add more stress and we will all begin to rebuild. Cause that’s how it goes. We fall apart and rebuild.
But this is okay.
I’ll keep telling him it’s okay. That he doesn’t have to be part of a pair. That Daddy and I are his best friends.
And it will be okay again. But then it won’t be. Because the gift that is my child gaining social awareness is also the most excruciating loss of innocence.
And we’ll fall apart and rebuild again and again.
And in the meantime I’ll keep searching the first grade for his plus one.