Play Mates

We spent most of the day outside today, and it was glorious!

We were so glad to have Alex back with us, and that naturally meant conquering every playground in sight.

We also played a giant game of chess, legit, and the children stayed with it the whole time!  They almost have the rules down, and it’s an important part of Mary’s history specifically (she had a chess-champion grandpa).  It’s exciting they are almost old enough to appreciate it!

We even played some miniature golf!

The more time I spent with them this week, the more I realize how much the children have grown and developed.  We are also able to see, as they get older, more in depth into how their backgrounds and physical states impact them and their interactions with the world.  It helps us love them better, but learning to do so is sometimes a bumpy road as we sort out all we are learning.

Barrett, for example, so wants to be one of the big kids, but acts younger than Kyrie, except he really has grown a lot in the last year.  When he gets upset, he is able to calm himself down.  When he makes a bad choice, he is able to self-correct it.  When he is uspet, he is able to express himself in words rather than tantrums.

The other challenging one (maybe these two boys today since we spent the day outside) is Alex, and sorting how much is defiance and how much is autism.  It would be easier if it were just defiance because we could be punitive, and punitive is always the easiest way.  But it’s not defiance, and he doesn’t need punitive.  It’s autism, and he needs pro-social modeling and social story skills.

So for example today, after playing outside today, he could not calm back down to come inside.  We let him stay outside a little longer while we cooked dinner, not for him to push boundaries, but for him to successfully transition back indoors.  The other children wanted to play outside, too, and so out they all went.

Mary, who is the oldest girl and so naturally has a problem with being bossy – which we don’t want to squash because it’s good leadership, but she does need to balance her plans for others with the preferences and needs of others to be a more effective leader… anyway, she was outside being bossy, and the other children were correcting her on this.  I was cooking and watching from the kitchen window.  To passively get back at them, she started singing really loudly and being annoying, but it was not a cheery pretty song from a happy child.  She was holding dominion over them by doing what she wanted instead of doing what they needed.

Because of all the commotion, some girls from the next condo down the road came out to see what was going on.   Mary was immediately excited that older, fancier girls wanted to know what she was doing.  But she didn’t understand they were mocking her.  She asked over and over again if they would be her friend, except she wasn’t asking – she was telling, and these other girls weren’t having it.

So they started screaming at her and being mean and then I watched, horrified, as they even bowed up at her.

Except Alex was there, and he thought it was a game, and couldn’t self-regulate and egged the whole mess on.  Mary got louder, the girls got bolder, and before I could get from the kitchen to the front door, Mary had switched sides and was helping these girls throw sticks at the other children!  Her own brothers and sisters!

Alex made it all worse yelling at them to come and chase him, and Kirk tried to be as cool as Alex, urging them to try and catch them.

Except these were older girls, and he has cerebral palsy, so of course they could catch them.

They could also catch Anber, who was (for once) an innocent bystander.

The whole thing escalated into a giant physical altercation, the first actual fight my children have been in besides with each other.  The group of girls caught Kirk and Anber, pounded on them, and threw rocks at our van and Mary and Alex and our cabin, and then tried throwing stuff at Barrett and Kyrie up on the balcony.  Kyrie was standing there crying, and saying, “Ouch! What happened?  What happened?”

It all happened so fast!

I heard Anber screaming as I opened the front door, and the girls bolted soon as they saw me coming.

I first made sure Anber and Kirk were okay, and got them safely upstairs.

Then I got Mary and Alex, who were already waiting for me with knowing looks on their faces, separated and in time out spots until I could sort out what had happened.

Then I had a chat with the mother of those girls.

I won that, let me say.

Ever so appropriately, of course.

But Mama Bear had a few things to say about teenage girls who would throw rocks and second graders and beat up preschoolers.

But Mama Bear had a few things to say to her kids who started it, too.

I was so angry!  Furious!  I was livid that they would start trouble like that!  I was shocked that they would abandon the younger two children!  I was so disappointed that they would treat others like that!  I was so scared that they could have been hurt worse.  It was awful, the whole mess.

But I did not raise my voice.

And I did not make assumptions, even though I witnessed most of it myself.

Instead, I had them take turns telling me their stories, and then I left them to wait while I calmed down and talked to Nathan.

Then we called a family council, and discussed first what each of them had experienced.  We redirected them to focus on their own experiences, what they saw and heard and felt, and their own self-reponsibility for what happened rather than blaming others.  We had a very long talk that included the children not only apologizing to each other by their own initiation, but also choosing their own consequences.

Then we had a second talk, separate from untangling it all.  This talk was just about safety.  It was about getting away from dangerous situations, about ways to get away, about screaming for help.  It was about talking to Mama and Papa about ever being hurt or anything like that happening.  It was about fighting for your life if anyone ever tried to do worse, like actually take them or touch their private areas inappropriately or without permission.

Your bodies are not bad, but they are sacred.

We know, Mom.  Only you and Papa and the doctor if we need help with our bodies.

But it’s so important, you know?

Just as much as I want them to be able to play outside safely without being the kids who start trouble, I also want them to be able to keep themselves safe and talk to us about anything that ever makes them feel unsafe.

Just as much as I want them to have good social skills, autism or not, homeschool or not, I also want them to know how to protect themselves – and that they are worth protecting.

Just as much as I want them to do the hard work of learning to be a good friend, I don’t want them just selling out for some kind of illusion that isn’t love at all.

Just as much as I don’t want to be punitive just because Alex has autism, I also want him to understand that the world will hold him accountable for his actions regardless – and that he needs to work hard for self-regulation, and to understand now that no means no, and a girl may not be teasing when she says no, and it isn’t funny for him to just keep going because he doesn’t understand it’s not a game.

These are such grown up topics!  Here are bits we reviewed tonight after dinner:

We had such a lovely week in an almost empty resort, and now people are starting to arrive for the holiday weekend just as we are leaving.  We talked about ways we could make tomorrow fun and good without repeating the challenges of today, but also how we can use the challenges of today to help us make tomorrow better.  Because that’s a thing for all of us, right?

That’s why we had to sing their “Try Again” song.

Because we always can.

That’s the whole entire point: we can try again.

About Emily

I am a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints since 2009. I serve as a Chaplain, and work as a counselor. I got bilateral cochlear implants in 2010, but will always love sign language. I choose books over television, and organics over processed. Nothing is as close to flying as ballroom dancing - except maybe running, when in the solo mood. I would rather be outside than anywhere else, especially at the river riding my bike or kayaking. PhD in Marriage and Family Therapy, and currently doing a post-doc in Jewish Studies and an MDiv in Pastoral Counseling. The best thing about Emily World is that it's always an adventure, even if (not so) grammatically precise. The only thing better than writing is being married to a writer. Nathan Christensen and I were married in the Oklahoma City temple on 13 October 2012, and have since fostered more than eighty-five children. We have adopted the six who stayed, and are totally and completely and helplessly in love with our family. Nathan writes musical theater, including "Broadcast" (a musical history of the radio) and an adaption of Lois Lowry's "The Giver". He served his mission in South Korea, has taught song-writing in New York City public schools, and worked as a theater critic for a Tucson newspaper. This is not an official Web site of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

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