Monday, February 27, 2017
It's never too late to sit at the kids' table
One of the hardest things to accept as the parent of a child with special needs is that your child will develop on his or her own timeline, and nobody else's. It took me years to make peace with that. The flip side: Fourteen years into being Max's mom, I still have the joy of celebrating firsts, most recently this weekend when Max sat apart from Dave and me at dinner.
We were at Great Wolf Lodge in the Poconos and having epic fun in the water park. Our friends Adam and Jill ended up being there with their boys, Justin and Matthew. Max and Sabrina ran around the hotel with them late on Friday night playing MagiQuest, a tech live action game involving magic wands. Saturday night, our families had dinner together.
We'd asked for a big table; there was a half hour wait. But when Ben got fussy and Dave asked about other options, the hostess said we could take two adjacent booths. I figured our families would each sit together. When we headed toward our seats Sabrina, Matthew and Justin sat down in one booth and Dave settled Max in next to them.
I sat down in my seat in shock. "Max has never sat apart from us in a restaurant," I said to Jill, calmly, when I really wanted to jump up and down and screech "OH MY GAWD HE IS SITTING WITH THE KIDS." She smiled and I don't remember what she said because my head was spinning.
Max really hasn't ever the kids' table—not when we've gone out with friends, not at family holiday dinners, not even at his own bar mitzvah. He's sat next to Dave, so Dave could help him eat. Of the two of us, Dave has usually been the one to do the job. It started when Max was a baby and I would get anxious about feeding Max and sad, too, that he struggled so much to retain food. Dave wasn't emotional at all about it, and he became the de facto feeder.
These days, Max is perfectly capable of eating on his own if his food is bite-sized or cut up. He does so at school and for meals at home (mostly). But when we go out to eat, he is co-dependent on Dave. Grasping spoons remains challenging, and it's just easier to let Dave do the job. Last weekend, in fact, Dave had point-blank told Max he was no longer going to be feeding him. But Friday night, there was Dave spoon-feeding him mac 'n cheese.
"Max, you said you were going to eat by yourself!" I pointed out.
"Tomorrow!" he told me, as he always does and then inevitably doesn't.
But Max did feed himself breakfast and lunch. And then, there he was, ready to do dinner by himself. Dave and Max went to the buffet and got heaping portions of mac 'n cheese and sweet potato pie. Our waitress gave us a dish cloth to tuck into Max's top since he's on the messy side. Then we left Max, Sabrina, Matthew and Justin to their own devices. I only checked on him once, and snapped some photos to commemorate the occasion.
Ben had eaten earlier, so I pacified him with toys and Cheerios as Dave and I chatted with Adam and Jill and I enjoyed my own helping of sweet potato pie (why they were serving that, who knows, but you do not question it when you come upon delicious marshmallow-laden pie at a buffet). In the back of my head, I was processing what had happened.
It seemed strange not to have Max with us. And yet, I felt this immense sense of relief. There is no other way to describe it. It's not as if I've considered Max a burden; taking care of him is a natural, ordinary part of our lives. It's what you do for your children, no matter what their age: You lend them a hand when they need it. You push them to do be independent, as best you can and as best they can. And sometimes, you are wowed when it happens.
After we were done eating, I helped Max clean up. I never did ask him or Sabrina what went on, because what happens at the kids' table stays at the kids' table. He, Sabrina and the boys zoomed outside the restaurant and they peeked in at us through a nearby window, laughing, and I laughed right back.