By Cathy Jameson
The kids’ fall sports season just ended. With three kids on three different teams playing at three different venues, it’s made for a very busy, and sometimes overwhelming, few months. Add in my husband’s busy work and travel schedule and there were days that I had no idea how I was going to get the kids, or me, everywhere we needed to be. Also add in Ronan’s lack of interest in these sorts of events, and life turned into more of a juggling act than it already was.
With the help of friends on the days when I had to be, but obviously couldn’t be, in three different directions, Ronan’s siblings were well taken care of. Friends picked my kids up for me, they watched my kids’ matches for me, and they brought my kids back to me. They knew that I couldn’t get to many of the away games and eased a huge burden for me by being there. Friends were my eyes and ears, and I couldn’t be happier for their assistance.
Thankfully, I made it to a lot of the kids’ home games this season. More importantly, I made it to each of their final games last week. Happily, Ronan joined me for two of them. He did pretty well while he was there, too. With lots of practice, Ronan’s gotten the kids’ sports routine down pat. I can’t say that he looks forward to going to these outings like I do, but he tolerates them well enough so that I can actually watch and enjoy seeing my children compete. It wasn’t like that in the beginning.
Years ago, when Fiona was the first to take interest in sports, I couldn’t even pick up her up at the end of practice. When it was time to get her, Ronan refused to get in the car. He fought being buckled in. He protesting the entire way there. He protested the entire way back to the house as well. At that time, my husband was gone more than he was home. Realizing how difficult a simple pick up was for me, a friend offered to drive Fiona home. She lived on the opposite end of town. To come all the way to my house added 40 minutes to an already late evening. She brought Fiona home not just once but after almost every single practice. Humbled by her generosity, I longed to help pay it forward to help another family in a similar situation. That wouldn’t happen for a while. If memory serves me correctly, I only saw one of Fiona’s games that particular season.
I continued to rely on this mom, as well as other team moms that I had yet to meet, to get Fiona home or to her games for the next two years. It wasn’t until well into Fiona’s third season did Ronan finally learn how to be a spectator in the stands. It was slow going, but by the time the end-of-season tournament came around, Ronan could sit in the stands like the rest of us could.
Unfortunately, when it came time for his little brother and little sisters to start their sports’ adventures the following year, Ronan had to learn all over again how to be patient. I knew it would take time to get acclimated to their routines, but at least their games were outdoors. Until he was able to sit along the sidelines with me, I would park as close to the field as I could. From the car, I hoped I could catch some of the plays. Some days, I would be able to. Other days, when Ronan needed more of my attention, I’d have to wait to find out how the kids did after the game ended.
With all of the preparation that he’s had, Ronan can do much more than accompany me to pick up the kids from their practices. He’s able to attend their entire games now! It is so rewarding to see him be able to do that. We love to celebrate that because being a spectator hasn’t been easy for Ronan. It’s taken years to create a solid routine. The getting in the car. The ride to the game. The walking into the building or to the field. The finding a comfortable spot in the stands or along the sidelines. The waiting for the event to start. The being patient during the game (some are done within 45 minutes; others can go almost two hours) from start to finish. Then, there’s the sitting through the buzzer, the cheers, and the endless chatter from the other fans – there is so much for him to juggle, to handle, and to sit through. He can finally do all of that, and he can do it well.
Since the siblings have no intention of slowing down, we do what we can to keep Ronan ready for the next experience. So that he can sit through these long and maybe boring-to-him sorts of events, I, too, follow a routine. First, I make sure his back pack is full of Ronan-safe treats. I make sure his favorite books are ready to go with us, too. I pack some sensory items, like thera-putty, and make sure his iPad is fully charged and ready to be used. I tell him where we’re going, what we’re going to do, and who we’re hoping to see. Forgetting any one of those things can be disastrous. It can lead to confusion, frustration, and having to leave the gym or the field much earlier than I’d want us to have to leave.
With how much we were on the go, and with how much solo-parenting I had to do this past season, I knew I needed to bring something more to some of the kids’ games. On days when I knew we’d be out late, I’d ask one of Ronan’s helpers, some of them former therapists who’ve stayed in touch with us, to join us. What a gift it was to have an extra pair of hands!
While Ronan stayed busy with his things, while the other siblings got to play with other teammates’ siblings, and while whichever child of mine was performing on the court or on the field, I got to breathe a big sigh of relief. It wasn’t often they’d be there, but like in the past when someone has sat with us, we’d make it to the event. We’d make it through the event. And we’d make it to the end of the event when it was officially over—not early, not frustrated, and never sad. To be able to do all of that is a feat in and of itself.
This past Friday night was the last game of Fiona’s season. All of us were able to be there: me, my husband, Ronan, and the younger siblings. Oh, how we clapped. Oh, how we cheered. Oh, how we whooped and hollered as loudly as we could! It was a great team effort, which lead to a huge win, and worth the wait all season to watch.
As excited as I was that night, I found myself a bit sad, too. The full, and sometimes, overwhelming season is finally over. I won’t miss having to juggle as much as I’ve had to. I really won’t miss having to jet here, there, and everywhere either. But I will miss other aspects, including the interactions I and my children were able to have with others. My kids sometimes get to do more socializing with friends while they are in the stands than when we are at home. I get to socialize, too, and have meaningful adult conversations with fellow parents. In between watching our kids, we caught up on a variety of subjects. Sometimes we talked about our children. Sometimes we chit chatted about the latest news. Sometimes we brought up politics. Other times we talked about religion. Sometimes, we talked about autism. And once or twice, vaccines were brought up in conversation.
While I welcome the lull in what’s been a very busy past few months, I will miss the meet ups with the other spectators. I will miss seeing my kids’ teammates, some of whom have become my children’s very close friends. I will also miss is having the chance to pay it forward by carpooling a carful of kids to or from practice. I will miss the team spirit, the intense competition, and the final seconds of a nail-biter of a game, too. With how complicated other parts of my life are, all of those can be such a simple and rewarding thrill for me.
I can’t say Ronan will miss how busy these last few months have been, but I’ll make sure he doesn’t lose too much ground in being able to support his siblings in their comings and goings. Next up is getting him ready to sit for and through a play. One of his little sisters has already started play practice. Our nights will once again be a little bit longer, will once again end a little bit later, and will once again take a little bit of juggling the closer we get show time. I bet he can do it, though. It’ll be a challenge, but I bet I can help get him get where he needs to be by opening night. I used to dread it when the siblings asked to sign up for these kinds of things, but Ronan’s sidelined no more. Because he’s sidelined no more, neither am I. How exciting to have more sibling adventures to look forward to!
Cathy Jameson is a Contributing Editor for Age of Autism.