I could immediately tell that Drew was excited about something special. As Drew exited the bus after school, he very excitedly told me to look in his binder which I promptly did. There was a flyer from the local YMCA about a youth soccer league for the elementary school kids. Drew looked at me with the expectant smile and the twinkling eyes as if I was dangling a fluffy puppy with a big red bow collar in front of him. In this moment, happiness and fear instantaneously flashed through my brain. This is where it all gets real.
Physical injury is one small aspect of my apprehensiveness. The thought of a careless kid tackling or tripping Drew during play is enough to send shivers down my spine. The other day it occurred to me that if Drew were to ever suffer a leg injury, it would likely require an impromptu trip to Florida to immediately consult with his leg surgeon for specialized care. And, I suppose an injury to Drew’s special legs could be severe enough to be unrepairable.
Overcoming fears of physical injury is the easy part. It’s the emotional part I’m worried about.
I’m envisioning Drew on the field with his peers who effortlessly run from one side of the field to the other before Drew can even move ten feet. I see him looking listfully at the group chasing the ball feeling defeated as he’s left out. I see him being anxious about rough activity nearby not wanting himself to be injured by careless kids. I see him being frustrated that he can’t keep up. The thought of his internal feelings coming to terms that he’s simply unable to participate literally makes me tear up with sadness.
But, what’s the alternative? To tell him that he can’t participate because of his disability? So, of course I am going to enroll him and hope for the best. It has been Daddy’s and my goal from the beginning to never tell Drew he can’t do something. We’ve always been committed to him learning to be independent by not doing things for him even as we watched him struggle with a simple task. From the beginning, if he was working to open a lid on a toy, unscrew a top to a bottle (that wasn’t tightly wound), or similar fine-motor task, we allowed Drew to fail, problem solve, and retry each task until he accomplished it himself. We even had to sit on our hands to resist the urge to jump up and do it for him. It was hard. But, after two, three, five or more attempts, Drew would figure it out and we knew that that was the greatest confidence boost and skill he could have been rewarded.
But, it doesn’t silence the anxiety.
And, am I being foolish for pretending this is a good idea? A friend once polled me on a scenario she had read about. A viral video of a young girl with Down Syndrome was quite popular and opinions ranged from inspiration and happiness to criticism. I hadn’t actually watched the video myself, but had seen it being shared but apparently the girl’s singing was quite off-key and not really what you would hear in popular music. While I’m sure she was having a wonderful time singing and her family and close friends were proud of her and supported her in all of her efforts, the consensus amongst some of those with more “based on facts” attitudes pondered telling a girl she was good at something when she clearly was not. So, this kid of applies to Drew: should I encourage Drew and ignore the reality of the situation and allow Drew to perform poorly at something while patting him on the back? Or, does it send the wrong message to him to tell him he’s good at it when he is not? Obviously I’m not going to tell him he sucks (and still, this is all just projected feelings leading up to the beginning of soccer play and questions of an event that has yet to happen so it very well could be that he’ll do great and I’m just being a typical overly-worried mama.) I’m not going to tell him he’s not good enough, that’s a given, but at what point do I try to reason with Drew and guide him to bring his goals to a more reachable level?
And, what will other parents think? Are they going to think that I’m the mom blind to my son’s needs/skill level? Will the coach be annoyed at having to be obligated to involving Drew for fear of backlash against leaving out the disabled kid?
It would be so painful to see Drew defeated and sad by the harsh hand dealt to him. I don’t want Drew to ever feel unworthy, incapable or victimized by his TAR. It’s an inevitable reality though that he will have to make some adjustments to his life to accommodate his unique situation. But that doesn’t make it easy or better.
In a way, I can kind of empathize with Drew, having to deal with a life-altering dilemma that makes it hard or impossible to do the things I want to do the most. Some of you might know that I have a genetic defect on two of my chromosomes which has directly caused infant and pregnancy loss. Because of this defect, I have endured much emotional trauma having to bury my first-born son, lose three more pregnancies and ultimately come to the conclusion to have my tubes tied to prevent further pregnancies. It was not by choice that I discontinued my child-bearing or took so long to have live babies. I have the unbearable and insatiable urge to have more but the emotional toll, likelihood of unhealthy outcomes and advanced age leaves me with an urge that will never be satisfied. Seeing a newborn, pictures of a girl in the hospital smiling awaiting the arrival of her new bundle of joy, shopping for new baby items will always sting. There will always be the hint of jealousy watching other girls experience these things effortlessly. Some might offer the trying-to-be-helpful advice of “at least you have two lovely children” or “everything happens for a reason” but I can tell you this is NOT helpful in any way and my feels have changed in no way. But, you’ve just made me feel like I’m being accused of being ungrateful and regardless of whatever reason is being referred to, it’s far worse to mourn a very much wanted baby’s death.
The same thing applies to Drew. It’s a simple fact that he wants desperately to play soccer. Period. No amount of justification or philosophical explanation is going to undo that desire from the heart. He wants to play soccer and to watch from the bleachers other kids do what he so desperately wants to do will be torture. It simply highlights what he can’t do. I feel that longing for him. I know that ache.
Of course, I’m speaking of hypothetical feelings for now. I’m a virgo so naturally I’m an over-analyzer and I will dream up the most dramatic worst-case-scenario in my head and replay it again and again until I’m in tears over something that may never even come to fruition. He may do great. After all, we’re speaking of 7-10 year olds…I don’t think we’re going to be seeing any David Beckham’s out there. I played on a soccer team when I was in elementary school and I mostly remember just wondering about and clumsily running about not really sure what to do. I’m confident Drew will enjoy practices where I’m sure he’ll get in a lot of guaranteed participation and activity. I’m just thinking ahead to games.
Ultimately, as soon as Holden wakes up, I’m taking him for a walk over to the YMCA where I plan on completing the form and writing the check. In the end, showing Drew that you should always try something once and giving it your all is most important. He may have to deal with some difficult feelings, but I can only hope that he will feel good about giving it a shot. And, I’m fully prepared to hold Drew and cry with him right there on the bench in front of the crowd if he feels so inclined. It will be tough on Drew, but I can only hope that the seven years of boosting his confidence, passionate pride and hugely supportive family and friends will help him overcome his momentary sadness. There is nobody more resilient than him.