Meaning, that being afraid of summer is such a ridiculous notion that they haven't even yet invented a word to describe it
Here in the Netherlands, warm, sunny weather is one of our most precious commodities. Living in such a rainy country you come to dream, love and pray for a warm sunny day, where you can go outside, run, jump, play, eat and drink outside and stroll down the boulevards. When you get such a day it seems like the whole country is outside. Public squares are full of people talking, laughing, drinking and basking in their good fortune. Good weather energizes people, it can change moods, pull you out of the blues. Plus here in the Netherlands it can rain for two weeks straight, so when you've got a good day, you have to enjoy it, you never know when one is coming again.
This week we have had the first dose of spring. It is staying light until nearly 7 PM and in another month, when summer time really kicks in, it will stay light until well after 10 PM. This week, although the mornings and nights are still cold, during the day it has been lovely, jean jacket weather, blue skies and soft breezes.
I even hung my first wash out on the clothesline yesterday. Ahhhhhh.
And the summer months are a godsend for a lot of parents. Their kids get to go outside and get out from under foot. They can run off their energy and tire themselves out. Our house is right across the street from one of the many playgrounds in our area (within a block circumference there are 5 playgrounds), but we are lucky that our house overlooks one of them. It is only a swing set, a sandpit and a big open field but most of the neighborhood kids are drawn to it and on sunny days the playground is full of kids, toddlers and little ones in the sandbox, bigger kids riding around on bikes and scooters and kids of all ages running, cavorting, yelling and screaming, most of them within earshot of their houses and their parents. Parents relish it as a way to get their kids out from under them, where you don't have to be with them every single second. The draw of outside can keep many kids out for hours at a time.
And Maya loves to play outside. Actually in the spring, summer and early autumn she spends most of her time outside, either in our back yard or at the playground. As of last year we started letting her go to the playground unaccompanied by us because she was with it enough to not wander off and truth be told I can see her at the playground from the house.
Still, I dread the summer months.
Warmer weather and being outside means that Maya's social skills or more correctly, her lack of social skills are front and center. And I spend a lot of the time worrying about her, worrying that other kids will discover her delays and that they will do what kids do, that she will become an object of ridicule.
I don't know what scares me more about that, that she will be totally oblivious to it and always be on the outside looking in or she will be aware of it and it will make her feel badly. I think I would rather have oblivion because I'd rather have anything than Maya feeling sad or feeling badly about herself. Up until now her autism shields her a little from this but as she gets older she is becoming more aware of things.
Will she become aware of this too?
I suppose I should be proud and grateful that Maya is wanting to socialize with other kids, I know that is a very big deal and that many autistic kids have trouble just finding the desire to want to interact with peers. And Maya is slowly, carefully making strides in this area. For instance today she played with the kids next door for a couple of hours outside and had a great time and other than my or Leo's occasional checking on her or my next door neighbor checking on her kids, it was a drama free afternoon. No fighting, screaming or Maya not listening.
As nice as it is to see Maya playing with other kids, and doing it without problems even is that truth be told, in the warmer months, Maya turns into half-a-stalker. She becomes obsessed with the kids next door. They have been friendly since they were babies and the warmer weather puts them naturally in each other's realm. They don't go to the same school so when the weather is colder, rainy and snowy they hardly see one another and they largely drop off of Maya's radar. But when the weather is warmer, and the chances greater that they will run into each other Maya becomes totally fixated on them. She will run to the living room or our bedroom window to look and see if their parents car is parked outside which signals to her whether they are home or not and whether they can play with her.
Last summer she was completely obsessed with playing at our house or their house with them. From the second she got up in the morning until she went to bed she would ask me if they could come over here or she could go over there. She had no concept at all of understanding that their parents also had to be in favor of the idea.
It was a little movie she would play out over and over throughout the course of the day, until the point where I wanted to lose my mind. She would ask me repeatedly all day long if they could come over here or she could go over there. If they weren't at home, then she would understand that they couldn't play together but then she would ask me over and over again about playing together when they got home. And often she would stand at or near the window and when their car would pull up she would jump up and down, start knocking on the glass to get their attention and ask them breathlessly if they wanted to come over. And all this is before they even open the car door.
I never say no when Maya would ask me if they can come over to our house, for one because Maya doesn't have many friends and her social skills will never get better if she doesn't have opportunities to develop them. But mostly, I just want Maya to be happy, so I always say yes. But Maya doesn't understand if sometimes she could not go and play next door and no matter how many times I tried to explain it to her, she just didn't get it. She has no concept that my neighbor might be busy doing other things or that she might just want to be with her own kids or she just might not feel like looking after another kid. To Maya there is nobody's want but her own. She wants to go next door and play and they were at home. Why can't she?
And she just doesn't get that sometimes they the kids can't or might not want to play with her. She thinks if they are home they can play together. If they tell her they have to eat dinner, she will wait outside like an expectant father waiting for them to come back outside. If she hears them out in the backyard, she will run out and try to play with them regardless of what they will be doing. Those poor kids can't scratch an itch without Maya being right there asking them if they want to come over. If they have friends over, she will try to play with them and if they are not interested she will just stand there, on her sliding board peering over the fence hoping they will climb on the fence and look at her.
I just want to cry for her when she does that.
This year so far the obsessive asking has not yet begun, but we are only in the first week of outdoor weather, I am sure it is coming. But yesterday like clockwork, she heard them outside and ran after them. They had friends over and were busy doing their own thing and Maya hung out in the backyard trying to catch whatever crumbs they threw. She kept throwing her ball over the fence just so they would throw it back (as that is a pretty regular game they play). And yesterday she came inside while I was busy in the kitchen and asked me if she could water the hydrangea and rose bushes. When I said yes, she dutifully filled up the water can and a few minutes later, the little girl yelled at Maya to stop pouring the water through the fence. I asked Maya whether she watered the bushes or poured the water through the fence. The little girl yelled that Maya put it through the fence and "they didn't like it." Of course you don't like it, but my poor kid was just trying to be part of the fun. I told Maya to only water the ground and she listened and later they threw the ball a little back and forth.
It just pains me to see her in that situation, so desperate to be included. I find myself hovering a little too much, being a helicopter mom trying to reassure and protect her. If I am really honest, seeing this reminds me a little of my own childhood. I also had a very tough time making friends as a youngster, actually in many ways a tougher time than Maya. And I think when I am so busy hovering and eavesdropping and feeling sad for her, I am remembering how I used to feel at Maya's age, to always feel like the person on the outside of a circle.
When I was around Maya's age, my best friend was also my next door neighbor. We were friendly and I spent a lot of time at her house. I had a tough time at that age. I was bullied by some older boys and they kind of ruled the neighborhood and most of the other kids were too afraid to publicly have me as my friend. I remember just being crushed when I wasn't invited to my next door neighbor's birthday party. She had a slumber party and had invited all the other girls in the neighborhood but not me. I was devastated. I cried about it for a week. And on the day of the party, I sat outside on our back steps, which was the area where our two houses were closest. My mom tried everything she could to get me to come inside, but I just sat out there all day with my doll, hoping that they would see me out there, feel sorry for me and ask me to come over.
When Maya is at that fence, I know that part of what I am feeling is that.
Truth be told those kids are nice to Maya and they genuinely do like her and like hanging out with her --at least I think they do. I don't know how much they might know about Maya's situation or if they realize that Maya is different from them. Sometimes they ask me questions, like last summer when they asked me why Maya couldn't ride a bike without training wheels yet. My answer was that she just hadn't learned yet, and they were puzzled by that answer because Maya at the time was 7 and 7 year old kids should know how to ride a bike. I gently told them that many kids know how at 5 or 6 or 7 and some kids learn when they are older. Maya still isn't riding a bike because last summer she was afraid and we decided not to push her. She is now much too big for her training wheels bike and we need to get her a new one but the bigger bikes don't come with training wheels. We tried to side step it a little and got her a scooter last year for her birthday, figuring that a scooter would buy her a little time, having something to ride while the kids rode their bikes and not subjecting her to teasing for not knowing how to ride a bike. Plus I thought, perhaps foolishly, that if Maya could learn how to balance herself on a scooter, that might help her with the balance she needs to ride a bike. So far she is enjoying her scooter and doing well on it and she keeps up well with the other kids on their bikes.
Sometimes as a parent you have to remember, that even though your kids might look like you and might even share some personality traits with you, they are not you. Maya is not an outcast like I was, she is just a little girl with autism who just hasn't quite gotten all the ins and outs of socializing with kids her age.
We shall see what this summer will bring.