|Ben clinging to an assortment of stuffed animals. He's holding on as if for dear life.|
“Will there be toys in heaven?” Ben asked me in the car this afternoon on the way home from school.
His questions, as usual, are continuations of conversations we’ve had days, weeks, or months earlier.
“I don’t think so, buddy,” I told him. “But I'm sure that there will be lots of fun things to do when you get there.”
“Then I will make toys,” he decided. “Maybe I will make them out of the clouds.”
Ben’s toys are his most prized possessions. Anyone who knows him at all also knows his favorite stuffed animal, aptly named Stinky.
He is a consummate collector. When he was younger, he wanted every Thomas train that he could find. Then, for a time, it was the Angry Birds plush animals. Now, his latest craze are the Minecraft plush toys.
Ben and I were cleaning the house this evening to prepare for his buddy Nikki's visit tomorrow. I explained to Ben that he would need to share his toys, and he excitedly agreed.
As Ben cleaned his art table downstairs, I sifted through his box of sensory squishy balls upstairs, and set one aside for a third grader at my school. The boy has been chewing his nails to the point of making them bleed. I hoped hoping the squishy will be a good replacement behavior for him.
A few moments later, Ben wandered upstairs and spotted the squishy ball. He hadn’t seen this ball in months but immediately began playing with it.
“Darn! I didn’t smuggle it out quickly enough,” I mentally chastised myself.
I decided to wait and see if he lost interest in the toy. He didn’t.
I tried a different approach. “Ben, I was wondering if I could ask you a big boy favor?”
He was listening.
“There is a third grader at my school who really needs to borrow your squishy. Can I let him use it for awhile. You’re such a big boy now that you don’t even need this squishy anymore!”
Ben’s face was a mix of emotions. “I will share it,” he said, but then he immediately began to cry. I could tell he regretted his words.
“Ben, do you still need this squishy?” I asked him.
“I need it!” he insisted. “I need it but I want to share.”
We talked a little more about the squishy, about our friend the third grader, and about how many other sensory fidgets he has already. But, in the end, I could tell that this particular one held a special place in his heart. I'd forgotten that it was a gift from last year's OT. I'd forgotten that it was the only one like it in his collection. I had forgotten...but he hadn't.
“How about this? How about you keep this squishy and I’ll talk to my OT friend at school and we’ll find the boy a squishy at school and tell him it’s from you.”
“That’s a good idea,” he agreed.
Giving up toys is hard. Ben happily shares toys with his friends when they come to visit, as long as the toys are still in his sight. The idea of a toy going away from him for an undetermined amount of time was simply more than he could take in that moment.
We’re working on it. Sometimes he can let toys go. Recently we gave away several boxes of his old things “to the babies” and he accepted this without a hitch. But today was not one of those days.
“Mommy, are you disappointed?” he wanted to know.
“Ben, if you still need the squishy, I want you to keep it and use it. Otherwise, it’s good to share it with someone else who needs it. You know what your body needs, and when you’re ready to share it with someone else, I know you’ll tell me.”
But I was disappointed...a little. And he knew it.
A few minutes later, we headed upstairs for books and bed.
On the way, Ben passed by the door to his playroom. He noticed that in my cleaning frenzy, I had knocked a few of his interconnected tracks apart. I paused to allow “The Trackmaster” to fix the tracks back into their interlocking places. I knew that he wouldn’t be able to sleep knowing that the pieces weren’t connected.
I could worry about his compulsive need for the pieces to connect.
I could force him to repress these perfectionistic tendencies.
But I don't.
Instead, I think about my friend and co-worker who needs her special fancy pens to all face a certain way in their container on her desk.
I know someone else who needs to mow his lawn with nice, straight lines.
For me, the simple act of checking off things on my to-do list makes me feel a little bit more in control.
We all have things we do to help ourselves stay calm and centered.
Ben is finding ways to maintain order in his often chaotic world.
He is learning the fine art of flexibility- but some days are easier than others.
Some days are harder for me, too.
And-good day or not- I will be there for him every step of the way.
Being a parent of a child with special needs is not always easy. Click here to read another mommy blogger's perspective on autism awareness. -From Mommy Catharsis