Recently I signed my 14-year old daughter up for AAU basketball.
Not familiar with AAU?
AAU is a travel league that plays April through August.
Anyone who signs up for this league knows that for 4 months of the year, it is your life.
The excitement and the competition and the great new friends.
Have I mentioned the driving?
It is a full time job.
Zoe is a true baller now, and she’s never been happier.
And because my family and friends are incredibly supportive of Zoe, they want to be at all of her games. This week that grand total was five.
Yes…I said FIVE games.
And if all of the village is attending Zoe’s games together, where is Mr. Zion?
You got it.
He’s right there with us.
There was a time when taking Zion to social functions was not an option.
His autism made it so overwhelming for him.
And for me.
Even something as simple as a small birthday party typically resulted in a mammoth meltdown.
So to think of taking him to a basketball fieldhouse?
And this particular fieldhouse is a madhouse.
All the time.
There are a total of six courts.
This means all of the people and the noises of one court, multiplied times six.
All erupting at different times.
I can’t begin to fathom the sensory input overload of this mess to an autistic mind.
Yet I have taken my Zion into this environment now several different times, pushing him as hard as I can to spectate and engage in Zoe’s games, without having to be engulfed in electronic devices to escape.
And he is handling it like a champ.
Yesterday was tournament day.
There were people everywhere.
Zion sat in the bleachers waiting for Zoe to start her first game, and he squealed several times at the top of his lungs.
I admit, I hardly notice it anymore.
He put his hand on my shoulder and said in a happy, high-pitched voice, “We watch the basketball!”
Just then my attention was captured by a small boy, probably about 5 years old, playing on the floor at the end of the bleachers.
He was extremely happy, energetic, and honestly….all over the place.
His mother could barely keep up with him.
It was quite clear he had Down Syndrome, and was very happy to be running wildly all over the place as his mother tried in vain to control him while preparing to watch his sister play basketball.
I have to hand it to her, she was on point with the Pinterest mom mode.
I wanted to hug her.
Because kudos to her for attempting to contain him without the use of an iPhone.
And even more kudos for having the courage and stamina to support her daughter by taking her son to an over-stimulating event, so that as a parent she could simply be present.
Because teens don’t remember words or well-wishes or drop offs.
They remember presence.
They need it.
Suddenly, I became acutely aware of the people around us beginning to act uncomfortable and give that mom side-glances.
As though she wasn’t already struggling enough.
I watched that mom chasing her son for longer than I am proud of, before I finally approached and made small talk about her daughter’s tallness and her incredible talent.
That gave me a door to offer my help with her son if she needed it.
Because here’s the bottom line.
That mom and her son have just as much right to be there as any of the other hundreds in attendance.
And what she needed was support and acceptance, not judgement.
So here is my admonition for the day:
When you are out in public and you see a mom struggling with a child who has Down Syndrome or Autism…or even if the kid is just an apparent giant hand full…don’t be an arse.
It’s more than okay to go over and say hello.
The last thing that mom wants is to be ignored.
She’s more than aware that you see her….and her child.
Acknowledge their existence.
Don’t be condescending.
Or say good morning.
Take her some popcorn.
Or better yet, a stiff drink. (Just kidding.)
Help her pick up the child’s toys if he spills them or offer to watch their stuff while she takes the child to the restroom.
Kindness and acceptance go a heck of a long way in those situations, because trust me…that mom was more self-conscious and stressed out than you could ever be by her kid running wildly down the sideline or throwing his Buzz Lightyear doll onto the basketball court.
It is half-time now.
Zoe has been super-scrappy on the court and is in her happy place.
I look over at Zion and see that he is starting to get squirmy, overstimulated….agitated.
Before I can even react, my mom motions to her cell phone and I nod.
She passwords in, and hands her cell phone to Zion.
He opens the YouTube app, and is magically removed from the fieldhouse and dropped effortlessly into the cyberland of Surprise Eggs.
Hey, nobody’s perfect.
Suck it, Pinterest.