What did you expect?

At the sensory gym I bring Wally to there is a wonderful giant, stuffed bear in the lobby. It's worn-out and friendly and they have him dressed up for summer now with goggles, a swim-tube, a towel and sand toys. One of the best moments of the week is when we arrive and Wally jumps out of the stroller screaming "Bears!" (I don't know why plural.) He then proceeds to plunge into the bear, hug and cuddle him for a while, pretending to two of them are sleeping under the towel. Then he jumps up and tries on the swim tube and goggles saying, "Too big" and laughing. I always get to the gym a little early so we have time for this.

One reason it makes me happy is for a while it was one of the few places outside the apartment where I ever saw Wally do something that would qualify as playing. For those few moments he wasn't fiddling with the water cooler, flipping light switches, pressing elevator buttons, or calling security. He wasn't opening other kids' sippy cups or trying to fold up their strollers. He was just a kid playing with toys. Something so basic. I also thought it must kind of please the receptionist and whoever else takes it upon themselves to dress up the bear. I'd be happy if I put out a display like that and saw kids enjoying it so much. In fact I'm always sort of ludicrously worried about the opposite -- people going to trouble like that for holiday displays or something and kids ignoring it.

Okay, a few minutes later Wally's inside the gym with his OT, I'm on the couch with the laptop at 3% power and the adaptor left stupidly at home trying to finish editing two proposals for the Thurgood Marshall College Fund in the 25 minutes of free-time I now have to myself. There's a lot of commotion in the sitting area with kids coming in and out and apparently the only water cooler in the whole office is out here so that's a huge draw. In between conversations I'm trying to block out I hear, "We have to put a sign out there. No touching the bear."

I feel completely stung. The woman who said it disappears into the maze of offices and I waste about five minutes trying to figure out if she was kidding or serious or what was going on. The computer finally gives out so I put it away and go over to ask the receptionist if it is okay for Wally to play with the bear.

"No, it is, but, it is, well... it is it is, but....no no no, it is it's okay". I don't know if there's any way to communicate this in writing. The tone of the voice. It's not, "Of course it's okay" or "Sure, why not?" Instead, it's okay, too much emphasis on "kay", too drawn out. As in, okay but not great. It was clear she was stumbling along in her answer.

"I won't let him play with it if he's not supposed to," I say.

"No, it is out there for kids, but if you could just pick up the stuff after."

Anyone who knows me, I think, would know that I'd sooner let Wally ride down the elevator to 41st street by himself than not clean up the toys he'd scattered about, not that I'm bragging about this, I'm doing the opposite-- it's terrible and thank God I've been made aware of that behavior and stopped doing it. But the point is I always clean up the toys, so that can't be the problem. The problem is he just is a little too wild with it, I guess? It's really more of a look but don't touch kind of thing, even in a sensory gym. Maybe it's that even when I clean it up I don't get the goggles back hanging off the ear the way they were exactly, or the towel lined up just right.

I left the gym yesterday fighting back tears as I'd left the party at the gym a month or so ago. They were kind enough to have a get-together for families of kids who go there and I was so thrilled to go drink ginger ale and eat pretzels with Alex and meet other parents and not be "that family". Not have the sense that Wally was so out of bounds and that we shouldn't have brought him. I thought surely among other kids with these supposed issues and disorders and more severe cases...Wally wouldn't stand out. But he stood out in a ridiculous way. While other kids played with balloons he pulled every book off a bookshelf, dumped snacks on the floor, pressed buttons on fax machines, ran into everybody's office and cubicle grabbing what looked like important papers. So we had to leave, before the music even started. There was just no point to trying to force it to work. As we went crashing out of the place someone handed us a cute little party favor-- an explorer kit with play binoculars and plastic bugs.

When we started walking down Madison, Alex was of course okay as he almost always is and said it was still fun and we had a nice, evening walk ahead of us and look how calm Wally was now that we got him outside. And when I persisted in feeling bad he asked, "What did you expect?"

And that's a really good question. And a big part of what bothers me. It's not like I'm bringing him to an antique glass and collectible show or to the Cloisters, and for now I've even given up on bringing him to friends' houses for dinner, but how am I still embarrassed and out of place in the lobby of the sensory gym?

But more than frustration was just this sadness it tapped into. Wally was fine. He had no idea anyone was annoyed with him or me. But that very fact--that he was fine, unaware and innocent --was what was upset me. The idea of him happily playing and hugging this bear he loves and me thinking people must be saying, "Look how much fun he's having" when in fact they're saying, "Ugh, that kid. There he goes again." It made me feel sorry for him. If he'd been acting cranky and bitchy and annoying, I wouldn't have minded at all, I would have expected it. This time he was just so sweet. And still out of place and out of bounds.

Alex has a much better attitude about so much of this stuff than I do. First, he doesn't feel sorry for stuffed animal displays that aren't getting enough attention. And second, usually when we leave some event where Wally was unruly and soaking wet and tearing the place up, Alex says, "He had more fun than any kid in there." Which is usually true.


  1. Read Rhonda's story about attending a movie with her whole family:
    Perhaps the sensory gym is not the place, but I'm sure there's somewhere else that will make you think, "I'm home."

    xo, d

  2. I so related to this story...not that I have lived your daily life with Wally, but you have seen my kids. They are very overwhelming to people in their over the top-extroverted way. They practically accost every kid they meet to be their best friend (or at least have a sword dual with them)and never stop talking at a REALLY high tone. I am often trying to apologize for them. But Alex has it completely right. They are having more fun then the other kids and completely oblivious to their social awkwardness. I wish that I could embrace that a little more sometimes...within reason that is.

  3. Wow - beautiful entry, love Alex's quote at the end. I agree with Roo & Moo - it's an attitude that we should all embrace, even in our adult lives. I would love for people to think I am having most fun out of everyone.

  4. This is a little heartbreaking. I absolutely understand why you would cry, and I imagine I would feel the same way you do -- the mere thought that Wally's pure happiness could be received with an "ugh, that kid" is horrible. I'm glad that Alex has the perspective that he has, though. Both perspectives are valid and important -- and I think both perspectives show that you are compassionate, caring, realistic parents. I sound like I am trotting the platitudes but I mean this very sincerely, just can't quite say it right.

  5. I admit I'm a little teary at this one. It bothered me for a long time, and it bothers Josh still, to be so "different". For Josh, it's just caring about what other people think. But for me, it's different. For me, it's wanting normal so badly for him, wanting so much to wake up and be able to talk to my son. Just to ask him what's up and get an answer. And it took me so so long to let that go, and in fact sometimes I still wallow.

    The "different" may get better or worse with age, only time will tell. But I promise you, it will get easier to handle. Last week Morgan wet his pants (for the first time in forever! we stopped bringing changes of clothes ages ago!) at an ice cream place. Josh and I looked at each other, slapped our foreheads, and said "hey, at least we're outside and it's hot enough that he can dry before we get back in the car!" and we handed him his ice cream cone and all sat down.


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