A simple play date.
On Friday Pudding had one with a girl new to the area- E. Every time we gamble that the children will like each other, and will…you know…PLAY together. They are hard for Pudding, but they’re also hard for me. The most simple of activities just become too complicated. Nothing brings home the stark differences between her and her peers like a play date.
Play dates are no fun, but they are necessary. Pudding spends all her time at school with other children on the spectrum, so she needs time with children who are typically developing. We’ve tried a few over the course of the last year, and I’m starting to get more familiar with what will and won’t work. It helps if we are in a neutral place, and the child and her parent(s) are familiar.
I’m starting to think I don’t like an easy life, because I disregarded all of that on Friday.
E’s mother, B had emailed me. B had just arrived two weeks ago, both to the area and to this country. She had heard from my husband’s colleague that there was another English mummy living just five minutes away, also with a 3 year-old girl, and wanted a friend for her daughter. Because there is nothing more than I want than friends for my daughter, because ex-pats always cling to each other, because I’ve been in her shoes, I agreed. I wrote a post about how I hadn’t told B about Pudding’s diagnosis. A lot of that was because I felt very awkward having this conversation over email with someone I’d never met. Also, I felt bad that all this lady wanted to do was have a simple play date, and because of who we are, things were never going to be simple. Having been encouraged to talk with the mother beforehand by Jess and others commenting, I emailed her and warned her what to expect.
We had to meet at their house, as B doesn’t yet have a car. E just had a few toys, as the rest of them had been packed away and shipped very slowly, to arrive a few weeks form now. It immediately takes me back to a year ago, when we were in the same situation. Pudding missed her old life, she didn’t have the language to tell us how she felt, so she used a variety of things to comfort her. She became obsessed with controlling us, her brother, her environment. She hated people coming and going without warning. We saw lots of hand-flapping, jumping up and down, spinning around. She could no longer be alone, especially at night. And then there were the tantrums, so many tantrums, so much worse than we’d seen before. We had so many questions. Autism was the simple, complicated answer.
E was waiting in the window for us to arrive, and B greeted us warmly. Pudding said hello to both, as E hung back a little shy, not returning the greetings. B told me this was new- she no longer liked saying hello and goodbye. B had set up paper and pencils to draw, something that both Pudding and Cubby love. E didn’t like them touching her pencils, and got a little upset. I recognized it. We moved outside where they could play in the sand, and before long, E was having a tantrum about Cubby spilling her sand, and Pudding putting water in her sand. Because the sand was allowed to touch the water, but the water couldn’t touch the sand. Oh yes, I recognized it.
What did I recognize? No, not this time. Not autism. My spectrummy sense was in no way engaged, E is a perfectly neurotypical child as far as I can tell. I recognized what I saw in Pudding when we moved from Europe, what I couldn’t see until now because I was blaming autism for everything. Something that was worse for Pudding because she was on the spectrum, but painful too for this child. I saw a little kid whose world had been rocked, whose familiar people were gone and favourite possessions seemed to have disappeared. Who wanted to make sure no one took the few things she had. Who hated the hellos and goodbyes that signaled people coming and going out of her life without her control. A kind of anxiety that might be peculiar to little ones uprooted and replanted in foreign soil.
The sand was too tempting for my sensory-seekers to keep out of, so we moved inside. The sparsity of toys really came into play, as everything Pudding touched was quickly snatched back by E. B was embarrassed by her daughter’s inability to share, so I talked to her about how normal it was, in their current abnormal situation. She didn’t have to worry about correcting E, this was her time to get comforted. She didn’t have to worry about what I thought- I’d been there, no judgment here. And Pudding? Pudding is the perfect playmate for a child feeling this way. She won’t snatch back, she won’t feel hurt, she’ll just move on. At times I’ve lamented these passive tendencies, but for this play date, they were perfect. She was perfect.
Of course, with nothing to do, Pudding had taken to galloping around the room, and Cubby was on a suicide mission on the stairs. With a little coaching though, the two girls were playing chase, and Cubby was on my lap. I’d brought enough allergy-safe snacks for all of them, so no jealousy there. We found more similarities between the girls. E is also a fashionista, requiring a costume change mid-play. Both of the girls claimed Sleeping Beauty as their favourite princess, though I think Pudding takes her special interest a step further!
I made haste to get us out of there before the whole thing unfurled, but not before B had suggested meeting up again. This time I’ll collect them so we can all play with Pudding’s toys, which she is happy to share with anyone who isn’t her brother. We didn’t say goodbyes, but Pudding gave E a big hug, and my heart did a happy dance as E returned it, smiling.
Thinking there would only be differences, I was amazed by the similarities. This worked because Pudding is the way she is. Our messy, complicated selves are sometimes exactly what is required. Our experiences, hard as they might be, can be necessary to fully relate, understand and empathize. Why was I feeling guilty that we can’t be simple? I’m proud of how complicated we are.
There is no such thing as a simple play date, which is just as well, because we can’t do simple if we try!