Katie is currently our resident Thomas Alva Edison expert. Some may call him the Wizard of Menlo Park; but Katie calls him Al. Apparently they’re tight, she and Al.
So almost every day last week I got a new tale about her buddy Al. Friday’s installment was the oft repeated story about Mr. Edison (er – Al) being interviewed for a newspaper story whose headline read, “Thomas Edison failed more than 1,000 (to be honest, she said ‘like ten hundred’) times when trying to create the electric light bulb.” When asked about it, good old Al replied, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 1,000 ways that did not work.”
And so goes the story of Kindergarten Soccer – Take One. We have successfully found one way that did not work. 999 to go.
Kindergarten Soccer is a wonderful activity for little ones who will be entering elementary school in the fall. It’s a chance to get outside and get dirty. It’s a great way to get some exercise and to have fun being a kid. It’s an opportunity to be a part of a team and to begin to understand what that means. It is a time to begin fostering friendships with future classmates (and their moms and dads). Kindergarten soccer is fun for the whole family!
Brooke was excited to play. We did our best to prepare her for what to expect. We practiced with her. We have a goal in our back yard. She’s been kicking her little ball back there and running it up and down the ‘field’ for weeks now.
She was excited to wear the ‘uniform’. She had declared that she was going to be #2 (no need to tell her there are no numbers in kindergarten), just like Boots the Monkey on Dora’s Golden Explorer Team.
Have I mentioned the Dora obsession? One of the criteria for a diagnosis of Autistic Disorder includes an “encompassing preoccupation with one or more stereo-typed and restricted patterns of interest that is abnormal either in intensity or focus.” Yes, we checked off that box.
And so, the world of Dora the Explorer, and more specifically her sidekick Boots the Monkey, is part of our daily life. We have a love/ hate relationship with Dora and her friends, but they are an undeniable thread in the fabric of our lives. And hey, the girls are learning Spanish. There’s that.
And so it was that Saturday morning, we all piled into the car and headed to the field to play soccer ‘just like Boots’. Brooke got her orange team shirt and went running out into the middle of a trio of boys who were playing something that vaguely resembled soccer. She ran with them for a while, and then wandered off and sat on her ball near one of the goals. As the other kids started to stream in, I told her that she needed to move away from the goal so that she wouldn’t get trampled. She began to get anxious. I suggested that she kick her ball. She got upset. She turned and saw the kids coming onto the field. And then she panicked and tried to run.
I tried to .. well, I tried. I tried everything I could think of. And she ran, screaming as she went, “No Soccer! No soccer! Nooooooo soccer!”
I followed her to a hill on the outer edge of the fields. There, she found a big rock in a hole filled with dirt. She sat on the rock and began to dig her hands into the dry, dusty earth, as she said over and over again, “Dig, dig, dig! Dig, dig, dig!”
The kids on the fields had begun to separate into teams. The coaches gathered them up and ran some rudimentary drills. They were yelling and laughing and cheering each other on. And she was digging. “Dig, dig, dig! Dig, dig, dig!”
The crying ebbed and finally stopped. The digging continued. I sat with her and watched her claw at the dirt. I gently suggested joining the other kids which resurrected the “No Soccer! No Soccer! Nooooooo soccer!” mantra. So I sat at the edge of the hole and told her it was OK. I wondered, “Are we digging our way out of this hole or into it?” “Dig, dig, dig! Dig, dig, dig!”
She calmed down. She began to enjoy what she was doing. I took a picture of her happily playing in her hole. Eventually I coaxed her onto the playground overlooking the field. Soccer ended. And all the kids descended on the playground that had been our quiet haven. We took her ball and headed home.
I had a wonderful conversation last week with Brooke’s behaviorist. She had read my last post about how I imagine life for Brooke being very much like my experience trying to communicate in a foreign language.
She felt similarly and took the metaphor a step further. She told me that she often thinks of a trip that she and her husband took to France years ago. She said that she believes that life for children on the autism spectrum is as if they are visiting a foreign country, where they don’t know the language or the customs. She told me a story about trying to negotiate the trains out of Paris with her very limited French. She described the frustration that she felt and how easy it would have been to have given up.
She said she thinks about that when she sees our kids trying to interact with peers and others in their world. “It is easy to give up,” she said. Particularly when they come upon someone who is not particularly understanding about their lack of ‘French’; it’s easy to give up. And then she said the following,
“It is so important to have someone to encourage them to keep trying. That is how we learn French, so to speak. That is how our French gets better and better and the next time we try to buy those tickets from someone who isn’t the most understanding person, our French will be so awesome, it won’t matter. That person will understand what we want and will give it to us. That is how we get to see Normandy.”
(Now you know why I am so grateful to have the people that we do in Brooke’s life. We are truly blessed.)
And so it is that we put our heads together and came up with Plan B. We have invited four children that Brooke knows and is comfortable with over to our house for Introduction to Kindergarten Soccer. Orange shirts and all, they will play at our house and maybe we’ll build our way back up to the big field. And maybe we won’t. But according to Al, we have 999 more tries, right? And I’ll be damned if my kid’s gonna sit in a hotel room in Paris and never see the museums or the shops or the culture or the food all because she can’t speak French.