Recently I have witnessed two very magical moments between Oscar and one particularly special and unique boy in his class, Stan. I wanted to write about these moments because I am so blown away by Stan who is only eight years old (like Oscar) but who is wise and compassionate beyond his years. But let me paint the picture…..
The Christmas school holidays were great and hard for us. I find that we are continually in this situation with Oscar of just not quite fitting in to any box. His mainstream mates who are gorgeous and who he wants to spend time with are already outgrowing him and although they are kind and inclusive at school, they really don’t have much interest in seeing him in the holidays. Play dates are rare and I get it. The kids prefer their other friends and we don’t blame the kids for that. However it doesn’t make it any less upsetting.
Then Rich and I have to remind ourselves that yes, Oscar has Down’s syndrome, he does have special needs. We tell ourselves he can go in a special needs program in the Christmas holidays. That’s where he will fit in. The problem is, he doesn’t want to go and he doesn’t really fit. He looks at the other kids with special needs who are often more severe than him (for want of a better word) and often not conversational and he doesn’t identify with them. He looks at me and screams ‘Mum, no! Don’t leave me here.’ In complete contrast to when he gets involved in a mainstream activity and tells me to shove off; that he will make his own way home.
Anyway two things have happened recently with Oscar’s mate, Stan that have made my heart sing. The first thing was in the holidays. The second thing occurred in the first week back at school…..
One day in the Christmas holidays I dropped Oscar’s little sister, Sadie at a tennis camp. Sadie’s best friend Olivia was attending the camp so Sadie wanted to go. Oscar was booked in for a special needs holiday program that same day but he took one look at the kids doing tennis (some who he knew from school including his mate Stan) and the activity itself and he didn’t want to leave. He begged and pleaded and balled his little eyes out when I said he wasn’t staying; and we left Sadie and Olivia staring and waving uncertainly as I dragged a wailing Oscar back to the car. I felt like the worst mother in the world.
Everything in my heart wanted to say to him, “Oscar, yes you can stay darling. Awesome, tennis here we come! It’ so fantastic that you want to give it a go! Yep, you’re eight, you’ll be fine. I’ll pick you up at the end of the day, just wait with your sister at the front gate at three. I’ll be there.”
Just as you would to a ‘normal’ eight year old boy….but I can’t, I friggin can’t…because Oscar runs off. He can’t tell the time, he gets distracted, he has no road sense or understanding of safety, he gets overly excited and does the wrong thing, he doesn’t always get to the toilet in time; and so the list goes on. I love his enthusiasm and desire for independence. And he can do so many things too. He is so unbelievably capable in a mainstream setting. If only he could control these other things!
So I thought about the tennis and I decided I’d speak to the tennis management and they said with a respite worker supporting Oscar they would take him on the next day. So we rock up the next morning and there was Oscar’s mate from school, Stan. The look on Oscar’s face was priceless.
“Stan my man!” Oscar greeted Stan by shaking his hand and pulling him in for a footy hug with the mandatory slap on the back.
Oscar was as cool as a cucumber; he beamed and puffed his chest. He didn’t want to know about the support worker and I quickly told her to give him a wide birth and to only support him when needed. My heart sang, he was in. I left him to speak to the tennis coach.
The big thing about kids with special needs is they need to start new programs in the right way, on the right foot. If they don’t start well it’s often an ever increasing downward slope sometimes with no return. So I asked the coach if there was any way he could be put in a group with at least one of the boys that he knew. That would start him off feeling secure and happy. At this point Oscar and Stan were in ear shot. The coach told me the problem was that Stan and the other kids Oscar knew had already progressed to a higher group. Oscar would be in with the beginners. I hoped Oscar would understand.
Then on leaving, Stan came and found me.
“Lucy, I’ll help him. I’ll go in to Oscar’s group.”
Those simple words and I could have cried. I know it sounds ridiculous but it’s true. I was so touched by Stan’s kindness. Every time I leave Oscar at a new activity, in a new environment my stress levels are sky high. Will he cope? Will he do the right thing? Will he be safe? He is so quick and he runs so fast, across roads without looking. We’ve had carers lose him he is so quick. No matter how many times we have told them that they need to have eyes in the back of their heads. Please darling don’t have a toileting accident and embarrass yourself, I pray silently for his sake because he would be angry with himself and incredibly embarrassed (he just forgets in all the excitement). He so wants to be just like a typical kid. Often he grabs and rough houses with kids. Oscar is very touchy feely (all with good intentions); but kids don’t like it and his attempts at connecting and affection can often be taken the wrong way. As much as I’d love to, I never leave him feeling worry free. Even with a worker supporting him I still worry because the worker is often someone new (they chop and change a lot) so by the time they’ve worked out all of Oscar’s nuances, the damage can already be done.
“No Stan, honestly, it’s OK.” I told Stan. “Thank you so much but you go in your group. It’s all good, Oscar will be OK.”
Stan is a super mad sportsman. I knew being in the higher grade would mean a lot to him.
“No, Lucy, I will. I want to!” Stan insisted.
I looked at him and paused.
“How about you just go with him for the first ten minutes then and help him settle. Would that be ok?” I suggested.
Stan thought and then smiled. The perfect compromise.
The second wonderful gesture from Stan happened the first week back at school.
Oscar is obsessed with cricket. For the last month every morning, without fail, Oscar has opened his eyes and shouted, “Cricket! Mum! Dad! Can we play?”
It’s usually 5.30am in the morning so Rich and I groan and curse and say, “No! Not at least until the sun is up.”
So last Tuesday after school the kids in Oscar’s class; Stan, Luca, Ethan, Callun and Jack were all playing cricket in the playground. I was meant to be taking Oscar and Sadie to swimming lessons but as I tried to coax Oscar out of school with the promise of an ice cream, he flatly refused screaming “cricket” at the top of his lungs and legged it over to his mates. Knowing how much he had missed them all in the holidays and how important it is to him, and how swimming lessons are swimming lessons and can wait; I blew them off and let him play. The joy on his face was immense. This is how he connects with his mainstream friends. Sport is such a fabulous equalizer.
I watched him bat and bowl and field; taking his turn like all the other kids. He is not as good or as coordinated as them but he’s also not that bad.
Then, of course, he didn’t want to stop. He definitely didn’t want to go home with me. So I spoke with the other Mums and after a decent session, we decided to halt the game together dragging all the kids out of the playground at once.
Oscar however was adamant to be the last one playing and then he wouldn’t relinquish the bat. Unbeknownst to me, the cricket bat and ball belonged to Stan.
So as I was trying to pry the bat from Oscar’s hands, Stan walked up to me and said very casually “Lucy, Oscar can have them.”
“Huh?” I looked at Stan.
“It’s my bat and ball. He can have them!”
Oscar grinned triumphantly and hugged the bat to his chest.
“Oh no Stan, that’s OK. He’s got a cricket bat and ball at home. We can’t take yours!”
“Yes you can,” He smiled.
I turned to Bernie, Stan’s Mum and said, “I’m so sorry. I am trying to give it back.”
Bern was so cool, “No worries… Oscar, just bring them tomorrow and play again.”
It is evident why Stan is so kind.
The next morning Oscar woke and it was the same as every morning… “CRICKET!” … only this time he wanted to play with Stan’s bat and ball. I held him off until school, saying he could play with Stan.
At school, Oscar was so excited to play cricket with Stan that he dumped his bag in the middle of the playground and furiously searched for Stan. However Stan was nowhere in sight. Oscar tried to get the other kids in his class to play but they were not interested in playing. I could see Oscar’s frustration rising. I left Oscar to place his bag at his classroom and when I returned he was hollering loudly in the playground; face bright red with tears running down his cheeks. The bell had gone for assembly and everyone else had lined up, except for Oscar who was making an almighty scene.
I wondered if there had been some sort of altercation in the playground. I had been gone for mere seconds.
“Are you ok?” I asked him.
“Stan! I want Stan. Where’s Stan’” He wailed dramatically.
It had hit him. The bell had gone and Stan wasn’t there and the opportunity for cricket was over. His little heart was broken. He was so disappointed.
Suddenly Stan appeared with his bag, he was running towards assembly. Then he saw us and ran our way.
“Are you OK Oscar?” He asked genuinely concerned.
Oscar was wailing so hard he couldn’t talk.
“Oh Stan, he’s upset because he wanted to play cricket with you before school.” I answered.
Stan put his arm around his mate. “It’s OK Oscar, I’ll play cricket with you at lunch time.”
Oscar instantly stopped crying and smiled. I could have hugged Stan there and then on the spot….but he already had Oscar under his arm and was guiding him towards their class line.
Assembly finished and their teacher led them to their classroom. I watched the year three children go and my anxiety from the morning subsided. Half way along the line, there was Stan with Oscar, hand in hand, making their way to their classroom. Stan caught my eye and he winked and smiled. He actually winked… and I was almost bowled over. What an amazing child. How incredibly insightful.
Oscar is so very lucky to have a friend like Stan in his class. I am lucky Stan is in Oscar’s class. I honestly feel like Stan gets it. He gets Oscar, he gets me, he gets the situation and he can see how stuck I am at times which is why he comes to my rescue. He seems an old and very wise soul.
I hope in life Oscar finds a lot of people like Stan because Stan really is a one in a million… or perhaps Stan has found Oscar! Either way; it works and we are really lucky for this friendship. I am fortunate that in Oscar’s class there are a lot of beautiful kids. So by writing this Blog I am by no means discounting these other children, it’s just this has been the recent magic. The magic of a friendship between two young boys – one with special needs and one without. The magic that makes the hard times evaporate into thin air. The magic that makes me so damn appreciative. Thank you ‘Stan the Man’ from the bottom of our hearts.