It’s just a basketball game (or is it…)

Like many families, attending their child’s sporting event is a big part of any weekend.  Having two boys, I must say it keeps us very busy.  As I have mentioned in previous posts it is very difficult for Sydney to partake in such events.  Her short attention span, excitability, and loud/disruptive behavior makes it almost impossible to do it smoothly and without a scene.   She does not comprehend why she has to sit on the sidelines, why she can’t run over to her brothers who are on the field, or most importantly how to simply be a spectator. For the past few years we have either arranged for childcare or I would do something else with her while the boys were at the game with their father.

This past weekend we found ourselves in a bit of a bind and had fewer than usual options for childcare.  Of course, one option would have been to have another family take our son to his game but that was not really ideal.  I just wanted to do what typical families do and that was to take all the siblings with him (including Syd).  For most families, they would not even give it a second thought, but for us it required a few days of preparation.

First and foremost, I discussed it with my son.  My boys are well aware of Syd’s limitations and how disruptive she can be at times.  Her low, hoarse voice, her relentless calling out of their names, and her absolute inability to control her impulses could result in her running straight into the middle of the game.  The scene at these games can be very exciting for Sydney, almost too exciting, and we did not want a meltdown to embarrass or draw attention to our son.

My boys are very patient and sweet with their sister. They are very understanding of her lack of self-control, inability to reason with, and primitive coping mechanisms for stress.  They tolerate it surprising well in their own home, but taking that scenario on the road (so to speak) is a different story.  I must admit it is hard for me to argue with them as I find it equally difficult as well.  Plain and simple, when you are out in public with Sydney you feel like you are on display.  She has a way of getting all eyes on her/you and our family is much more comfortable blending in with the background than to have any attention drawn to us.  Sydney, of course, has changed that and as the years have gone by we are slowly becoming more and more comfortable with it.

After explaining to my son that she would join us and reassuring him that I would not allow her to run onto the court in the middle of the game or incessantly call his name, we agreed we would give it the old college try.  I explained to him as well as convinced myself that sometimes we have to force ourselves out of our comfort zone to see what we are truly capable of.

The next step was to prepare Sydney.  A few days before we started talking with her about watching sports.  She understands that her brothers play sports and are always going to them on the weekends.  I started by telling her about the type of sports they play and what they do when they play them.  I also told her that people like to watch them and step-by-step I explained to her what it means to be a spectator.

You should know that every morning I write a list for Sydney on what her day is going to look like (a painfully detailed list). Sydney has very poor executive functioning skills and sequencing the events of her day is a very challenging skill for her.  It causes a great deal of anxiety when she does not know what to expect next.  This list serves as a map of her day.  On this particular day, I included her brother’s game as part of our daily activity.  She was extremely excited about it.  On a separate piece of paper I wrote out how you watch a game.  I included in list form the rules of being a good spectator.  We read the list several times until I felt that she memorized it.  Once again, I assured my son that I had it all under control and that if things went awry we would simply wait for him in the car.  He seemed comfortable with the plan and, in fact, I think he was cautiously excited for her to watch him play.

Game day arrived and the three of us went in.  I was surprised at how emotional I was.  It was just a basketball game for goodness sake.  People go to them all the time, but the amount of effort I put into this being a success I guess was more draining than I had appreciated.  I wanted her to succeed more than I realized.

Sydney and I took a quiet seat in the corner away from the crowd and we settled in to watch the game.  I walked her through the whole thing.  Where her brother was, what he was doing and when she could cheer.  And cheer she did.  Her loudness served her well in this situation and she was truly an amazing little cheerleader.  It actually brought tears to my eyes.  I began to relax a bit and glanced over to my son and gave him a little reassuring smile.  I could tell he was excited and proud as well.

I looked around the gymnasium and could feel an array of mixed emotions.  Ecstatic and proud at what we managed to accomplish that morning, but tired and resentful at how much work went into simply going to a child’s basketball game.  I could not help but to envy the parents sitting around me who were relaxing and drinking their coffee and chatting with other parents while watching their child play.  At that moment a little self-pity (we refer to it as a pity party at home and my husband usually reminds me that the party is over and all the guests have left) crept in but, simultaneous to that, I also felt an amazing sense of pride not only for myself, but also for Sydney and my son.  The three of us took ourselves out of our comfort zone and we all grew a little bit that morning and it felt pretty good.

After the game Sydney ran up to her brother giving him a high five, patting him on the back and wished him congratulations.  Ironically, we probably should have been doing that to her for what she accomplished that morning.

There are so many typical life activities that are so difficult for Sydney to participate in but I think as a family we are ready to take on more and more of them.  No question I no longer take little events in life for granted. I recognize that it may be harder for us to participate but clearly the payoff is worth it.  We may not be successful every time and that is ok… (I think).

Our next big event to tackle is a family vacation.  Needless to say, the lists will be longer but the payoff hopefully greater.