Saturday, May 11, 2019

Game Night

Yesterday was Game Night at the kids' school. Game Night seems like such a quaint idea, the perfect opportunity to enjoy community time at school! Right? Right?!?!

Here’s what I imagine happens for parents of neurotypical kids at events like this: the parent and kid come in together, find friends (for both parent and kid alike) and then keep a loose eye on one another as they enjoy conversations with their peers. I guess that the occasional warning or reminder happens and that at some point the kid begs for food, and I imagine that the parent might wish they could be somewhere besides a school gym on a Friday night. This is all speculation of course because I’ve never actually gone to one of these events as the parent of all neurotypical kids.

My nights at events like this go a little differently. Stow was the target audience for this event, so we went together. Fortunately Sky and Pink volunteered to help run events because it turned out that I needed multiple pairs of eyes to get through the night. Nothing catastrophic happened, you guys, but two hours felt like an eternity. 

First he ran to the back gym to play basketball, which essentially consisted of throwing the ball wildly in the direction of a basket before weaving in and out of other players. Friends from his class tried to say hi and engage him in play, but he didn’t notice.

Without warning he ran out of that gym and crashed a giant Jenga game that a mom and her son were enjoying together quite peacefully. I reminded Stow that he needed to ask if it was ok to join their game. He mumbled and they told him he was welcome to play, but, really, did they have a choice? After a few rounds, during which he broke every possible Jenga rule, he decided to take out the last remaining piece holding the tower in place, sending the tower crashing loudly to the ground. Before we could pick up the mess, he was off to interrupt another calm mother-son duo who were playing cornhole (aka “bags” depending on where you’re from). They were less accommodating to his interruption; it seems they didn't like how he insisted on taking all the bags and repeatedly throwing them into the hole as he stood directly over the board.

At about this time the “cake walk” started, and Stow became determined to win a prize. Each round, fourteen people could cake walk, while the rest of us stood in line. No matter how many rounds we did, Stow couldn’t accept that he had to go to the back of the line after each turn, and it took some wrestling to get him there. It’s hard to wrestle without making a scene. As we waited in line over and over again, I found myself trying to calculate the number of rounds it would take for one of us to win. I couldn’t work out the role variability played in the calculation, though. It’s been awhile since I’ve calculated probability. 

On our eighth try, Stow won and quickly chose a 2-liter bottle of lemonade as his prize. That meant, of course, that we had to find a place to drink it. The only empty tables happened to be in the board game area. After a brief game of “Ants in the Pants,” Stow decided he would play “Kerplunk.” It didn’t bother him that someone else had already started a game. He sat and tried to join in. 

“Do you remember what I told you to say when you want to play?” I prompted him.

“I want to play!” he responded.

“No, remember it’s nice to say, ‘Can I join you?’”

He looked at me but didn’t bother trying again. The game had already started. The other pair was a parent and a preschooler. It amazed me how well the preschooler listened and kept it together, even when Stow started spinning the tube around as fast as he could in an attempt to launch the marbles. Soon there were marbles rolling in every direction at once, and he was off again.

“Thanks for letting him play,” I said over my shoulder as I chased after him. Before I could catch up with him, another parent I hadn’t seen in awhile stopped me to say hello. Five minutes later, conversation done, I realized I had no idea which direction Stow had gone. Sky, who was working concessions, hadn’t seen him run past, so I sent Pink in one direction and headed off in the other.

Ten minutes later, we hadn’t found him, despite both checking all the rooms. Had he made his way into one of the deserted hallways of the school? Had he gone outside? His preschool and first-grade special ed teachers were working the event, and I was pretty sure one of them would have stopped him before he got out the door, but where WAS he? 

Found him!
Here. He was here. In the corner, hidden behind the table and some cafeteria storage units, playing bingo. Once I determined he wouldn’t wander off (primarily because I had Pink stay with him but also because I knew he wanted to win at bingo), I thought it would be safe to go to the restroom. It was my first break all night.

When I walked out of the restroom, I almost crashed into Stow who had won a prize at bingo and was running back to the gym so he could throw himself on the floor and tear open the new game. Pink followed behind carrying the 2-liter bottle of lemonade. She handed it to me and ran off to play with her friends.

I slid down to the floor and sat next to Stow, hands full of three bags of half eaten popcorn, a partially-consumed bottle of lemonade, and Pink’s jacket. There were still 45 minutes to go.

Once he realized the new game needed batteries, Stow abandoned it to dance and run around with the other kids. I put all the game pieces back into the box, picked up the pile of things and made my way to the bleachers. Around me groups of parents chatted, their kids checking checking in from time to time before heading off to dance or play basketball again. I watched Stow bounce around the gym, running in and out. Occasionally a classmate would invite him to join them, but before long, he was off running again.

The mom from "Kerplunk" wandered in my direction. For the first time, I noticed she was pregnant.

“This is exhausting,” I said to her.

She laughed and pointed to her stomach, “Especially with this. Twins.”

“Thank you for your patience with my son,” I said. “I’m sorry he wasn’t a better example for yours.”

“He was great!” she replied. “Before he invited himself to play with us, my son was too scared to talk to anyone, but now look at him. Your son helped loosen him up!”

Sure enough, her son was jumping around with his classmates having a grand time. We chatted for a few more minutes before the kids pulled us in separate directions. Stow was throwing cornhole bags at a friend. 

I called him over.  “That will hurt him. I think he doesn’t want you to do that,” I said.

“No, he likes it. He did the same thing to me,” Stow replied earnestly before dashing off again. In the middle of the gym, a group of kids about Stow’s age had formed a conga line and were dancing to the Macarena. 

Stow walked toward the light array next to the DJ stand. After staring at the lights for awhile, he turned and stared at the DJ. Then he got down on the ground to see the lights and the DJ from that angle. By then, the last song, had been announced.

Stow bolted over and grabbed his game.

“We need to find your brother and sister,” I said to Stow as he dashed off again. Next Pink found me, “Go get your brothers,” I said, thinking that Stow had gone to get Sky at the concession stand. A few minutes later, Pink and Sky came back to the gym.

“Where’s Stow?” I asked.

“He’s outside. Says he’s going to walk home,” Sky replied.

“Then why are you both in here?” I asked, pushing my way through the crowd to try to get to Stow before he set off in the dark.

“You told us to come find you,” Sky said matter-of-factly.

When we found him, Stow was standing on top of the half-wall regaling people with stories of his victorious evening. This seems to have distracted him from his plan to walk home. I corralled the three kids into the car and drove home.

“How’d it go?” Ren asked when we walked in. He was sitting with the cats, reading a book on his iPad.

“Stow won prizes,” I said and then silently retreated into our bedroom and sat in the quiet darkness for a long, long time.

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