Saturday I brought Daniel to his first ever Kiwanis bowling league. He has always enjoyed bowling as long as the bumpers are up. He would be angered by the ball rolling down the gutter, not even hitting one pin. The bumpers make it more fun, and more successful.
I have heard about this league for a few years. For some reason I have never been able to get our act in gear to get there. I would forget about it then it would have started a few weeks before. I hadn't realized that you could just GO. Even weeks into the season. I now have some mom guilt that I didn't get it done before. But you do what you CAN right? I keep telling myself that. YOU DO WHAT YOU CAN WHEN YOU CAN.
Apparently, this year, I can. We had to get ourselves around a bit earlier than normal on a Saturday morning, but it was worth it. We arrived to the new (to us) bowling alley on the other side of town. There were lines and paperwork and confusion, but Daniel handled it like a champion. He enjoyed checking out what this new bowling alley had to offer. The most intriguing thing being the "Wowie Zowie gumball machine". You put in two quarters and the machine releases a (jawbreaker, but Daniel continues to call it a gum ball, he would never actually eat either of these things) and it goes through sets of tracks and gears before it is released. This is heaven on earth to Daniel. I even found a video on you tube. You tube has everything!
He knew lots of kids there from his summer camp, and other various things around the city. He was especially excited because Adam (changed the name) came and they got to bowl together. Adam is 2 years older than Daniel and I've always thought they were a good match. He also has autism but it manifests in different ways. Daniel tends to just talk in statements and quotes and talk AT you not asking questions. Adam tends to ask mostly questions . . . non stop. This seems to work because they are direct questions and Daniel can answer them. It makes for a good combination and I've always felt a real friendship could emerge. We have never actually been able to get them together much because both families have so many challenges, it never seems to happen. My hope is that this every other week bowling is a chance for them to spend more and more time together.
Daniel is nearly 15. The future is on our mind more than ever around here. Where will he fit in? What will he do? We have spent so much of his schooling with him only in general ed. His general ed peers have been (mostly) wonderful. He occasionally gets included in parties and functions, but lets face it, it's once or twice a year. He used to walk with kids and ride the bus with them. But as his peers have gotten older, their ability for independence has put an even larger gap between them and Daniel. There isn't anything wrong with it. It is what it is.
This look to the future has caused a shift in my planning that I hadn't anticipated. I have been taught (ok I feel like it's kind of beat into you) inclusion, inclusion, general ed general ed into my head. But what I have found is that while Daniel has been off on this general ed track, there is a whole community and friendship that has developed and he has not been a part of it. At the beginning of the school year Daniel requested to take the bus to school. For the first time since 3rd grade I added "special transportation" back into his IEP. The bus comes to our house and picks him up. He LOVES it. He says his friends are on the bus. There are 5 kids on it. It's not too crazy. He doesn't have to walk to a bus stop. It's a good thing. For ALL of us. I find myself wondering what I was fighting. Who was it good for that he was on the general education bus, him or me? Actually at one point he and Zachary took it together so that was a convenience. Kids got to see him doing the same things as him. That is always a good thing. But maybe just maybe, we can take the best of both worlds for Daniel. He went to a special ed. summer camp. His swimming includes a lot of these same kids. He is socializing more. He is, well. Happier. He was on cloud nine talking about bowling last weekend. He shared it with his teachers. He saw Adam at school and they talked about bowling. He's excited. When Zachary asked me if he could go bowling too I said "no, it isn't for you" which surprised him. But you know what? It felt good to tell him it wasn't for him. I never felt the tiniest bit self conscious for Daniel at the bowling alley, even when he got upset because our lane was breaking and he hit himself in the head and bit his hand. I solved the problem and we moved on. It felt good that people understood his frustration and all the parents had been there before. It felt even better watching Daniel literally jump for joy at his strike and have everyone CHEERING for him, high fiving, and fist bumping for him. I'm a little ticked off I didn't give him this gift earlier. But I'm thankful we have found it now.
I just sent an email to the boys swim coach at the high school about Daniel being included on the team. (At Daniel's request). Like I said, best of both worlds. Isn't THAT what we want for our kids. To be happy, and be able to navigate the world. To have it ALL. To enjoy life and fit in with those that he feels comfortable with? To give them opportunities then let them see what they love? While I have of course always KNOWN it, the push into general ed has been good for him. I think it has challenged him in so many ways, but he has risen to that challenge over and over. But he gets confused by the chatter of those kids, he can't follow along with their discussions very well. I know that in four years, those kids will all be leaving for college. Where will that leave Daniel? I feel very at peace with us balancing between general education and special education. We need to make ALL opportunities available to him, whether or not they are what we originally envisioned for him as a baby. I've had people ask me, where he could work? can he go to college? will he get married? Honestly, do you really know this about ANY child? I can't say that I have these answers, but I know what I want for both of my kids is happiness and a fulfilling, independent life. That can take place in many different ways. We all need a little bumper to help us every now and then.
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