This is not the post I wanted to write this morning.
We’re just back from an incredibly successful vacation — the best one yet of the three straight years we have spent a week at the same condo unit in the Outer Banks. It was full of family time, activities, glorious weather, relaxation and for Ryan, flexibility, a lack of anxiety, even a friend.
But, but, but … there was something Ryan said on the ride home that will not leave me. Several things, actually. And as painful as they were to hear, they are even more signs of his growing self-awareness.
We were perhaps halfway through what would be a nine-hour trip back home. Riley was texting with a girl who has also been at the same condo the last two years when she realized they were riding just a few spots ahead of us somewhere on the highway in Virginia.
She announced this discovery to all of us and encouraged me to pull alongside their car so we could wave.
This made Ryan upset and he began to mock Riley. He often does this when she talks about friends or girlish activities, and we thought it was just another example of him being an obnoxious 12-year-old, something he sometimes takes pride in.
Exasperated, I asked him “how does Riley texting with her friend affect you in any way?”
The answer took my breath away.
“Because I’m mad that I don’t have a friend like that to text with.”
After Veronica and I regained our composure, we used the moment to talk about the concept of friendship and to reinforce the things Ryan needs to do in order to have friends. We talked about the help we’re trying to provide with access to a psychologist, a psychiatrist and a social skills group. We told him how happy we were that he wants to have friends.
Ryan began to ask questions. A lot of questions. Some of them we had heard before, others were new. Among them was an uppercut to the gut — yet another proverbial punch that took my proverbial breath.
“What do you do if you want to be friends with someone and they don’t want to be friends with you?”
Before we could answer, he followed up with:
“That happens to me a lot.”
Oh, it hurt as much as you think it would. I had to blink away tears from the memory, still fresh, just to type the sentence. My child, my sweet, innocent child, who can seem so fulfilled with the entertainment he provides himself, just wants to have friends, and he doesn’t understand why it is so difficult for him. And another thing — even though he has never commented on how easily Riley makes friends wherever we go, he notices, and he’s jealous. That was another revelation that came from the same conversation.
As gutted as we were by this exchange, we tried our best to use it as a teachable moment. Riley was supportive, telling Ryan she didn’t have as many close friends as she would like.
But when we get past the hurt of hearing something so starkly laid out, there are HUGE positives to take from such an admission. Ryan is far from oblivious to social situations. He is beginning to understand them quite fully. And he cares.
Let me repeat that.
Having friends is no longer just a goal of ours, it is a goal of his.
Over the years, we have talked about self-awareness a lot when it comes to Ryan. Our hope has always been that as he aged he would grow more self-aware, and be able to regulate his behavior in order to fit in.
And we are seeing it happen. We saw examples of it, beyond this exchange, over and over in the past week. Ryan pointed out when he was being flexible. He told us how important it is that people at school know he is a good person.
I debated whether to write this post today. We had such a wonderful week that I didn’t want to put a damper on it with this post. But I decided to go with it for two reasons:
1) I can’t pretend he didn’t say those things we heard him say in the car. But just as importantly, as painful as they were, there was a lot of good buried within those words. Which leads me to…
2) I suspect that years down the road, the emerging self-awareness Ryan showed on this trip will be as important as the wonderful memories we made this week.
But it doesn’t make it any easier to hear.