About a month ago I attempted to take the Roc and Guinness to the local dog park. It didn’t go well, read about it here. But I don’t give up easily with this kid, because if I did, we’d never be able to go the places that we do. It takes a lot of preparation to go someplace new. Lots of description, lots of talking (from me, not so much him,) and looking at pictures if available. It helps him understand what is expected when told “There is no screaming at the dog park,” as well as gives him an idea of what may happen so he is not as upset when something “out of the ordinary” (for his world) happens. It keeps his anxiety levels in check. Anxiety being a big precursor to melt downs.
I didn’t prep him last time, which was our first attempt at visiting the dog park, and what a disaster. We both paid the price for my lack of foresight and I promised myself I wouldn’t do that again. When we got back home we talked a lot about the dog park and we’ve had small conversations about it in the weeks since. So last Monday, the first day in our week of all day togetherness (which roughly translates to my being an all day entertainer for my son who lacks those skills necessary to entertain himself,) I casually asked him if he wanted to try the dog park again and this time, if things went well, he could play on the playground afterward. I received a very enthusiastic “Yes, I would! I will play on the playground and see the fountains.”
Alrighty. I reiterated that the playground would come after dog park success.
On the drive over we spoke about who might be at the dog park, what we would see, different types of dogs, and that there would be people in the dog park. Just a little refresher. Kind of a verbal social story. As I drove into the parking lot I immediately noticed the small herd of big dogs in the “large dog park,” and no one in the “small dog park.” No one.
Not one little dog.
We had the place to ourselves!
No worries now. So the Roc got to explore, try out the water fountain and push the button for the doggie water fountain. And they both RAN while I threw a ball.
All that prep.
But not for nothing because after spending some time on the playground,
the Roc wanted to go back in the dog park and run with Guinness some more. And this time, there were a couple ladies with their little dogs in the small dog park. As we approached I gently reminded the Roc that there were people and dogs here now and it would be different. I wondered how it was going to go, and I tried to remember if anyone from our disastrous first day was present. I didn’t recognize anyone, but I tend to block everyone out except the Roc during any public spectacles.
We went in and stayed near the entrance for a little while, bouncing and throwing the tennis ball for Guinness. Pretty soon the Roc wanted another drink from the water fountain and we edged our way over there. The water fountain is near a bench where the old ladies congregate to talk, and they love to talk to kids, except the Roc doesn’t like strangers approaching him. I happened to be walking away from the water fountain to deal with a little “gift” Guinness was leaving on the ground when the Roc asked for help pushing the button. I yelled to him that I would be there in a second and one of the ladies popped up and said she would help him. I cringed inside as I watched the Roc bounce a step backwards with a wary look on his face, but the promise of a drink from the fountain was too enticing and he stepped forward to drink with a hesitant “okay.“ She stood next to him, holding the button down, and he drank. When he was done she asked if it was good and he said yes before sprinting towards me. She laughed.
She had no idea the amount of prep work that had gone into this morning at the dog park. She had no idea how hard that exchange was for him. How far he has come to allow a stranger that close to him. To allow a stranger to help instead of Mommy. For him to say “okay” to her! My god! He spoke to a stranger! She had no idea how tight I was holding my breath, willing the Roc to keep it together. She had no idea how hard both of us had worked on making our second trip to the dog park more successful than the last. And as much as I wanted to share, to shout out his accomplishment, like I do every time something like this happens, I just quietly savored the moment. A small moment where a nice lady simply helped my son get a drink and he accepted the help.
A small moment, but a HUGE one at the same time.
We spent a little more time throwing the ball for Guinness and after a few “times up soon” warnings and the promise to bake something when we got home, we left. We left with success. A successful second trip to the dog park.
I won’t give up on this kid. Over and over he shows me why. Gives me reasons to keep reaching, keep working, keep guiding. He is worth it. I know that our next trip to the dog park my not go as smoothly, he may have issues again on another day. But, we both know what he is capable of, and I always hold that in my mind.