My boys love mini golfing.
We have the best mini golf place just up the street from my house - we go there often. Last summer was one of those times.
My younger son, Peter, is athletic. And competitive. Every golf stroke counts. My older son, TJ, has autism. He loves to mini golf, but gets frustrated that he never wins.
It’s a good lesson for him that sometimes you just have to learn to lose gracefully. He is doing such a good job with that lesson.
Anyway, there we were, mini golfing and enjoying each other. It was just like any other mini golf excursion.
Until suddenly, it wasn’t.
There was a young couple with a young child just behind us. I think they were babysitting the child, as they seemed to not be parenting, per se. Who knows. What I do know is that they were very close behind us, right on our tail.
I felt no need to rush - we paid for our game and I didn’t want my boys to feel the pressure of rushing just to accommodate someone else. We didn’t drag our feet, at all, but we didn’t rush either. I could sense that we were not going fast enough for the too-cool-for-school couple behind us, but I was determined to let my boys feel none of that pressure and just have fun.
There was one hole where you had to hit the ball over a tiny path over a ditch. If the ball went into the ditch, it ran down a path to water, and came out on the green by the hole, but not in a good a spot as it would have if you had made it over the path. TJ loves it when his ball hits the ditch and goes through the water. Even though it put his ball in a not so hot spot, I figured there was something about the water that made him love it so much.
Peter hit the path, and his ball landed near the hole. TJ hit the ditch, and his smile watching his ball go through the water made me smile. Until I heard the comment from behind me,
“That stupid kid - he doesn’t even know where you’re supposed to hit the ball!” Then he and the girl laughed.
I saw red. My stomach clenched. My boys walked forward to continue their game, but I turned around to address the boy.
“My son can hit the ball however he damn well pleases. And he has autism, you insensitive dick.”
Then I turned and walked back to my boys as the boy stood there with a stunned expression, and said weakly, “I’m sorry….”
Peter immediately, and quietly, said to me, “Did he just say something about TJ?” And as calmly as I could, through clenched teeth, I replied “Yes, he did. But he seems to be an idiot and what he thinks doesn’t matter. OK? Just ignore him and let’s have fun, sweetie. Everything is ok.”
Then I started to thoughtfully and purposefully slow down my breathing. I had to stop myself from crying. I was starting to shake, I was so mad. But I didn’t want TJ to know that the jerk behind us was making fun of him, and I didn’t want Peter to think it was ok to call someone a dick.
Even though he was.
I learned a lot about myself that day. I learned that I don’t necessarily think before I speak when I’m suddenly very angry. I learned that being calm is a choice that sometimes requires some work. And I learned that as much as I didn’t want to take the so-called low road and call someone a name, it is ok to show my boys that I am human, and I get mad too, and I can recognize that maybe I could have made a better choice.
Who knows what would happen if I was faced with that same scenario today? I’d like to think I could come up with something more clever than calling someone a name. But to tell you the truth, when it comes to standing up for my boys, I really don’t know.
I am grateful to be able to say that this hardly ever happens to us - most people are not so blatantly rude, and if they have something negative to say about TJ, they must keep it to themselves. I certainly don’t hear it. It seems that most people are decent enough to not say mean, thoughtless things.
But just in case they do, I will do my best to defend my boy and my family in a calmer, more positive manner. I will do my best to use it as an opportunity to educate others. And I will do my best to make sure that I clearly communicate that different is ok, and it is nothing to be ashamed of.
I will do my best.