Some things never change. This morning we crawled out of bed around 10:00 so the Dog Walker could get to his basketball game at the church by 10:15. I’ve admitted in the past to being a basketball junkie, but there are sometimes when I’d probably be better off if I just stayed home. We sent him off at 10:10 in our orange and rust colored 1970 Chevy truck so he wouldn’t be late. By the time I got myself and Baby Doll dressed and out the door it was pushing 10:30. We arrived at the game during half-time so it was relatively easy to find a comfortable seat in the overflow. I unzipped Baby Doll’s coat and we settled ourselves in for an exciting second half.
Dog Walker has been playing basketball since he was about seven or eight, but the game stresses him out and he forgets the rules or throws a shot from half court instead of setting up a play. For 17, he’s a big kid; almost 6’3" and 300 pounds, with large hands and size 14 shoes. He’s been actively involved in sports for most of his life. Did I ever mention that he’s Autistic? I’ve never allowed my kids to be quitters and just because he is Autistic, that doesn’t exempt him from those rules.
The Jr. Jazz games he played when he was little were pure torture for his mother. He didn’t understand the rules or instructions from the coaches so he would just run back and forth about 10 feet behind the others boys, screaming and crying his frustrations the entire time. If you didn’t know better, you might just assume that he was upset because no one would give him the ball. He didn’t really speak until he was about eight and then he couldn’t carry on a real conversation until he was ten. All through that time, he still played basketball with some very patient coaches. Each time a new season began I made sure I spoke with each parent and coach, "My son is Autistic. Hopefully he won’t say anything weird or inappropriate to your son. Please let me know if he causes problems."
Then there were the games. He would complain or pout or cry and sometimes all three at the same time. Every game required me to make that long trip around the court at some point during the game to talk with him and help him settle down. For the first 3 or 4 games of every season he would yell at me from the floor, "I hate you! I hate this game! Mom MAKES me play basketball! This is NOT fun!" Most parents just gave me a sympathetic smile and secretly breathed a sigh of relief that they could stay in their seats.
As a sometime coach and parent, I yelled encouragement and occasional corrections from my seat in the bleachers. This would bring even more comments from my son, "Stop it, Mom! I don’t want to play anymore!" Or my personal favorite, the primal "Arrgghh!" But he always kept running and moving, chasing the other boys and the basketball. A single shot on Saturday would keep him happy all week.
When he was 14, I quit signing him up to play. Church ball was cheaper and more convenient, and sometimes I could miss a game, knowing that our friends and neighbors were there being supportive. So, back to today’s game…halftime ended and my son took the court with his friends. A neighbor assured me he had been doing well with lots of rebounds and blocks. They ran back and forth, back and forth with my son trailing a little, but obviously a big part of the game. He tossed a few up but they bounced off the rim. I could see the frustration building, but he kept on running.
He finally picked up a rebound and tossed it in for two points. Usually that would be enough to keep him happy for the rest of the day, but not this time.
About 30 seconds later he tried putting up another one and he got hacked on the arm. A whistle blew. "Number 11, on the shot, shooting two!" My Dog Walker made his way to the foul line. The first shot was up…and swished the bottom of the net without going through the hoop. On the second try he managed to hit the rim, but the rebound fell to the other team. As he turned to run with his teammates down the floor, I almost missed it. "You shouldn’t have come!" he shouted in my direction. Some things never change.