I recognized his son’s behavior immediately. I could sense this man’s anxiety over being “the one”, and my heart broke for him.
He was “the one” I have been so many times before. He was the the one with that kid.
His son was so full of life and smiles, and he had no idea that all of his running, screaming, and flailing around were a disruption to others. Little Johnny was just busy doing his thing, while his poor dad chased behind him.
Others peered on at the distraction. None of the other parents really engaged with the dad, and the children really just shied away from Little Johnny’s raucous.
This little boy could have cared less about the giant mouse, pizza, or video games. He was interested in one thing and one thing only.
Ya know, that place where no kids are allowed, but there’s a giant red door beckoning those with a one track mind. Unfair. I agree.
This poor dad spent the majority of the two hours we were there inexhaustibly trying to keep little Johnny from going to the red door. Over and over and over again he would chase after him.
I didn’t know this dad, and we hadn’t been introduced yet. But, I knew I had to go and talk to him. Just like I would talk to anyone else, I wanted him to feel more comfortable. I wanted to somehow put him at ease.
I watched him struggle to control his son and attempt to engage him in the “regular” party activities that he clearly wanted nothing to do with.
“He’s very cute!”, I said to the dad. “I have two boys myself.”
He looked up with sweat on his face from chasing Little Johnny.
“Ugh. He’s a handful, huh?”
“No. He’s a kid. He seems like he’s having a great time.”, I replied with a smile.
He seemed surprised my response that was free of judgement or hidden messages. I began talking to him about how he knew the birthday boy and family members. That led to talk of his wife and job, the relationships that connected him to the hosts. I briefly introduced myself and pointed out my kids and shared my connection to the party. All the while Little Johnny distracted him from most of what I was saying, but I didn’t mind.
“Excuse me… Johnny!”
“Sorry about that.”
“No, don’t be. I know it can be hard sometimes. My oldest was always quite a handful at these sort of gatherings. Birthday parties can be very overwhelming, especially Chuck E. Cheese! No worries.”, I said hoping to offer some understanding.
“Oh yeah, how old is your son?”, He tried to hide the evident sigh of relief I was so happy to hear.
We spent the rest of the hour talking about Little Johnny, and swapping stories about my own experiences with my son. He shared more information than I had room in my brain to hold, but it didn’t matter if I retained all of it, it mattered that I listened. That I cared.
The sweat from his forehead had dissipated by the time we exchanged pleasantries, and I was happy about that.
A few days later my friend, the party host, called me.
She wanted to thank me for making Johnny’s dad feel so welcome. He remarked how kind I was to try and make him more comfortable at the party. Although, my intentions had nothing to do with selfish ambition, I was so happy to hear that my kindness had made a difference. Even if it was just one hour, it made a difference.
Two weeks after I met them, Little Johnny was diagnosed with autism.
We don’t always know what other parents are going through or why their kids act the way that they do. Bad kids aren’t always bad.
Awareness is key.