Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Hey, Jerk. Thanks for wrecking our night.

A while back I wrote a post about a bunch of great kids who were nice enough to include Mr Bunches in their game at the McDonald's playland.

For every heads there's a tails, I suppose, and tonight we ran into that tails.

It was about a jillion degrees today, and so when I walked out of the office at 5 and felt the heat, I decided that after dinner I'd take the boys to the pool at our health club, and we arrived there about 7 p.m.

The pool was sort of sparsely swum in, about 10 people around it, a mom and her little baby and then some adults sort of floating around and talking, and some other adults sitting in lawn chairs around the pool.

About twenty minutes into swimming, Mr F got out of the pool and took a kickboard from the side and tossed it into the water.  The health club where we swim has kickboards and those styrofoam noodles and some balls to play with at the pool, and these were scattered around the sides of the pool.  For some reason, this bugged Mr F -- he can't or won't explain why -- and so he went around and got each of these things, about 10 of them, and tossed them into the pool.

Some things to keep in mind, now, as the story progresses:

1. These aren't anyone in particular's pool toys. They belong to the club.
2. This particular pool is a peanut-shaped pool that goes from 3' on one end to 6' on the other end and is next to a swingset and is mostly a family pool.
3. There were only about 5 people there, total, by that time.

So I continued playing Octopus with Mr Bunches, a game in which he tries to swim across the pool and I am a variety of different-colored octopuses, with each one suffering a different fate (blue octopus grabs Mr Bunches and takes him to the deep ocean, but poor green octopus gets stepped on and dies) and Mr F was in the shallow end just bouncing around, and two of the adults on the side of the pool stopped sitting in lounge chairs and got into the water.

The Jerk Guy, as you'll see, decided that he didn't like all the noodles and kickboards and stuff being in the water, so he gathered them and threw them out of the water onto the side of the pool.  I was watching him do this and also watching Mr F, to see how he'd react.

Mr F didn't like it.  He started climbing out of the pool, making complaining-ish noises, and he got one of the kickboards and threw it back into the shallow end.

I was already swimming over to intervene, and before I got there, The Jerk Guy took the kickboard and tossed it back out of the water.  Meanwhile, Mr F grabbed a noodle and threw that into the water, and The Jerk Guy grabbed that and threw it back -- kind of near Mr F, I thought, and just as I got near Mr F and The Jerk Guy the Jerk guy began yelling at Mr F.

"Hey, quit throwing things into the pool!" he yelled, as Mr F picked up a noodle and made some loud sounds in response. I was calling to Mr F and starting to climb out of the pool, but The Jerk Guy grabbed the noodle Mr F was trying to put in the water and tugged on it and he yelled (!) "KID! STOP THROWING THINGS IN THE POOL."

MRS. Jerk Guy, to her credit, yelled to her husband "He's not doing anything wrong" and ask The Jerk Guy shoved the noodle back at Mr F -- this all took place in about 5 seconds, I yelled over the guy:

"Stop it! He's autistic and doesn't mean any harm. It's just bugging him!"

And the guy looks at me and says "Is this your kid?"

I said: "Yeah, and don't ever yell at him again.  He's not doing any harm."

Mr F, meanwhile, had tried to throw another noodle in while I said that, but I grabbed it and then got his hand, and he sat down, so I pulled him into the pool with me.

The Jerk Guy said "Sorry, but.."

and I interrupted and said "Just don't yell at him.  Ever."

And we turned away.

The rest of the time we were in the pool, about another half-hour, I had to stick by Mr F.  I tried to get him to play octopuses with us, and he did for a while, but he doesn't like the deep water.  So I played with him in the shallow end, and he kept wanting to go get the stuff off the side of the pool.  I don't know why it bothered him, but it was really bugging him, and I didn't want to start a scene.  The boys love this health club -- we go swimming there all the time and Mr Bunches likes to play basketball -- and I don't want to get us kicked out for causing a fight.

I'm especially sensitive about it because Sweetie used to take the boys there to play in the playroom while she worked out, but this year they had to tell us that without a special aide for Mr F, we couldn't leave him there anymore, because if he gets mad they were worried they don't have the personnel to handle him and he's a pretty big kid. He's going to be 8 in September and weighs about 90 pounds, almost all muscle.  We can't afford to hire a trained aide just to go sit with Mr F in the playroom, so he doesn't get to go there anymore.

What really gets me though is not just that The Jerk Guy yelled at Mr F, although that's bad enough.  Whether or not he knew Mr F was autistic, what he obviously knew was that this was a little boy at a family pool who wanted these toys in the water.  He had no idea why Mr F might want them in the water; for all he knew, Mr F was playing some kind of game.  So with a complete lack of knowledge, The Jerk Guy just decided that his needs to have the stuff out of the water were so overwhelmingly important that he could just yell at a little boy.

And that made me upset enough as it was -- upset enough that I wanted to make more of a scene but didn't want to get in trouble for arguing at the club.

No, what really gets me is that The Jerk Guy did this in the family pool, apparently so he could have some sort of adult swimming experience that's unhindered by floating water toys.  Which is where it becomes important to note that there are three other pools at this health club, including one specifically designated for swimming laps and one which that night was completely unoccupied.

So if you don't want kid stuff getting in your way, if it upsets you so much that you will yell at a stranger's kid, why not go to one of those pools?

The Jerk Guy, through his actions, had a dramatically negative impact on the boys' night at the pool.  Mr F was bothered the entire time because I didn't want to risk a scene by letting a kid put water toys in a pool, and Mr F didn't like me hovering over him.  Mr Bunches didn't get to finish the octopus game -- we still had the best one, red octopus, to go (red octopus throws him way up in the air) -- and the entire time we were there was fraught with tension.

I don't ask for special privileges for the boys; I think they should conduct themselves to the standards of any kid, to the best they can, and if they can't control themselves and we can't control them, we just leave.  We don't take Mr F to the movie theater, for example.  He's loud and won't sit through a movie.  We've taken them to restaurants only twice, both times going when we expected it to be not very busy and telling the waiter about them in advance.  We understand that just because they have autism doesn't give us free rein to let them do whatever they want.

But with that said, yeah, sometimes they're going to act up.  All kids do that, frankly; it's just harder for us to predict when and how Mr F or Mr Bunches might be affected.  Most kids wouldn't find it distracting to the point of near-insanity simply to have the pool toys not in the pool, but compared to having to go get a completely different kind of milk because the one you bought is not Borden 2% milk and Mr Bunches won't drink it, the pool toys thing was small potatoes.

Especially because it was pool toys in a family pool.  I've swum in that pool lots of times, and there's ALWAYS some dumb kid thing going on.  Kids jump in and dunk each other and throw balls around and splash and be kids, and in the grand scheme of things, what Mr F did wasn't really a big deal at all, no matter how you look at it.  I mean, seriously, who gets upset that a kid has pool toys in the pool? 

But this guy! I hate being reminded that we live in a world where Mr F could get yelled at by a total stranger when he's doing something that's not harmful and which he might not even be able to help.  I bet if you were able to ask Mr F (and he was able to answer) he'd tell you that no, he'd rather not feel compelled to keep getting out of the water and make sure that every single pool toy was in the water.  Just as he'd probably not mind it if he were able to eat more than one kind of cheese puff, or if too many people in a room didn't make him hyperventilate.

He can't tell us those things, though.  And he can't, often, stop himself from doing some of the things he does.  A while back, we had to take Mr F to a neurologist because his teacher thought he was having seizures.  He was twisting his head up and rolling his eyes back, every 8-10 seconds, doing that for hours, and at times he didn't seem to notice it but other times it seemed like he knew it was happening and it bothered him.  After some examination, the neurologist decided it wasn't seizures, but simply a tic that Mr F was doing, probably to help himself deal with the sensory overload that is his every waking moment.  We've watched it since then, and he does it more when his day has been stressful, or when people are being loud, or when he's anxious about something (like the time we told him we were going out that night and his brother and sister were goign to stay with him for 2 hours. He did it a lot that day.0

So when The Jerk Guy decides to yell at some random kid, maybe that kid is just a kid who's playing some game or being naughty or whatever.  But maybe it's a kid who can't explain to you why the pool toys all have to be in the water and certainly can't explain to you that because you yelled at him you upset him so much that now, nearly 2 hours later, he's still unable to go to sleep and is lying wrapped in a blanket mumbling to himself on our living room couch in the dark while I sit and type this.

There were a lot of things I wanted to say to The Jerk Guy, but couldn't, for a variety of reasons.  And you know? It wouldn't have made any difference.  Any guy who's reached his fifties, as The Jerk Guy looked to have, and is still going to go into a family pool and holler at a stranger's kid isn't going to care what I say.

But maybe the blue octopus will get that guy someday.  I can only hope. The world needs more Mr Fs and less Jerk Guys.