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Angry Birds Palooza

A boy with mild autism learns about appropriate behavior in church.

 

“Come on Mom!” my youngest son implores me as he hustles down the long aisle at church, eager to sit with all the other kids. Zach enjoys the mini-sermons imparted to the children before they’re dismissed to the annex for Sunday school, likes to be in the thick of things so he doesn’t miss a word.

I started taking him this past September, and so far he loves the games played in church school, the stories told of ancient times and people, the lessons learned.

I’ve chosen to involve him in every aspect of the service, which requires about a twenty minute wait with me in a pew before his presence is required up front, and some days are better than others. I have a behavior plan in place (when don’t I), and most of the time we pull off this little interlude.

Today he is particularly attentive, follows along with the words of the appointed hymn with interest, and I relax a bit.

When the children are called up I am unceremoniously dismissed as he makes a play for the best seat in the house (which is next to the Reverend, front and center), and settles in amongst the forty or so other children who attend. I take my place with the other moms and dads on the sidelines, as I do every week.

I make a silent plea to the forces of the universe that he’ll restrict his comments to a minimum, a task he’s been able to accomplish to date.

Every week there’s been a well-timed response to a query from our minister that has left a congregation of almost three hundred in stiches, but so far, his behavior has been under control. I silently hope for the same today, then see our leader bring out an iPad from under his voluminous cloak, and announce that today he’ll be speaking about Angry Birds.

The words “it’s showtime” come unbidden to my suddenly alerted brain.

I watch as my boy’s body literally vibrates with excitement, and before our minister gets a chance to speak he’s up, waving an eager hand in his face, positively buoyant with the knowledge I know he is about to share. You see, my son is an Angry Birds aficionado.

I have no doubt in my mind the several hundred people gathered here today are going to learn more about these rage-filled mammals in the next five minutes than they ever wanted to know.

His first three comments are met with laughter, are both informative and brief in nature, non-disruptive in their execution and intent. Since we’re a Star Wars family I will the force to get him to sit down and listen, because there is no way I can skirt all those little feet and hands to quiet him, nor do I feel it’s my place to do so.

Zach’s made it through for four consecutive months now. I keep my fingers crossed that he’ll follow tradition just as he stands up for the fourth time to deliver an oration on the merits of conquering level two of Angry Birds over level one, a comment met this time with dead silence. My stomach clenches a bit as I will the pre-sermon to wrap up.

It does. I have renewed faith in the force.

Soon the children are dismissed, and Zach bounds over to me and literally wraps his entire body around my lower half, blocking the exit completely. “He talked about Angry Birds Mommy!” he cries, and I have to smile at him as we shuffle forward, as I gently try to disengage my body without ending the conversation. “I know hon, I know” I reply.

When we exit the narthex I take his hand and talk to him about taking turns, not shoving hands in people’s faces when he wants to share, remind him of the stickers and Darth Maul light saber he’s trying to earn. I can tell it all washes over him at this moment, that he is too ebullient over the communion of church and his favorite video game to remember the rules.

I let it go as I release his hand at the front door of his brightly colored classroom, and walk back to my seat in a far more silent pew.

I pop a sugar-free Jolly Rancher on the way. I strongly feel that Mommy deserves a reward at this moment.

It’s  a brief trip back to church, but I use the time to ponder what I’m feeling before I sit and surrender to today’s grown-up sermon. I’m not embarrassed by Zach’s antics today, and it’s not because I’m so incredibly evolved.

It’s really that for years I struggled in public with his older brother’s tantrums before he grew into his mostly compliant self, and frankly, I barely register other people’s praise, condemnation, or pity any longer.

During my most intense years with Justin I was usually just hoping to make it back to our car relatively unscathed- monitoring public opinion simply wasn’t a part of the process for me. Quite honestly it’s a joy not to care, and this ability has transferred to my second child’s behavior as well.

Plus, we’re in church. If there’s ever a place for kindness, it’s here.

No, what consumes me today is a quandary I encounter on a daily basis. Namely, how do I, his teachers, his karate instructors, his church educators, and his therapists shape his behavior without clipping his soul. We ask him to walk in our world every day, and I ponder as I often do how difficult this is for him at times, and how simple it is at others.

I know it’s important for him to be perceived as a “good boy”. I also know that while he stood up and imparted his knowledge today that the only person in the room for him at that moment was our minister. He was simply thrilled to share his fascination with his winged friends, and in those moments nobody else in that room existed.

As an often tired forty-five-year-old woman, I admit I admire his passion.

I make a mental note as I slide into my seat to send an email to our clergy. It will include an apology and a request for assistance, namely a body other than mine to reside next to Zach for the sermon “prequel”.

Since he’s almost six, that body should belong to someone other than me. I know my query will be met with compassion and understanding, and will be granted quickly. My son will of course be allowed to continue to contribute, but his days of lengthy orations are concluded.

And as I prepare to sing our third hymn of the morning, I send out a silent plea to the forces that be that my youngest will always feel comfortable to share the light inside of him, and that those around him will always recognize his worth.

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