“We didn’t realise we were making memories, we just knew we were having fun” – Winnie the Pooh
Last weekend something lovely happened that gave me a renewed hope for the future.
It was a simple occasion of two families crossing paths at the perfect moment.
We had spent the afternoon in the alpine adventure park attached to our local ski centre.
Matt ran around supervising five year old Jenson’s excitable explorations of each and every corner of the park, while I supervised one year old Coby’s tentative attempts to walk the plank and traverse the rope ladder.
It was a typical family outing for us where Matt and I barely set eyes on each other for about two hours. The most contact we had was a fleeting glance across the park and a quick swap-over of children to give each other a break.
We were accompanied by our lovely friends who also had their two young children with them. We’d barely had any chance to catch up with them due to the respective demands of our broods.
So when ‘alpine bar’ and ‘beer’ were mentioned in the same sentence Matt didn’t need asking twice and we were heading up the hill to the comfort of the warm indoors.
The warm, bustling, heaving, children-everywhere, stressed-parents, indoors.
I took a deep breath, feeling the anxiety rise up inside me, and politely pushed the double buggy through the crowded bar and seating to find the last unoccupied table.
By the way – double buggies. How do parents of twins do it? Apparently they are “only four inches wider than a regular buggy” but heck! That four inches can sure give you a whole lot of shit. Not to mention having an oversized five year old with limbs hanging out just asking to be squished in doorways.
I could feel multiple eyes watching my efforts to appease a sensory-overloaded, slightly exhausted yet highly excitable boy who was refusing to sit down, while I was trying to speed-read the kids menu and remove twelve layers of coats and jumpers.
Two high chairs in one arm, a wriggly toddler in the other, and guiding the buggy into a corner spot with my hip, I managed to negotiate everyone into position. Matt took leave to the bar “to beat the rush” while I grappled for Jenson’s iPad while throwing PomBears in to the mouth of my littlest.
Feeling proud of the relatively successful outing so far, I dared to look up and glance around. Noticing only a couple of mums and dads curiously looking our way, smiling politely and quickly glancing away, I was relieved when I spied my husband returning with my well-deserved glass of wine. Noticing that half of his Ringwood Best was already gone, I resolved to let him deal with the inevitable carnage that would ensue when Jenson realised there was a soft play area across the way.
The iPad worked for long enough to settle Jenson until his jacket potato arrived.
As predicted, before long Jenson spotted the play area and the dozens of children running in and out. His tuna mayo was no longer of any interest and he launched himself out of his seat signing ‘friends’.
I gulped and exchanged the familiar look with Matt that said ‘You or me? It’s definitely your turn. You’re closest. YOU OWE ME.’
I was relieved when Matt jumped up having read my non-verbal instructions and followed Jenson accordingly.
He returned alone about five minutes later looking unusually relaxed. This was a strange turn of events. When I gave him my perplexed ‘what have you done with Jenson?’ look he simply said ‘it’s ok, he’s made some friends’.
Now this is where it gets interesting. Jenson’s idea of making friends is along the lines of wrestling WWF style, or big aggressive cuddles and sloppy kisses; either way it usually doesn’t go down well with other kids and we will then retreat promptly.
My curiosity got the better of me and I went and peered into the soft play area.
I was greeted with a sight that I honestly didn’t ever think would be part of this motherhood journey for me. A group of children were standing in a circle around Jenson. He was turning to each, one at a time, to play ‘round and round the garden’. One little girl was coordinating the affair, by telling Jenson who was next and helping him move his hands. He was paying close attention and was clearly quite taken by her.
When you have a child that you didn’t know would ever be able to stand, speak or play, never mind have a basic grasp of social interaction and turn-taking, a revelation like this can really knock you sideways.
Just as I was drinking in this sight to behold, Jenson started to cuddle a child a little too roughly. I approached and took him to the side, reminding him to use ‘gentle hands’.
The aforementioned little girl approached me and I could immediately tell why Jenson had taken a shine to her. A stunning little lady with golden locks, engaging eyes and a warm smile, she told me that she liked Jenson’s accent.
Jenson doesn’t really speak sentences; he laughs a lot and will talk incessantly in single, somewhat incoherent words. So this took me aback and for some reason I felt that this lovely little angel deserved an explanation. So I mumbled something along the lines of thank you, he can’t talk properly because his brain doesn’t work like other children’s.
Well as if this little poppet couldn’t endear herself to me anymore, she then proceeded to say ‘that’s ok, he’s really nice’.
Simple. Pure. Innocent.
I retreated to my glass of wine with a little tear in my eye, eager to relay the story to our friends, who, having known Jenson for several years and have shared our torment in public situations, were equally in awe as Matt and I were.
Jenson remained in the soft play area for another twenty minutes or so, with some minimal supervision from Matt and me. We had established that there were three children that had taken Jenson under their wing, one of whom being the little fair-haired girl. They had established his abilities and limitations and were keeping him safe and including him in their games.
We sat, watched from afar, and chatted. CHATTED! A simple luxury that had become a stranger to us both when out of the house with friends.
We decided it was time to take our little pickles home and so I went into the soft play area to retrieve Jenson.
As I approached the play area and saw Jenson was still happily interacting with his buddies, I had an enormous desire to locate the parents of the mystery girl who had befriended Jenson. I glanced around at the gaggles of mums and dads and decided that it would probably be a silly exercise to approach strangers’ tables and ask if they own a little blond girl. So I resolved that in this instance, I’d have to leave without passing on any recognition.
One dad was already in there gathering his brood, and I was delighted to establish that he was father to a little boy called Luke, who had been one of the three that was instrumental in Jenson’s enjoyment. I mumbled something to the dad about how great Luke had been, and he was clearly delighted to receive my platitudes, and complimented his boy on his good behaviour with a fatherly pat on the head.
As the boy and dad left the play area, the dad called out ‘come along Freya’ to which Jenson’s little blond buddy scuttled out from under the soft play tower she’d built for Jenson.
‘Wait, Freya’s yours too?!’ I exclaimed before I could stop myself. ‘Yes they’re twins’ said the bemused dad: ‘Luke and Freya’.
Well at this point I was concerned about two things, crying in front of a stranger and looking like a bit of a fruit-loop in front of a stranger.
So instinctively I knelt down to Freya’s level (figuring that a small child was less likely to notice the growing pool of tears in my eyes than a grown up), and I said to her ‘thank you Freya, for being Jenson’s friend today, because Jenson doesn’t have many friends so today you made him really happy’.
Freya looked up to her dad as if to ask permission to talk to a stranger and quietly said ‘we had fun’.
I stood up and mumbled something to Freya’s dad about his children being very special, and he was visibly touched and grateful for the compliments towards his twins.
As we were leaving Freya gave Jenson a lovely wave and Jenson excitably yelped and signed ‘friends’.
Taking stock of the situation on the way home, Matt and I agreed that it was a bittersweet scenario where we were celebrating such an ordinary, natural occurrence. One that is taken for granted by regular families every day, and one that we didn’t allow ourselves to believe may ever happen for Jenson.
At home that evening, I had the overwhelming urge to reach out to the parents of Luke and Freya. The fleeting exchange that I had with the twins’ dad was repeating in my head and I wished I could have been more vocal, more enthusiastic and more complimentary. Been able to communicate to him just how significant his children had been in making for such a lovely experience for Jenson and for us.
But it was for fear of appearing emotionally unstable to a stranger that I had held back.
So of course I took to Facebook.
I recounted a short version of the events of the day, and at the end of my past I requested that everyone share it so that I may find the parents and share the thoughts that I’d been unable to share at the time.
Within two hours the post had attracted over 100 shares and lo-and-behold the twins’ mum sent me a message!
She was modestly grateful for the compliments about her children and explained that the children had been talking about Jenson a lot since their meeting. She also explained that her eldest daughter had been present and in describing her to me, I figured that she was the older of the three special children that I had witnessed being Jenson’s friends.
We are all very much looking forward to meeting up soon and watching our children play together once again. Jenson asks every day for Luke and Freya and I am told that they also speak of him too.
I have decided that if I am to take one thing away from this experience, it is to approach future such situations with less trepidation and more optimism. Because I am sure there are many more children out there that would take Jenson under their wing just as Luke and Freya did. And ultimately, if our children are learning this lesson of inclusion and understanding at this early stage in their lives, this can only be a great thing for the future.