Coop-kid: A Mango-ism created to describe the idea of being cooped up, going stir crazy in a house due to the weather. The term "coop-kid" came about because it sounded like the name of a character on the TV show Hey Arnold, "Stoop-Kid", who was always on his stoop because he was afraid to leave. There is no real connection between the two terms, we just thought it was funny.
"Looks like we're going to have to find something fun to do since we can't go outside. This is going to drive me nuts!"
Joe leaned down to give Anthony a kiss, but instead was met with a quick swat to the face. Our little magician held Joe's glasses in his hands, so proud of his accomplishment. "Hey give me those back little man!"
As Joe grabbed his keys he looked back at me as if to say "Ha, I get to leave." I shot him my best squinted eye response and he said, "You have fun, you coop-kids."
He shut the door, and then Anthony and I looked at each other.... now what?
I looked up the event schedule of our two favorite local libraries, and thankfully there was a class that sounded right up our alley. It was called "Jitter-bugs" and they promoted a fun time filled with bubbles, music, stories, and a parachute. Sweet, we're in!
Thankfully even though "Jitter bugs" was during Anthony's scheduled Speech Therapy time, his amazing therapist agreed to meet us there. Anthony has been getting a little antsy during his therapies lately, and I think it's because he is just bored being in our house all day using the same materials and toys. This class would surely be a good change of pace.
I was excited to see Anthony interact with all the other kids, but I was also just a little nervous. Anthony is home all day with me, and has limited opportunities to experience social situations with other kids his age. From what I have seen before when I brought him to playgrounds he loves other kids, but does not yet understand personal space.
We got to the library, and took a ticket to guarantee a spot in the jitter bug class. Since it was about 20 minutes before the class started, we met our speech therapist in the kid section of the library to hang out. The place was swarming with kids, all Anthony's size.
I held him close as he took in the new environment for a second before letting him down. Honestly, he wasn't the only one. I was nervously scanning the various families and kids that surrounded us too.
I put Anthony down, and his therapist and I were at each side.
Anthony is a kid. He doesn't care what people think. He sees other children, and he just wants to play with them, that's it.
Maybe it's because I am still new at all of this and haven't experienced these social situations with Anthony a whole lot yet, maybe it's because I'm a sensitive person, or maybe its just because I am his mom... but as I followed Anthony around the room I felt my anxiety level rise. I looked at all the other moms talking to each other while their kids played on the opposite side of the room, like it was no big deal. Must be nice. Instead, I was left feeling like a body guard constantly monitoring Anthony so he wouldn't poke, hit, or kick. I was a broken record repeating two key words: "I'm sorry"
"I'm sorry, he is just learning facial features he didn't mean to poke her nose.....I'm sorry, he didn't mean to throw that he was just excited....I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry..."
Each time, the lump in my throat grew and grew. It's so painful as a parent of a child with special needs to feel the need to apologize for their every action. I don't ever want to apologize for who Anthony is, because he is the coolest kid I know. For some annoying reason I am so fearful of how others view my son. I want them to see what I see, and when he acts a little different than their children and can't communicate in the same way I worry their smile is fake.
Anthony had no idea how I was feeling. He was in his element. This kid loves other children, and wants to interact with them in the worst way. I was totally proud of him, despite how I was internally feeling. Here was my son, in a small room with a lot of people and a ton of stimulation, handling it beautifully. He had a few mishaps, but I could tell he was having a really good time.
Finally it was time to go into the group room to start the jitter bug class. I let out a huge sigh of relief because I knew once Anthony was in a structured(ish) environment he would be a whole lot more successful. It was tough reining him in while everyone was sitting down in a circle on the rug. He kept getting up and walking to the center of the room to loudly announce he was there, and boy did everyone know he was, ha!
All of a sudden he heard the tune of a familiar song and I saw his face light up.
"The ants go marching one by one, hurrah hurrah!...."
Anthony picked up his music sticks and started hitting them on the floor to mimic the beat just like the other kids. His therapist and I looked at each other and we were both beaming. I was bursting with pride. My little boy was doing it. He was doing exactly what every other kid was doing in that room, and they were all the same in that moment.
Anthony continued to amaze me. When the teacher was reading a story about a caterpillar sleeping, she asked the kids to pretend to go to sleep too. Anthony scooted off his therapist's lap and put his head on the floor. He kept peeking up to make sure everyone else was doing it too, and then would resume his "sleep". It was adorable.
Throughout the class I looked around the circle of kids and there were more times than I could count where parents had to apologize for their kid taking another's instrument, or for stepping on someone, or for yelling when they weren't supposed to.
In those moments I realized that I was my own worst enemy. I was the reason for my high anxiety, not everyone else. I bet most of the parent "looks" I over-analyzed, were not what I thought. I was sure that everyone was looking at Anthony like he was different, and they didn't want him near their children out of fear for how he would act.
I realized that I was wrong.
Every child in that room was a toddler. Toddlers don't care if the teacher says it's time to be quiet, they'll still chat it up with their neighbor, or yell, or throw their instrument, or poop in their diaper. Toddlers don't care if they're making a good impression or not. They're all just toddlers. I was stupid to think that Anthony was any different.
The only thing that matters in this world is Anthony, and his happiness... and boy was he happy today.
Anthony will certainly not be a "coop-kid" anymore. I will make sure he has every opportunity to experience many, many different things. The whole "personal space" concept will come with time, I am sure!
* As a side note: I know that as Anthony grows, the developmental gap between him and his peers will most likely get larger. I know that when that day comes, it will be tough. But, as of today, he is just a toddler, and I will enjoy every minute of it!