Tonight Rojo wanted to go to the playground, and I heard myself agreeing without a grumble - something just went off in my head that said, this is important.
Got there and immediately ran into two friends, one being "Above and Beyond," aka the ice cream truck lady. Also there was a man I've known since Rojo was born, and now he, too, is the parent of a special needs child.
I had Flicka sitting next to me, and kids kept coming up to me and asking if they could pet her. Next thing I knew a little one asked if he could take Flicka on a walk. I said sure, and got busy solving the world's problems with my friends on the bench. Occasionally I would look up to make sure Rojo was fine, and that Flicka was within sight and doing okay with her new role as Pied Piper. Each time I saw her she had gained another follower. One would return Flicka to me and then the next would ask for a turn. We finally established a little routine, a route, if you would, to make it fair. They could take Flicka once around the loop, bring her back to me and then it would be the next person's turn.
I was aware that a young dad had two kids, a boy about four and a girl about two, now in line for Flicka. The little boy had a Scooby Doo Band Aid on his check, and when I asked him about it he awkwardly touched it. The dad said, "M., ask what the dog's name is." The boy didn't ask. "Ask how old the dog is," the dad prodded. The boy didn't ask. "Ask if you can pet the dog, M.," the boy didn't ask. I didn't think too much about it. The dad and I got to talking and I told him Flicka was a retired guide dog. He marveled at her beauty, her shiny coat, her sweetness, how young she looks.
Suddenly Flicka was up on the play structure, so I jumped up to get her down - can't have her scaring the kids up there. All the followers were trying to get her down and there was some degree of temporary chaos. The dad followed me. Once down, I turned to the dad and said, "I think Flicka was checking on Rojo, he has special needs, you see, and that's why we got her. She knows she's his buddy, and she was probably worried that she hadn't been with him for awhile."
I saw the look in the man's eyes. The look. The look of one that walks the path. "Your son has special needs? My son has special needs. Did the dog just automatically know that she was there for your son, because I can tell she understands my son, too." I told more about the story of Flicka, and how yes, she knew she was there for Rojo, and that their bond was a thing of beauty.
We chased kids and dogs, passed the leash, made small talk, and then I asked, "So, what's going on with your son?"
"Well, we're just finding that out now," he said, giving me the look again and smiling a little too broadly.
"It's so hard," I said, making eye contact with him, and noticing tears behind his eager smile.
"Yea, looks like he has dyspraxia, sensory processing disorder, maybe autism... does you son have any of those things?"
"Check, check, check!" I said.
Our conversation went on and he said how he wished his wife could meet me, as she is desperate for other mothers to talk to about things like this. I told him about the support group I run and that his wife is welcome to join us. "Oh, that would be SO great," he said about four times.
"I don't have anything with me to write down my information on, do you?"
"No," he said, "but do you come here very often?"
"All the time," I said.
I have no doubt that Rojo, Flicka and Mary will make sure our paths cross again.
And I'll have a pencil and paper when they do.
* Photo from: www.bluegrassplaygrounds.com