But I have to be honest. Ever since Matthew could walk/run, block parties have become a lot more complicated and while I still look forward to them, I also feel a sense of dread. First of all, anytime we are even remotely near a street or parking lot we hold Matthew's hand. He doesn't have an instinct for danger. But you can't really hold hands during the whole block party. Granted, there are no cars in the street because it's blocked off, but our experience from previous block parties is that he will run down driveways to get to neighbors' cars or garages. A year ago, I remember thinking, "Gee...this is fun" as Matthew and I went in the house for the first time-out of the evening and the block party had only started five minutes prior. He has to take automatic timeouts if he runs and doesn't stop when we yell, "Stop!" In June, I realized it was progress that we made it half an hour before we needed to take a time-out. Secondly, when you have a "runner" you work so hard to teach them about safety and not going in the street. And lots of kids will understand that this is a special party and that we can only do it on this special day. I don't believe that Matthew understands that distinction. Will I have undone what I have been trying to teach him? Thirdly (and maybe selfishly), it is exhausting and not relaxing to watch someone that closely for hours. I won't be shooting the breeze while my kid runs back and forth between someone's backyard and the street. (Parents of toddlers can relate, I'm sure!) You really can't hold a decent conversation with someone when you know at any moment you are going to have to abruptly leave. And there's always that bonus danger factor of having a bunch of hot grills around.
Last Friday was our fall block party. It started around 4:00 pm and I felt a little bad that he had therapy until 5:45 pm, but a part of me thought, "Well, that's a little less time that we will have to be outside." His therapist should have been paid double that night because she had to convince him that he still wanted to do therapy even though it was becoming more and more evident that he wanted to be outside. That's where all the action was. At the beginning of the block party Matthew and I did spend some time in a neighbor boy's backyard...just the two of us. We spent some time visiting the garbage cans that were being used to hold the block party sign to block off the street. And we did make a few attempts to lead adults by the hand to their garages. BUT...besides that we rode our scooter in the street (okay...we were attempting to ride it on the curb, but go with me here.), went up to the table and ate taco dip (with some prompts not to double dip), and rode a neighbor girl's tricycle up and down the street. We didn't run down driveways. We didn't get in cars. We didn't go in garages. We were staying at the block party! After dinner, when the sun started going down, he was content to do what he often does in our house...he walked around in big circles on his tiptoes, verbally stimming (repeated vocalizations) and flapping his face with the end of his toy microphone. And you might not believe this part, but I actually sat down! (Now you need to know that Matthew signed for me to sit down and you might know from Mr. Bossypants that he likes to tell people what to do.) I can't explain how I know this (mother's intuition?) but I believe that he wasn't just being bossy this time. I think he was telling me two things: 1. He was asserting his independence 2. He was reassuring me that he wasn't going to run.
Another confession...usually on block party nights we take him in right at his bedtime or even before (even though most kids are staying up way past their bedtime), because as I mentioned it's exhausting. But at this block party we let him stay up past his bedtime, because he was doing such a good job. One of the funniest parts of the night came after Rob took him inside to put him to bed. Someone points to one of our upper level windows. "Hey, look it's Matthew." The thing is if we can see him in the window, that means he is kneeling on his dresser. Before we knew it, he had gotten up off his knees and was standing on his dresser. All you could see was a black silhouette perfectly framed in the window...a boy, wishing he was still at the block party. I called Rob on his cellphone and said, "Did you know your son is on top of his dresser." The whole block erupted in laughter as we could tell the moment that Rob opened Matthew's bedroom door...the silhouette jumped hastily and guiltily.
Now that you have read this I think you'll understand and hopefully not think I'm too crazy if I decide to suggest to our neighbors that we try something new... a winter block party! Just think, there could be snow forts, snowmen, snowball fights, a fire pit and hot chocolate.
Note: Prior to this block party, we did build into his therapy sessions a social story about block parties. A social story is a way to teach him about a social situation and expected behavior. His therapists read it to him every session for about three weeks leading up to the party. I don't know if that was what helped this block party be a success, but I have to believe that it definitely didn't hurt.