So, how much sharing is too much?
It’s Wednesday morning, and my family was in the lobby of our hotel. We’re on our annual trek to our favorite place on Earth: Storyland in New Hampshire. We’ve come down for the hotel’s free breakfast, and we’re crowded around the tiny table.
Well, not all of us. I had removed Howie from the sitting area because his behavior was becoming quite disruptive. I plopped him down in the chair in front of the reservation desk, handed him a Storyland map, and told him to plan out our day. I strategically placed myself halfway between him and our table, so I could keep an eye on everyone. And suck down my free coffee at the same time.
At that moment, a mom and her son came in. He looked to be about seven years old or so. She asked if I was waiting for a table, and as I gestured to my left and right I explained that I was keeping track of my crew. She smiled and grabbed a table in the middle of the room. Her husband and daughter came in behind them.
A few minutes later, I heard her tell her son to “just go out and ask them what they like about Storyland. He has a map right there.” Her son comes right out, glances back at his mom, and turns to Howie.
“So, what do you like about Storyland?”
Howie’s eyes lit up. It was like asking Dino Dan what he likes about dinosaurs.
(in case you don’t know, Storyland is Howie’s second obsession after Hot Wheels cars. He asks almost every day “how many more sleeps” until we’re going. And on the days when he doesn’t ask, he talks about his favorite rides. Constantly.)
For a good ten minutes the conversation flowed. “I like the polar coaster!” “I’m going on the Flying Fish!” “Do you like the train?” “I’m going to ride on the green one!” “Did you know there’s a circus”…and on and on and on…until:
“Mom! I made a new friend!”
Of course, he didn’t know the kid’s name or anything about him. They just connected on Storyland and that was enough. Frankly I was surprised he didn’t say “I made a new best friend!”
The rest of us finished our breakfast and headed back up to the room to get ready for our big day at the park. Our new friend Gabe (yes, we now knew his name) and his dad rode up with us. And they were still talking about Storyland.
We said our goodbyes at the elevator and the perfunctory “see you at the park”, gathered our things and went our separate ways.
In the parking lot, I realized I had forgotten something in the room. I headed back to the lobby, and ran into Gabe’s dad outside of the door.
Something overtook me at that moment. I don’t know what it was. For some reason, I was compelled to talk to him. To thank him. So I did.
“I just have to thank you and your son. He’s a great kid and my boys had a nice time talking with him about the park. My five year old…um…he has high functioning autism, and it’s hard for him to relate to kids sometimes, so…um…that was really great for me and him. Thank you.” And I turned and walked into the hotel. His wife was walking out right then. She looked at me quizzically and said “I guess I’ll have him fill me in.”
I have never shared that information with a stranger. A complete and total stranger. There was no immediate reason for me to tell them any of that. The only time I’ve ever told anyone about Howie’s autism was as an explanation for his behavior. And it’s only to a person who we already know. I’ve never considered it anyone’s business before. And clearly, they didn’t need to know it. They came into breakfast five minutes past the verbal outbursts, the refusal to eat, and the inability to sit still. All they saw was a perfectly behaved five year old, talking about his favorite vacation spot.
But I saw something different. I saw my son connect with another young boy – one that he had never met before.
A boy that seemed a little like…mine.
What was it that got my radar up? Was it the excited way that he talked too? Or was it the fact that his mother asked me twice if he was bothering my boys? Or was it the little tears that welled up in her eyes when I told her that Howie said that he made a new friend?
Something compelled me to tell that family our story. It was the thought that maybe we shared something else besides our love for the Whirling Whale ride.
We saw the family two times at the park that day. Once they were getting off one ride, and we were getting on. There was a quick hello, and that was it. Later on, I saw the mom. She was walking alone, talking on the phone. She glanced at me, and looked away.
I’m guessing now that my radar was off that day. I was wrong. And I scared her.
I expected a teary “yes, us too!”. What I got was a “I don’t know you.”
I spent the rest of the day thinking about this encounter. What did I expect to gain from sharing, or in this case, oversharing? Why did I need them to know? Why did I need to connect with this family? They were strangers then and are strangers now.
Why did I need to make my son the topic of her next mom’s night out?
I guess it’s that feeling of not wanting to be alone. I thought she’d be a mom who “gets it”. Instead, she was a mom who didn’t want to understand.
I’m not sure I’d do anything different any other time.
You just never know when you’ll get that teary “yes, us too.”
That moment can make all the difference.
(more about our actual visit to Storyland in my next post. As soon as I finish unpacking…could be weeks…)
“And the trouble I find is that the trouble finds me
It’s a part of my mind it begins with a dream
And a feeling I get when I look and I see
That this world is a puzzle, I’ll find all of the pieces
And put it all together, and then I’ll rearrange it
I’ll follow it forever
Always be as strange as it seems
Nobody ever told me not to try” – Talk of the Town by Jack Johnson