07/07/2013 08:38 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Why I'm So Grateful for a Purple Beach Shovel

Going to the beach with kids is never the relaxing experience you had in your pre-parent days, when you could veg out for hours on end on the sand. Going to the beach with a child who has special needs can be especially trying. It's not easy for Max to walk on the sand. Also, he loves pushing around this beach cart we have with big wheels, except it's hard for him to push but he keeps trying and gets ticked off that he can't move it. Good times!

Max will get into scooping sand into a bucket -- for about seven minutes, then he loses interest. He'll dunk his feet, but he's not up for going all the way into the water.

This is why we end up at the pool a lot.

Having a kid who can't entertain himself has been one of the most challenging parts of special needs motherhood. For years, we could not leave Max alone in the playroom because he literally couldn't play by himself. He needed Dave or me to push, press, prod, open and hold toys for him. I could never duck out to make lunch or dinner, or even do a little cleaning. Floor time was also laced with anxiety, because it was therapeutic play and I so wanted Max to be able to do things.

This is not to say I didn't occasionally park Max in front of kiddie DVDs. I did. He enjoyed them, and I got a break. I refused to feel guilty, because taking breathers made me a more sane parent.

Eventually, by around 5, Max started pushing big toy trucks back and forth on his own. Because they were large, they were easy for him to grasp. Because they were things that GO, he loved 'em. Max still does this a lot, especially with a red Hess firetruck we've had for years. He could sit for hours on our deck if we'd let him, and push a truck back and forth and back and forth.

Max isn't into board games. He still needs help with coloring, painting and doing crafts. And so, moving around trucks is his best way to play independently.

Then came The Purple Shovel.

We were at the beach. Max was losing it a little bit. Cousins of ours were there, and one had a purple shovel. He lent it to Max. And, wow, it was a match made in heaven.

First Max helped build up a big mound of sand. Then he just walked all around, poking holes into the sand with the shovel and dumping it into buckets. Sometimes the buckets weren't his, and I had to explain that it's not polite to walk up to another kid and dump sand into their bucket (oh, the conversations I have).

Max spent a good few hours playing with that purple shovel. Our cousins gifted it to Max. I'd like to have it set on a plaque and hung on the wall, so grateful am I to this purple shovel.

Meanwhile, I let Max sleep next to it.


This post originally appeared on Love That Max.

More posts from Ellen Seidman at Love That Max:
How to (mostly) have patience when your child acts up
Top 20 reasons moms of kids with special needs rock
Toys aren't us: Dealing with special needs parent buying compulsion