Tuesday, August 16, 2011

A Reminder While Away

We were in the middle of our vacation last week when I realized I had forgotten.

Every year in the summer we go to our family's camp on a small lake in central Maine. It's not a cabin, mind you; in Maine they are "camps," it's been in our family literally 100 years (my great-great grandfather built the place), and it has an outhouse. That last part is what I'm subtly referring to when I tell people back here that our camp is "rustic." That and the no running water.

Seriously, though, we have fun there. We sleep on a screened porch that is dwarfed by hemlocks. At night the loons call on the lake and the sky is awash with stars. We roast marshmallows, swing, swim, hike, and generally slow down. At least a little.

After a few days there I realized I was relaxed but not vacation-relaxed (who is, really, when you have kids?). But beyond that, I was getting incredibly snappish with Dan when the kids would be outside playing. "Where's Ethan?" I kept asking. "He's not going down to the water, is he?" I could not focus until I knew EXACTLY where he was. The boy is only 3. This was absolutely common sense. But I felt common sense blended with adrenaline and a bit of panic.

Then one day down at our little beach a woman came by on a kayak. We started chatting and in moments realized she was in the camp just near us, a camp I used to play in with her kids when I was young, a woman now going through a divorce who hadn't been up there in years and years and years. She happens to work with kids with autism in the Boston school system.

"How is your mom?" she asked right away. "Does she still play the flute? And your brother with autism? She was so, so good with him, when they were up here."

Her immediate memory was one I hadn't thought about in years. Andy at the camp. My mom, as she did at home so often during those rough years, playing her flute, the melodies bringing peace to our surroundings, drifting up through the woods and to the other camps. This woman, with her teaching background, would have taken special note as she watched my brother and how my mom responded to his needs.

As we talked about the past my mind woke up. I remembered more clearly Andy bolting down the camp road and running as fast as he could. My parents jetting after him. "Where's Andy?" became the constant refrain. The time he started running toward the water. My mom yelling that he could have drowned. The day they thought he ate a poisonous mushroom. The fear. The stress. The constant being "on alert." The fact that we wanted to enjoy a vacation as a family, but there were so many screen doors he could escape from.

Suddenly, the root of my stress about Ethan being in my sight at all times was becoming more clear.

I told her about Ethan. We chatted for quite some time, and at one point she asked, "How are you doing with that, with dealing with Ethan's diagnosis, too?"

We'd been here four days and the kids were playing (playing!) together. We hadn't taken out the DVD player once. It had rained several days but who cares, because they swam together in the rain and then we warmed up by the fire and everyone played Candyland. We were going to hike together to a waterfall and attempt our first ride ever as a family in the boat. Ethan had roasted his first marshmallow, and then the kids had gone on the swings and sang VBS songs at the top of their lungs.

There were many ways I could have answered her question, depending on the day, my mood, my hope. I've found most often, though, the way I answer that question now relates directly to both the passage of time, and perspective.

"It's been hard. It was hard at first," I told her. "But once I accept the fact that he is different, I can see all of the wonderful things he's doing, and I'm very grateful."

When I see Ethan through the lens of Andy's autism, it hurts everyone. When I see him as compared to typical kids his age, it benefits no one. When I see Ethan for Ethan, just Ethan, with his own strengths and weaknesses, on his own timeline, then I truly see. Then I rejoice in his progress, and relish the little sweet moments.

Like jumping over puddles and picking blackberries. Like playing chase and throwing rocks and listening to our voices echo across the lake.

As school starts and the world of IEPs and preschool and expectations beckons, I must do this. I must remember this.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm so glad you stopped by our blog so I could find yours too. Those vacations are crazy stressful, aren't they? I know what you mean about all the doors to escape out of and all the water... but it sounds like you have the right attitude about it all. Looking forward to hearing more!