Tag - success

Of Slides and Such
The Paintbrush

Of Slides and Such

We are surrounded by hundreds of sunbathers at a very public pool. Even though you are nearing me in height I must hoist you up into my arms (to the amusement of those around us), and walk deliberately into the water. Long ago I mastered the ability to keep my face calm as the icy water envelops us.

We are in now, and as always, you are glommed onto me. Every 30 seconds I say, “John, not the neck!” and pry you from my windpipe. We bob on the water, you and I, and I see you relax in increments. We look for Sam and I point to him high up on the water slide.

You say, “Go water slide?” and I repeat, “Go water slide? Yes or no.” You say, “NO!” Okay. We bob some more, we glide from one end of the pool to the other. With a splash, Sam lands in front of us. You grin. Sam says, “John! Go water slide?” You are excited and flap your hands, I know you want to, how you want to!

“John,” we say together, “Go water slide? Yes or no.”

“YES!” you say. So out we get and Sam grabs your hand. I am hopeful but this scene has played out before: we always come down the slide… just always the wrong way.

We begin our ascent and fall into line behind at least a dozen kids. You are still excited. Sam says, “John, it’s so much fun! Go water slide?” and I see your face waver and fill with doubt. You say, “Go home.” I tell you that it will be great and not to worry, Sam will go first.

Finally we arrive at the top. There are two slides, a blue and a green. Sam shoots down one and I hold your shoulders until the lifeguard gives us the signal. I glance behind me: the line snakes below.

This is it.

“Green!” shouts the lifeguard. You break free, scream and say, “GO HOME!” I glance at the guard, certain that what I see will be impatience and I steel myself for the long retreat down the stairs. Instead I see compassion. He says, “Take your time.” Other kids fly by us while you stomp your feet and yell “ALL DONE!” We are quite the spectacle up here at the top. A few kids stare at you but most smile and tell you, “Hey, it’s fun! Don’t be scared!”

I think this gives us both courage. I kneel in front of you. “John, I know you want to go down this slide. Mommy is going to help. I will put you on it and meet you at the bottom.” You yell your protest again but I see a small smile, which baby, is your dead giveaway. I explain to the guard what I’m about to do and I hoist you again (you are getting so big) and sit you at the top of the slide.

One push and you’re off.

Even though I know the pool at the bottom is just three feet deep, I panic for a second — now what? The guard, who is the calmest, most adult teenager I’ve ever seen, says, “if you shoot down the blue slide you’ll beat him down.” Now your mom hasn’t been on a water slide since the 1970s and really doesn’t care to change that but here I go. I hurl myself down the tube and land what seems like an eternity later with a splash below. I look everywhere for your bobbing head. Are you okay? Did you already get out?

Thirty seconds later you appear (indeed your slide is slower), and the grin plastered on your face is a beautiful sight. I catch you, and hug you. “John, you did it! Baby, you did it! I am so proud of you!”

I see that you are proud too.


The Paintbrush

Oh, John. After years of making Mommy spell words for you, of pulling my hand and insisting that I draw pictures for you (in crayon, in pencil, on paper, on the computer, once in the sand), after an eternity of my being Chief Scribe — now you’re ready to do it yourself?

balloon1The watercolor paints are new — we have not cracked them open since Christmas — so when you brought them to me with a paintbrush and said “Open Blue?” I took in the situation and your earnest face and thought, Well? Let’s give it a shot.

Of course I hoped that you would paint yourself but I wasn’t optimistic. I mean there’s precedent and it usually ends up being me. But still, I got a cup of water and showed you the basics: dip brush

in water, mix brush in color, paint on paper. I waited for the inevitable “Mommy paint?” but instead you pushed me away and started coloring in a hot air balloon. Like I was in your way! (I was, I hovered.)

How did I not figure it out sooner?

balloon2It’s the medium. It’s the amount of strength required of your little hands, of your fingers. Painting is fluid and smooth. Your body does not protest or resist or get in your way (like with the crayon or the pencil or even the marker). Painting allows you to execute one smooth movement after another.

It’s not (as I sometimes wondered) the repetitive nature of having us draw picture after picture for you. It’s that YOU want to be able to draw yourself. And we’re as close as you’re able to get.

And then it dawns on me that this must be what it’s like when you try to talk. I see how you struggle to find words when it’s so plain that you want to communicate something — your body doesn’t have a paintbrush to help it find expression. And just like when you make Mommy draw for you (i.e., be your hands), you stop in your tracks and cry. Or flap with frustration. I see how frustrating it must be.

What if the answer to both is… painting? So I’ve decided: No more crayons or markers. We are filling this house with paint and easels and smocks. Let’s see what you’re trying to say, baby.


Over the weekend, we took J&S to a birthday party for a little boy in our neighborhood who was turning 3. Sam has been to many in the last few months — quick little affairs that were more playdate than party, but John has ABA just about every Saturday and so has stayed home with his daddy.

A little history: We went to our first birthday party last summer. Held at the Little Gym, it was full of loud, boisterous children and structured into dance time, singing time, and sitting-to-eat-pizza-and-cake time. In short, everything that my boys hate. It was one of our first big outings where there was a large group of neurotypical children and we were barely one month into hearing our diagnoses.

I’m sure it wouldn’t surprise you to hear that it was rough all around.

When all you see and know every day is your own children, it can come as a shock to meet their peers and see how much more they’re saying and doing. Both boys were overloaded with sensory stuff and tantrummed pretty badly. Because of their food issues, they refused to sit at the table, nevermind try birthday cake. Back then, we had yet to hear even one word out of their mouths.

I remember a lot of stares, a lot of open mouths. I remember two little boys who kept seeking the exit door at every opportunity and the non-stop stimming. I remember feeling red-faced and hot and incompetent. Both of us were relieved when we were able to duck out, saying our goodbyes while each trying to restrain our respective child.

So yesterday’s party inspired a bit of apprehension. There were 15 children expected and it was being thrown by a party company. What if the boys couldn’t handle the decibel level? What if they threw a fit as soon as we arrived. Did I really have the energy to face 15 sets of parent faces?

I shouldn’t have worried.

I should have given us more credit: we’re all much better at this. We take their lead, structure be damned. They don’t want to dance in a circle? Who cares. They’d rather take our hands and lead us around and around the house? Okay. The idea of sitting at a table to eat pizza is their idea of hell? Ours too.

And when a few moms looked at me while I tried to calm J., I just smiled and told them he was tired, while I watched their neurotypical kids have their own meltdowns.

Of course, we are nearing one year since we first heard the word “autism” ascribed to our sons — last February when they were just 18 months old. So as hard as life can sometimes be, there’s been a whole lot of growing going on.

And a whole lot of acceptance.

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