I apologize to all my loyal readers (all six of you!) that I haven’t posted in a while. I’ve been working with an editor to possibly have a short piece published “for a wider audience”. I’ll let you know if that works out. Keep your fingers crossed for me.
I have a lot to catch up on… but I’ll start here. Last week was Spring Break. A few months ago, we made a decision to try going to a family-friendly hotel on Cape Cod. We found a place that looked really fun. Indoor pool, family-suites with a bunk bed, family entertainment at night… and a “fully supervised, drop-off kids program” every morning. Sounds great, right? The beginning of Spring Break was promising to be a very busy time. Out of town guests. Passover. Filling the kids’ days with activities for six unstructured days. The idea of dropping the kids off at “Kids Klub”, going for a (solo) walk on the beach, and then curling up on a lounge chair with a good book sounded just short of heaven.
It sounded just short of heaven except for one thing. Would G be able to do it? Feeling uncertain about what G is and is not able to do has been a major preoccupation of late. He’s come SO FAR. Skills that seemed completely out of reach just a few short months ago are now solidly in his wheelhouse. Tasks that brought both him and me to tears in the fall are now completed without a second thought. So, the question remained… could we drop him off at “Kids Klub”—a new environment with an unknown structure and unknown people? Would it work?
But as much as I agonized over it in the days and weeks before the trip… I couldn’t get myself to make that phone call. I just COULD NOT pick up the phone and ask to speak to someone about the Kids Klub. I tried a couple of times, but my hands started shaking and I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t get on the phone with a total stranger and lay out all of my son’s weaknesses and challenges and ask if he could still be part of the club. It wasn’t rational, and it certainly wasn’t good parenting, but it didn’t change the fact that I couldn’t make the call. I procrastinated right down to the day of the trip, and then it was too late. We were leaving for the Cape the next day without any information about the Kids Klub beyond what was on the website, and without conveying any information about G to the people running the program. I had made the decision to do nothing by default, and I did not feel good about it.
The day of the trip arrived. We threw our bags in the car and hit the road. When we arrived at the hotel, I drew in a deep breath of relief. The people who greeted us at front desk were warm and friendly. The room was clean and spacious, with a beautiful view of the river and the ocean. So far, everything was turning out in real life to be equal to what was promised on the website. This is not always the case, and I was thankful that our trip was off to a good start.
We had a great evening. We swam in the pool. We ate dinner in a local Mexican restaurant with décor anusic that was loud and colorful. We went to bed happy and relaxed.
Until the next morning. G was doing GREAT in the comfort of our little family of four. Was I really being fair to throw him in to an unknown situation? What if the other kids didn’t treat him nicely? What if the counselors didn’t have the skill to help him keep up with the group? What if he was totally miserable? Why didn’t I reach out and share information about G before we arrived? My stomach was in knots.
I went for a walk past the area where Kids Klub was to meet. I was hoping to catch a word with the director before other families started showing up. But the resort was an informal sort of place, and there were no signs of life until Kids Klub was just about to start. So, I took a deep breath, gathered G and S and approached the growing gathering of kids and staff.
As we drew near the sign-in table, an energetic young woman in her late teens or early twenties gave us a big smile. We introduced ourselves, and within moments, G and S were immersed in a pick-up game of soccer. As soon as the kids were out of earshot, I pulled the counselor aside. This was the moment of truth. I opened my mouth, and a jumble of words about autism, speech and language delay, difficulty with transitions and I don’t even know what else spilled out. It wasn’t eloquent. It probably wasn’t even that coherent. But at least I communicated the message that G might require some extra supervision.
I said good-bye and left the immediate area. I sat on a bench nearby. The soccer game was still going strong. S was goalie, and seemed to be playing her part with great enthusiasm. G was running, jumping and flapping happily. He was in near the action, and even kicked the ball a couple of times. I decided to cut the cord. From a distance, I waved good-bye and left the area.
That’s when I did something weird. My vision of relaxing on vacation included curling up on a lounge chair with an ocean view and reading a book. That’s exactly what I did… sort of. The weather outside was chilly, with a blustery wind sweeping through. Not exactly beach weather. However, the indoor pool had floor to ceiling windows. The upper deck afforded a sweeping view of the beach and the ocean, both resplendent in a dramatic, stormy way. I grabbed my book and angled my lounge chair toward the window. From my perch, I had a great view of the waves crashing onto the sand. I also had a great view of Kids Klub.
I know, I know. Why all the drama about dropping the kid off at Kids Klub if I was just going to sit there and watch him the whole time? That’s just what I was wondering. But as I sat and watched, the answer came to me.
I was watching him succeed. He was navigating a social environment that was totally new to him, and he was DOING IT ON HIS OWN. I watched for a long time. Sometimes he was right with the group. Sometimes he was nearby. Sometimes he was jumping and flapping. But always he had a huge smile on his face. And so did I.
And as I was watching, another realization came. I understood why I wasn’t able to make the phone call to ask for extra support. It was because I couldn’t visualize the success. I could visualize G struggling. I could visualize all the trouble areas, and the things that could go wrong. But I couldn’t create a mental image of G blending in with the crowd, having fun at the activities. So now, in the moment, I opened my eyes wide and DRANK IN EVERY PRECIOUS SECOND OF HIS SUCCESS.
Like I said, I stayed there for a long time. I witnessed a great deal of G being successful. I also saw the challenges. The transitions were hard. G did not follow multi-step directions when they were given to the whole group. Instructions have to be broken down or given to him individually (or both). He needed extra time for complex tasks. I know these challenges. I live with them every day. These are the images that clog my brain when I try to envision G in a new environment.
At the end of the morning, I came to pick up the kids. They both had enormous smiles on their faces. Kids Klub was a success! I was grateful it worked out and both my kids had fun. I was grateful to have had the morning to read a book. But most of all, I’m grateful to walk away from the experience with a mental image of G having fun with his peers.
The next time I’m faced with a similar dilemma (I want G to try a new activity, but I’m not sure how to reach out to the staff of the program), it’s not going to feel so scary. Yes, I’ll feel terrified to set G loose in an unknown swim class or Little League team or after-school club… but I won’t feel hopeless or helpless. It won’t be easy, but I know that now that I carry that image of success with me, I’ll be able to make the call (ahead of time!) to describe the challenges.