Friday, August 12, 2011

The Boy at the Pool

Photo taken by me, not of our pool, but of the one
at my mom's 55+ community.  Close enough.  

I haven't written very much about autism lately, which is kind of ironic because this rough-ride of a summer has brought me face-to-face with some of the ... how shall I put this? Some of the often-buried emotions of being a parent of a child with a disability. (At least, my buried emotions.)

Allow me to explain.

Most of the time, I try to put on a frankly, my neurotypical dears, I don't give a damn attitude about how people perceive Boo and his quirks, thinking that if I think this way, then maybe this attitude will somehow magically seep into my mind.

I'm rarely successful.

The idea of not caring what people think is foreign to me, but believe me when I say it's an attitude, a mantra that I want to adopt wholeheartedly.  I really want to get to that place where I don't worry about his behavior in public (is he going to have a meltdown?) or about what other people are thinking about him (is someone going to make an insensitive comment?) or my imagined evaluations on their part of my parenting abilities (am I going to have to explain, again, that he has autism?)

I love my boy to the heavens and back a trillion times, and I think he is wonderful and gorgeous and brilliant and funny and creative. I whisper to myself, "I don't care, it doesn't matter, let him be himself ..." but I'm nagged by thoughts of what's he going to do (or say) now? and what other people will think about the scripting, the constant talking, the sound effects that he makes.

It's not always a good place to be.

(You special needs parents, you know what I am talking about here, don't you?  Please. Tell me you do.)

So I'm working on this.  Or, I should say, I want to work on this, even though I'm not always sure how best to do so. Deep down inside, what I want is what we all want: for someone to see our kid for who they are, quirks and foibles and all.  Right?

This summer has been a tough one - professionally, financially, emotionally. It's been a Catch-22 of sorts.  Thanks to my being among the 10% of the country's unemployed, I've been home with the kids 24/7 (no summer camp/field trips/social interaction for us this year, which is ironically the same camp where Boo's best friend has been going, because of his mom getting a full-time job that started at the end of the school year).

My being unemployed has put a bit of a financial constraint on the various activities we've been able to do.  What activities and entertainment we can do and afford to do, and that I've proposed (bowling through the Kids Bowl Free program; going to the library and partaking in the lineup of summer reading activities at the various branches, the park, the $1 movies, a free meet-and-greet kids event with the mascot of the Wilmington Blue Rocks), have been either met with meltdown-caliber resistance from Boo or such intense fighting between Betty and Boo at said activity that I don't have the emotional strength (most days) to attempt it again.

So, most days, we've been shut-ins this summer.

Because I've been home when I used to be at a full-time job, Boo's quirks - the noises, the self-talk, the high-pitched sound-barrier shattering vocalizations, the stims - have been up close and personal, right in my face 24/7.  It's left me extremely conscious - and worried - about the lack of social interaction, about the potential for regression, about how this is going to affect the beginning of school in a completely brand new environment.

The bright side of this (and yes, there is a bright side!) is that I've noticed a slight, almost imperceptible difference in the 11 days since we moved.  A shifting, of sorts, maybe one for the better. I didn't need the move to understand or fully appreciate how much the kids and I need The Husband in our lives, but these 5 months of single-parenting during the week has brought that fact home bigtime.  Even moreso in the past 11 days, if that makes sense. We still have the resistance from Boo to trying new things or exploring new places here in Pittsburgh, we still have WAYWAYWAY too much SpongeBob and iCarly in heavy TV rotation, but at least now there's backup in the form of The Husband and for me, a soft place to crash at the end of the day.

You're probably wondering what the hell all this has to do with the title of this post, The Boy at the Pool, and are telling me to get to the freakin' point already.

I am.  Getting there.  (In more ways than one.)

So, one of the amenities of our new digs here in the apartment complex is that there is a pool. Even better is that going swimming (even though Betty and Boo can't, you know, technically SWIM) is one of the very few can-count-on-one-hand activities that Betty and Boo can agree upon.  (We're planning to remedy the non-swimming issue by signing them up for lessons at a local waterpark or perhaps the Y.)  Somehow, Boo is somehow able to work through his EXTREME anxiety over water in his ears and actually ENJOY being in the water.

Wednesday was a spectacular day here weather-wise, with gorgeous clouds and skies the color of 9/11 blue. (Yeah.  That very photo of mine there.  It's untouched, unedited.) It was also a day that, in the emotional barometer that has been this summer, a good one for Boo.  Which made it a good day for me and Betty, too, and therefore, a good day for trying the pool.

Except for one sleeping sunbathing woman, we had the place to ourselves.  I exhaled, grateful for the social reprieve.  I sat at the water's edge, photographed the kids and the scenery, exhaled some more.

And onto the pool deck walked two women and three children.  Mentally, I held my breath as if I myself was submerged underwater.  On autopilot, I started to worry, my negative thoughts festering.  (See paragraphs 5 and 6 of this post.)

Two toddler-aged girls and one boy, who I overheard was going into the 7th grade.

Within minutes, the boy dove into the pool.  Again and again.  Betty and Boo were suitably impressed.

"DIIIIIIIIIVVVVVVVING DUUUUUUUUUUUUUDE!!!!!!!!!!!!" Boo half-hollered, half-sing-songed at the top of his lungs. "IT'S DIVING DUDE, COME TO SAVE THE DAY ...." and he was off, rattling off an impromptu monologue of a cartoon episode taking shape in his mind, a fusion of clips from SpongeBob, from Fairly Odd Parents, and the goofy antics of Spencer from iCarly joining forces with characters of his own creation.

This ain't gonna end well, my negative internal voice said.

Let it go, my positive internal voice (see paragraph 3 of this post) said.  Roll with it.  Let HIM go.  Step back.  Watch.  See what happens.   

Diving Dude approached the shallow end of the pool, where Betty and Boo bobbed up and down, occasionally grabbing onto my feet and shins to "float."  His younger companions jumped into the 3 feet; he caught them.

"I like your necklace," Betty offered, pointing to the surfer dude-like turquoise and black beads adorning Diving Dude's neck.

"Thanks," Diving Dude said.

"IT'S DIIIIIIIVVVVVVING DUUUUUUUUDE!!!!!!!!" Boo hollered again.

Betty groaned, once again embarrassed by her brother.  "WILL ???? YOU ???? STOP IT !!!!!  WITH THE DIVING DUDE ALREADY???!!! IT IS SOOOOO ANNOYYYYINGGGGGG!"

Diving Dude laughed.  I bristled, stiffened.  And quickly realized that he was laughing with Boo, not at him.  They exchanged a look, something that seemed to say "ugh, girls."

Boo chattered some more about the adventures of Diving Dude, and now the kid was hooked.  He had his attention. And mine, with  this statement.  From my Boo.

"Wanna play a game called Diving Dude?"

HUH?  Did my Boo say that?  The one who has been socially deprived this summer, the one I thought was regressing and had lost all social skills he'd ever acquired?  THAT Boo?

I stared as Diving Dude ... agreed.  Got splashed a little, as I was still sitting on the edge of the pool.  Didn't say a word. Betty started chatting it up with one of the little girls. I knew what I had to do.

"Um ... I'm just going to be sitting over there," I said, pointing to the lounge chair less than 10 feet away.  "OK?"

"OK, Mommy.  We're fine."

"I know you are, baby."

I opened up my book, looking up to make sure heads were above water after every paragraph.  Listened as today's episode of The Adventures of Diving Dude introduced ninjas, donuts, and casseroles.  (I can't make this shit up, people.)  Whipped out my BlackBerry and posted a Facebook status.

At the pool watching in amazement as my boy just initiated a pretend game with another kid (think he is a 7th grader). It's some nonsensical pool game about ninjas and donuts that Boo made up.  Holy crap.  Maybe we haven't regressed as much as I thought this summer. 

And added:

This seems to be altered script/episode from SpongeBob.  Casseroles are involved.  Now if only they could produce one for dinner.  

This lasted about 45 minutes, and I again remembered The Ghosts of Floortime Sessions of  Years Past.  This is what we'd worked so hard for, these moments of spontaneous initiated play.

The tanned, mani-and pedicured bikini-clad ladies who were supervising the boy and the two girls stood up, a stark contrast to my schlumpadinka tank top and faded thin shorts self.  Aside from a few smiles, we didn't exchange any words.  (Which was fine with me.  For once, I wanted to enjoy the moment, to pretend that we are a family in the Witness Protection Program, without having need to tell our autism story for the upteenth time.)

The boy got out of the pool, waved goodbye to my Boo.

"Never forget me," the boy said.

Oh, you have no idea, kid.

"I won't, Diving Dude!" Boo hollered.  "I won't forget you, Diving Dude!"

I half-smiled, knowing that with Boo's Aspergerian mind, not only would he remember Diving Dude but he would, for years to come, remember the exact day this encounter occurred, the weather, the time, and the exact verbiage that was exchanged.

Why is it, I thought, that we special needs parents seem to need these reminders, so often, of how far we've come and that we're OK? Perhaps that's one of the gifts of this journey, that unlike other parents, we DO get to be reminded.

As I pretended to read while really watching the kids, I could feel my anxiety recede, float away into the ripples of the water - if only temporarily. It will be back, I know.  But maybe, the next time, I'll remember this day at the pool and this boy - these boys - at the pool instead.

Maybe I'll remember that if I really want others to see my boy for who he is, I have to see him too.

copyright 2011, Melissa, The Betty and Boo Chronicles If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.


Kelly said...

What a great post, Melissa. Especially that last line.
I can definitely relate to saying I don't care what others think, but actually struggling to get to that spot.
Go, Boo! I'm so glad he had such a great time with Diver Dude!

Beth S. said...

I'm not exaggerating when I tell you this post brought tears to my eyes. What a heartwarming story. People usually gasp in horror or pinch their faces up in disgust when I tell them I teach junior high. Stories like this remind me that these kids aren't all bad.

Book Dragon said...

oh, that was fabulous! Way to go Boo, and Mom =D

Meg said...

Wow, so nice to read this post at the end of my work day. Your writing skills amaze and you were able to portray this incident in a very clear way: diving dude and boo hanging in the pool. Hope you have more days like this as summer winds down.

Jenny said...

Wow! That's fantastic!

Lisa said...

This is such a great post. I love it when things turn out so much better than your imagination believes they will. And the first picture of the water is really pretty too.

Elisabeth said...

I got goosebumps reading your post. I know how difficult things must be for you sometimes. Working with Aspergers kids, it is a learning experience for me to see life from your side of the pool, so to speak.

Gail Mc (too lazy to sign in) said...

Wonderful post - I felt like I was at the pool with you!
One thing that struck me though, is that my kids are not special needs, but yet this isn't too far from how I feel when Bridget is meeting someone new or a "friend for a day" at the pool. I try to look nonchalant but I'm listening as much as I can to see how the new person is reacting to my daughter.
As parents we all want our kids to be accepted, and while Boo's quirks may prompt some kids to steer clear (and those are the ones you don't need in your lives anyway), that rare treasure that is Diver Dude keeps our optimism up that there are GOOD kids out there that just want to enjoy the day.

Melissa said...

*cried the entire way through*

Oh, how much I "get" this. :-D

Farmer*swife a/k/a Glass_Half_Full said...

OMG, you totally brought tears to my eyes. Happy tears.

What a wonderful day and what a wonderful and passionate boy to understand and play with your BOO so well, unknowing of his physical and emotional difficulties. Just accepting him and playing/entertaining him.

And, for your BOO to interact so well.

Too awesome. Thank you for sharing this post.