July 30, 2010
“We’re going to make it” I say half to myself and half to Justin, as I pull my somewhat recalcitrant seven-year-old along the rocky path to the swimming pool, where my new favorite person is attempting to teach Justin to swim. It’s his fourth lesson in a series of six, and he’s finally begun to regard this exercise as an experience somewhere in between a teeth cleaning and eating green vegetables. His mother actually finds the former event with him to be infinitely more palatable, as that attempt only occurs every six months.
I’m fairly excited that we’ll make the lesson on time, in part because I’m hoping the director of the Challenger program can achieve our goal, namely that Justin could walk out onto our diving board, fall into the pool, and doggie paddle four feet to safety. She’s fairly confident that one day he’ll get there, and as we’ve had several instructors previously who weren’t so enthusiastic in their future predictions, I’m thrilled I found this place. It’s been worth schlepping up to Justin’s school the next county over and driving him back down here just to see him actually attempt to kick and move his arms, rather than lying like a limp pad thai noodle in our own still waters. It turns out I can teach autistic kids ABA, but when it comes to swimming, I decidedly suck. At least I’m aware of my limitations.
The other reason I’m excited we circumvented the traffic accident near the parkway and made it here reasonably on time is because Justin’s mommy is making a new friend. Generally it would sound rather pathetic for a forty-three-year-old mother of two to be that jazzed up by the possibility of turning a playdate acquaintance into a genuine friendship, but frankly, I don’t get out much these days, and my opportunities are limited. These swim lessons afford me not only the chance to chat with an adult woman who also has two children on the spectrum, but permit me anywhere from thirty to forty-five minutes of freedom while a tough, determined swim instructor tries to imbue my oldest son with the necessary skills to save his own life. To say this time period is a win-win for me would be a gross understatement.
Truly, I’m grateful for this opportunity, and for a few other women I’ve met recently who also hail from Club Autism, not to be confused in any way, shape or form with Club Med. Back in Virginia I literally had only one “autism mommy” I could hail as friend, which was in part due to the fact we moved to New Jersey a relatively short time after Justin was diagnosed, and was also due to the fact that for most of those fifteen months I never left the house. Since my adopted state’s idea of an early intervention program consisted of a mere eight hours of speech and occupational services per month (a collective gasp is now rolling across the state of New Jersey), I was forced to spend the vast majority of Justin’s conscious hours each day trying to encourage him to sign for bubbles. That, coupled with the fact I often didn’t have the chance to shower on a frequent basis, often precluded my attempts to get out and meet other people in similar situations. Deodorant just can’t do it all.
Now that my youngest has turned three (an age I would find far more odious than two if I wasn’t just so damn grateful the kid actually has the ability to talk back to me) I do seem to be able to exit the confines of my home a little more frequently than I did in Virginia, and I’ve met some nice people. I’m not looking for “soul mates”, as there are six women, my kindred coven, whom I’ve been friends with for twenty years or more who fulfill that requirement for me. No, I’m simply been searching for a few good women who not only have children close to my youngest son’s age, but who don’t confuse terms like “sensory diet” and “eloping” with guaranteed weight loss and something fabulously romantic. I think I’ve found a few, women who will understand when I tell them Justin’s been awake since 3:00 AM that day that what I’m really saying is “Oh my God, will he do this forever and I’ll never be able to write coherently or suffer through another P90X workout EVER AGAIN”, women who will remind me gently that even autism is generally cyclical, that it is likely one day I will eventually sleep through the night. That reassurance, that complete understanding of any given situation, is priceless.
And as I hand Justin off to his waiting teacher and curve my way in and out of the picnic tables, the last of which supports the weight of a woman with whom I’ve begun to have an invaluable rapport, I relax, just a little, and enjoy the moment at hand.