August 20, 2013
“No, no and no!” my youngest son states emphatically, making a grab for the pretzels he covets, pivoting gracefully in an arc intended to resolved itself by claiming his prize. “I’m not surfing today, the waves are too big!” he yells with deepest resolve, and I respond by plopping down on our wrinkly towel, strategizing rapidly on my way down.
He seats himself next to me with hands outstretched and I accommodate his needs, pressing pretzels into his palm while tipping his face up toward mine. “Zach, we’ve surfed here three years in a row. Every time you say you don’t want to do it, then you go in and you love it. I want you to try it once, and if you don’t like it after that, you can stop.” I look at the professional lifeguards encircling us at a safe distance, and motion for them to move in and make their own pitch.
I hold my breath and wish them luck.
Zach began his “surfing career” through the graciousness of POAC (Parents of Autistic Children) when he was four, and each time it’s a struggle to get him in the water, and each time he exits triumphant, reveling in the majesty of the waves he’s defeated. I’m confident I’ll win this round too, mostly because the professionals in front of us make surfing seem like fun, and my boy loves to be entertained. After a few more minutes of cajoling he scarfs down his last carb, allows himself to be outfitted with a lifevest, and makes a mad dash for the waves.
After his first run he declares “I love this!”, and asks to battle the surf no less than fourteen more times. Eventually even his guardians tire, and he hauls his little body up a steep slope of sand, exhausted but satisfied. Soon more snack is consumed, and I ask him if Mommy was right that he’d love it, and he grins somewhat sheepishly and nods a full-mouthed “yes”. I search my bag for the juice I know he will imminently require, and smile my own satisfied grin.
I pushed him, and this time, it was the right thing to do.
I walk a fine line with Zachary, always wanting to stretch him to his limits without breaking him. My youngest wants to participate in so many of the events the neurotypical world has to offer, but to be present in these situations he’s had to learn some self-control, and that’s not always an easy path for him. This summer he’s held it together in no less than three different camps for the first time without an aide, summer school (okay, that one was with his former kindergarten teacher, I might be cheating here), and his first trip by plane to visit relatives.
I’ve never been more proud of him, not only in the big accomplishments, but in the small ones too- his newfound lack of reticence in sharing with his brother, his ability to put his desires on hold during a playdate, his eagerness to try two novel camp experiences.
He is slowly sliding away from me and into the big wide world of independence. I watch him enter with a mixture of trepidation and joy.
Zach will start full-day school for the first time this year, in an inclusion class without a dedicated aide. I am hopeful this summer of “conquering first” is a harbinger of good things to come, that my boy will be willing to stretch himself further, to fit in but never compromise on the core of who he is. He is utterly unique, loving, and at times, exhausting. He will be such an asset to any classroom if he allows his ebullient soul to override the impulsitivity that often holds him back. I hope his teacher will possess a great modicum of patience, and will see the glorious potential contained in my child’s slight six-year-old frame.
I hope Zach continues to recognize his potential too.
In fifteen days (but who’s counting) I’ll place my son on his bus for the one day of school he’ll have that week (!), and I’ll take a deep breath as I do so. I’ll hope he finds his niche, that his teacher appreciates him for who he is and likes him too, as his educators have all done in the past. I’ll wish for him to form new friendships, for the ones he’s had to date have graced his life, and I know these relationships are something he craves. I’ll want him to love school as I did, to recognize that “fitting in”
only takes you so far, that he must be true to himself as well.
But most of all, I’ll hope this stretching, this new accommodation to a tattered IEP, is the right thing to do too.