“Mom, is it okay if I run?” my youngest asks me innocently, even though he’s just heard our SEPTA president (Special Education PTA) tell all the kids not to barrel through each other during the Easter egg hunt. I ask him to repeat what she just said, and he looks at me and responds dejectedly, “no running”. He then proceeds to strike a perfect runner’s pose, teetering on an imaginary line keeping him from conquering hundreds of half-hidden, brightly-colored ovals.
I fear this will be a losing battle.
Sure enough, on the count of “three” over a hundred special needs kids, their siblings, and my son make a break for their treasure, skirting every copse of trees in this sparsely- populated wooded area that is hosting the event. We’ve been asked to limit our take to twenty, and as me and my sister-in-law trail behind Zach I ask him to count his pile, which he dutifully does. When we reach the magic number I gently remind him we’re done, and for once there are no “but Mom!” protests. We head back toward our point of origin, a parcel of land now hosting the Easter Bunny, which of course makes me eager for a photo opportunity. I ask Zach if he’ll pose with him, and he smiles shyly and says “yes”, for which my scrapbook is eternally grateful.
I have my priorities.
Zach bounds back over to me after I’ve clicked a half-dozen shots just in case, and asks if he can play on the equipment. I nod yes after checking my watch, then call after him to remind my son not to bowl over several toddlers standing between him and a soggy slide a few hundred yards away. We have a little bit of time left before we return home and relieve Justin’s home therapist from her duties, and I smile, because this outing, unlike last year, has been a resounding success.
A little over a year ago Jeff and I split up with the boys on a frigid Saturday, my husband taking Zach to an Elks Easter party, and me escorting Justin, who has moderate autism, to this very spot. He had seemed excited when I lead him to the car with basket in tow, making his energetic “eee” sounds all the way to the park. I’ve learned how to time things so he’s there neither too early nor too late, and last year we made it with five minutes to spare.
After freeing him from the car I grabbed his hand and inserted a pastel-colored handle into it, and we made our way over to the starting point. I had enough time to greet the SEPTA Executive Board before Justin was off like a shot toward the water, pumping arms and legs steadily to reach the pier, often a coveted destination. I remember my friends calls to him were echoing mine, even as I knew it was a losing battle. Once Justin makes up his mind that something else is more rewarding for him, there’s no reversing that decision.
Can’t imagine from where he acquired that amount of stubbornness.
I recall feeling a fleeting stab of disappointment as I trailed after him, felt sad he wouldn’t be participating in such a lovely and meticulously planned event, sorry for me that I would neither get to witness it nor record it for posterity. Then, with our feet sunk in sand as we trudged our way toward brackish water, it hit me. He’s almost eight years old. Even if he didn’t have autism, he might not want to score pastel-colored cylinders. He’s perfectly thrilled to do his usual routine here.
Nobody’s sad but me.
I felt a weight lift off of me then, a void where guilt sometimes resides when I don’t attempt certain activities with him, even though I know in my mother’s soul that just because Justin “should” like them doesn’t mean he will. We continued our trajectory out onto the dock, my eldest running back and forth, entranced with the ripple of waves on river. He was perfectly content with our adapted activity.
As my youngest son is before me, right now.
I snap back into the moment, as I’m trying to do more often, and know that both boys are safe. Both of my sons are happy. Both children are living in their respective moments, one home with his therapist, one outside and immersed in play. The two of them are exactly where they’re supposed to be.
And for once, so am I.