Mia and I have a new fall destination. It’s just somewhere that she and I can spend a little mother daughter time together. Somewhere where I am not constantly checking my watch, or worrying about how her behaviors are affecting the people around us. It’s a pretty common place. To the average parent it will seem odd when I finally tell you where. But for me, the mother of an autistic child, I tend to stay away from busy places like this – especially during prime time and especially without my fellow chaperon, her father, Roger.
It’s the park. Baldwin Pond’s Park to be specific. It has a swing set and a playscape complete with five different slides and a whole range of different climbing equipment. It has a soccer field and a huge pond with tons of ducks, geese, and even a herring. There are even a bunch of giant sized rocks that Mia and I can sit on to watch the ducks swim and eat. But best of all, it is riddled with intertwining paths in the surrounding woods. Mia loves everything about it. And, truthfully, I do too.
We have gone here for years, but recently things have changed. Physically everything is the same – the park itself hasn’t changed one iota. I think I’ve changed a little by not caring so much about the stares from other parents and the questions from children. Mostly though, Mia has changed. She has grown up a bit. She is better able to cope with large crowds full of many noisy (and inquisitive) children. She has learned how to better interact with the children at the park and how to pleasantly escape when it becomes too much for her and she is overwhelmed. Rather than shutting down as she once would have done; falling to the ground in a fit of anger with arms and legs flailing in all directions and mainly directed at my face with the intention to hurt, or sitting down on the ground like a rock completely engrossed in a “stim session.” And although I am positive that these behaviors haven’t left us for good I am quite happy to have seen them dwindle over the past year.
These extreme behaviors are now mainly reserved for busy places like the grocery store, and even there they are less frequent and furious in nature, lasting significantly less in time. Actually, most of the time now if she is extremely unhappy she will try to leave, and if that doesn’t work then she will sit down, quietly. No stimming. No flailing. No kicking, hitting, or biting. Just sitting in what appears to be a calm state, although I know better. When she decides to sit down I know that her senses are going haywire, that there is way too much input and not enough output, and that if we do not rectify the situation as quickly as possible it has the potential to turn into something bad.
We try to avoid the places that Mia dislikes as best as we can, but sometimes it cannot be helped. And to make matters worse, Mia enjoys the grocery store, on certain days, at certain times. After years of taking her to many places we have finally figured out which ones she likes, which she dislikes, which she will tolerate, and which she won’t even enter. And, thus, we have narrowed down the list of acceptable places to take Mia. Roger and I are left guessing as to why one park or grocery store is tolerable, while one isn’t To us they all seem the same, but to Mia it matters. Immensely.
That is probably why I am so thrilled to finally be able to add another place to the list of “Go’s” and doubly excited that it is finally possible for me to take her there by myself. Don’t get me wrong, I have taken her places alone over the years, and I do it more than I am making it seem. But, I was never positive that an episode would not occur. I was never positive that it would work out. I was never sure enough of anything to want to do it more than once a month, and when I did I would come home feeling exhausted, worn out, stressed, and hurt. What a nice change of pace to want to take my daughter somewhere. What a lovely change of pace to actually go out and buy duck food; rather than noticing in the cabinet that the bread is getting stale (along with a whole bunch of other perishable food stuffs.) And, consequently, dreading the thought of bringing Mia to a place where I may not be able to handle her, or where I may not be able to kindly handle the other parents’ stares. What an astonishing change of pace it is to take Mia to the park when she asks, or right when I think of it, rather than waiting for the time of day when I think it will be the least packed and praying to “G-d” the whole way there that it will be deserted. What an extraordinary change of pace to have a place for me and her. How wonderful to have a place for us.