Jeff knew it, Will did it, and this terrified, hyper-stressed, yearning for more Mom did what we’ve all perfected on this Corona Virus Trail (CVT).
It’s time to test the boundaries. Try something new. Then trust.
In this bliss of a Sunday morning cool and quiet, Jeff strayed out of our driveway and into the street. Unusual for him, and karmic as I’ve told several people this week he is not my elopement child. I’d sent him out to get the newspapers and practice attending to the task, always a challenge for him. He usually stands yoga-tree legged, singing, watching with fascination, so obviously delighted to spring free from the four walls of his house. Yet today he strayed. Any parent would mildly panic seeing their kiddo standing in the street, and I choked back my instinct to bellow out the open window to call him back.
Yet instead of mounting the glistening green rise of their hill, he stopped, singing so loud I could hear him 100 feet away through the window I’d opened just a crack in case I had to bellow to retrieve him. Looking at all that is home, he came back.
Will apparently didn’t know the boundary as Jeff did, so his was a darker, scarier trip. On Wednesday night as this Mom slept at 1 am – how dare I? – Will bolted out the patio door that the hubby forgot to secure, and walked into the same neighbor’s house in his skivvies. Through the grace of a God who loves drunks and overgrown 5-year olds, Will came back. Firstly thank heavens for good neighbors. Their visiting daughter guided him out of their bathroom – probably peeing with the door open – and back to our house. But secondly, thank heavens for Will’s beacon for home. What happened after my neighbors “sent him back” is unclear. Did they put back in our porch and house, or merely direct him to his driveway and watch him seemingly go back into the house? Did he swing in the dark, or maybe (god forbid) test the lock on the swimming pool? What he did all night remains a mystery, and even more frightening.
When I woke at 6 am, the patio door was wide open, I thought was odd but maybe a relic of the time I shooed Will back to bed at midnight. It took me 10 minutes to note Will was not in his bed – and to shriek as only an autism Mom can shriek when your wanderer is lost, and you pray that 26 years of ABA, specialists, behavior plans and whatever learning he’s accomplished is put to the test. As I ran to check the garage, in case Will was raiding the spare fridge of cold Diet Cokes, I slapped the automatic garage door button to run out, then realized I was in my PJs with no shoes.
Bounding upstairs for clothes, I flew back down while Paul did the same – and Will walked in the door, Cheshire-cat grinning at what I don’t know. His feet were frigid with a black clump of asphalt stuck between his left toes, but he stared right at me with perfect eye contact as if he was waiting for my reaction – otherwise unharmed. From the temperature of his feet it probably wasn’t out all night, maybe only for a while. He too, came home.
I did the requisite behavioral approach du jour with his bolting – made him use his AAC program’s button that speaks the words “Go outside please,” emphasizing that he has to use his words, not just leave the house. I snickered inside that at a least 5 years of ABA trials worked and he wore pants not his bare bum. But I thanked God he was here, he knew to come back, and whatever good exists in the world that watched over drunks and children – watched over us.
We can all relate – to the yearning to flee, break free, and enlarge our narrowed world.
It’s particularly fitting that we’re testing boundaries as we reach a fork in the road in our Corona Virus Trail (CVT). In two more new days the day program van will arrive in the driveway and Will and Jeff will return three days a week to the schedule they once knew. As parents agonize over hybrid vs. live learning decisions nationwide, I know this one one is right for us. Elopement for Will, and here a little with Jeff, is a symptom. I have to get out, it says. Honestly I do that myself, in normative ways. I plot and plan and strategize so the family schedule involves a Sunday foray into the mountains – yes to recharge my soul, and give us the exercise that enables fried clam dinner splurges and fresh baked bread and cookies. Yet at the core, I too need to bust the limits.
Yet as Robert Frost said, good walls make good neighbors. The pandemic has forced the world to shift boundary lines, and more importantly, given us the permission to do so in whatever most individualized way we need. Our CVT trail and the delight Will and Jeff obtain from simple pleasures like their near daily walks to Dunkin’s has shown me their daily boundaries must change. It pushed me to secure 2-day a week self-directed services and only 3 days of week in the center. It showed me more fully what make my guys learn, smile, and progress. Rugged physical activity, the kind they didn’t get before. ADL guidance with 1:1 support that they cannot get in a traditional day program structure. As a result I committed to a parent group attempting to tackle the state DDS programming and MassHealth funding system to make it accommodate the many individuals for which the pandemic delivered vastly better day programming.
At the same time both Will and Jeff yearn for other people. Will’s elopement speaks to this, as does Jeff’s fascination with others on the trail – and not just pretty girls in sports bras.
I have new boundaries – on what I’ll accept for the boys. On what I’ll accept from staff here. And even, amazingly, on what I need for me.
We have a new short term goal – reaching 600-miles of walking during the pandemic. Maybe because I like the headline “Our 600-Mile Day Program.” Maybe because the boys authentically chose a walk to Dunkin’ today versus our usual hike, and knowing it’ll be 91 degrees with rains coming late afternoon, I said Yes. Maybe because I need to be with them to watch them delight in some small measure of a personal centered life – picking one silly pleasure, and being allowed to let it carry their spirits.
At 585.5 miles today, with just today and tomorrow to score the 14.5 more, it’s a goal post that may be a stretch of a distance. Yet so was independent showering and cereal making for Will, which the pandemic has brought us. As it has expanded asking for help and brotherly crisis-intervention for Jeff. I can’t count the times Jeff has deflected Will from fleeing, raiding the fridge, or taking Mom’s Diet Coke (the latter, probably because Jeff stole it first). The return to the day program also brings new ISP goals, and a return to former routines like waking to an alarm and independently springing to a well-oiled sequence of tasks when a bus beep-beeps and Mom’s heart soars thinking soon, very soon, I’ll see white space in the margins of a page I crave to write.
Will’s video models of me teaching him how to make his bed is on his endless loop right now as he walks around the downstairs, waiting for me to put down the computer and lace up my shoes. Paul just informed me that for the past 10 minutes, maybe longer, the boys’ shower was running unattended, perhaps by someone who knew we typically do showers now, someone trying in their own flawed little way to do the routine they’re supposed to do – and bridge toward the independence Mom and Dad want. Except with the shower curtain in, of course.
Ceiling floods may await, and I may be shrieking anew in 10 seconds at the cost of this latest mishap. Yet we’ll soon set out afresh on a new day, as new goal posts shimmer in the sun. There will be cleanup, and revision of the day’s plan, action items I wont’ achieve, including maybe those remaining 14.5 miles. Yet it’s already a day where, however flawed the steps, we will firmly plant a foot toward the path we deserve – a day we will love.