Kati left yesterday among many tears. We have all grown to think of her as family and very much enjoyed having her with us. For me, I have spent the last 3 weeks of my life seeing or communicating with her daily. I guess I feel a little like a kid leaving sleep away camp who misses her new friend.
When Kati left, her final assignment to me was to get out and do as many outings with Gray and Hope as I could. She encouraged me to return to places where we have had success and gently stretch to try new situations as we became more comfortable with our success. This was an easy assignment. I am not a homebody and neither are my children. Over the last couple of years, I have had to leave Gray at home more and more often when I wanted to go somewhere with the girls. I have never felt good about this. Even though Gray may not appear to be interested in many activities that we attend, I think it is good for him to be out with our family and exposed to the world. Now, with Hope, that seems more manageable.
This past weekend, we tried to take advantage of our new freedom and the beautiful weather. In a nutshell we: had lunch at the mall, played in the park (same park where Gray once ran into the street), sat together in a bakery eating cookies, went out for pizza and visited the new downtown park. It was monumental. Normal family weekend stuff…previously unavailable to us.
I won’t say that it all went perfectly. There was about 15 minutes of screaming in the pizza restaurant that made me want to climb under the table and hide with Hope. Gray is still autistic, after all. But, there were some small miracles. The noteworthy one was the trip to the downtown park.
The Clyde Warren park is a newly-constructed urban park that spans over a highway in downtown. It’s super-cool. On a beautiful day, it’s also super-crowded. Let me paint the scene pre-Hope. We would parallel park on the very busy street and I would grip Gray’s hand like a vice to ensure that we crossed the street without him darting off into traffic or making a quick reversal towards the car while everyone else moved forward. After we got to the other side, I would continue to grip his hand as we moved to the fenced area at the kids section. I would scan the area to check for any possible escape routes: one entrance, one exit, fences high enough to keep him from scaling them, possible alternative routes so that I could cut him off if he got away from me. No requests from the girls to check out the rest of the park could be honored. Once inside the kids area, I could let go of him, but one grown-up would have to be assigned the job of keeping him in direct supervision at all times.
Here is what was different this weekend: We parallel parked on the street and everyone took their time unloading from the car. Upon exiting the car, Gray was clipped into his tether and took the handle on Hope’s pack. We then waited for the walk signal and calmly walked across the street. No one was frantic and no one needed to hold hands. When we got to the park, we strolled around a bit before we hit the kids’ area. After pushing Gray on the merry-go-round for a while, the girls wanted to get a snack and so did Gray (indicated on his iPad). I clipped Gray back into his tether and we all walked over to the food carts. I got cupcakes for the girls and we went to a different food truck for Gray where he picked out Cheetos and a Sprite. He waited calmly in line until it was our turn to pay. Then, we all walked over to an empty patch of grass and sat down to eat snacks picnic-style. Pre-Hope, I would have sat next to him with a leg over his lap or I would put him in my lap to make sure that he didn’t jump up and bolt off in some random direction. This time, he sat opposite me. Calmly. He ate his Cheetos and drank his Sprite without anyone touching him. He did not try to get up and if he had, his tether and Hope’s body would have stalled him out giving us an opportunity to communicate via the iPad. I think this made everyone calmer and happier. I think that he sensed that I felt relaxed and he followed suit. I know the girls were happier. We all just sat and enjoyed the beautiful day. I know it felt beautiful to me.