When I dropped him off at camp yesterday he said he would rather stay with me, he would run errands, walk the dog-anything but camp. He held onto me like an 86 lb monkey, trying to scramble up my body. Astutely aware that more than two people were staring at him, a trigger point for anxiety. I kissed the glittery rock in his pocket that would hold my love for the day, warming his hands when rubbed, easing his discomfort, carrying a piece of home with him, a piece to remind him I am coming back. Tears filled his eyes and he buried his face in my chest, embarrassed to cry in front of his peers. I bent down and whispered reassuring love notes in his ear. I kissed him and promised he would have a great day, that no bees would bother him and that the staff knew about autism and how hard it can be to try new things, that there were familiar faces there and I would see him in a few hours. One final kiss and squeeze so hard it cracked his vertebrae, just the way he likes it. His body relaxed and we parted, his eyes watching me on my way back to the car, yelling reminders about the pets and how he’ll miss me.
As I drive home, my eyes tearing up, I think about how hard it is for him to separate, how he still cries like he did at age 4, 5, 6 and every first day of a new school year. My sensitive, sweet boy. I question if I’m too over protective, if he will make friends. I think about his soft hands picking strawberries and him clinging onto his inflatable tube for swimming, how he hates being splashed in the face. I come home to an empty house, to myself and four-legged creatures for the first time in months. It’s eerily quiet.
I think about what other parents think about…I hope he’s laughing, I hope he drinks enough water, and then come the thoughts that come from the spectrum…I hope he doesn’t threaten anyone, I hope he doesn’t have a panic attack about bugs, I hope he relates to the boys in his group, or talks to them at all. I hope he doesn’t only speak in meows or sit down during an uncomfortable situation, refusing to move. I become lost in his way of thinking, his struggles, his need for independence versus his need for comfort, for things to stay the same.
3:00 comes and I park the car. He runs and slams himself into my body with such force, barely looks at me and immediately says, “let’s go home!” He pulls me to the car as I try to inquire how his day was. He says he doesn’t want to talk about it, which brings a smile to my face, because this is our normal, this short tone, the compartmentalizing of home versus time spent elsewhere, how the two don’t relate in his mind. I smile because I know he enjoyed himself. “I don’t want to talk about it” means nothing worrisome happened. He smelled of sun lotion and sweat, his shirt wet with strawberry stains. I smile because this is success. He says he is going back tomorrow and a pride climbs up my throat. I reach into the backseat and hold his hand and he meows.
“I’m so glad you had a good day buddy!” He grumbles at me and reminds me he doesn’t want to talk about it, I smile and tell him that’s just fine…let’s go home and have some Italian ice.
First day of summer camp complete.