He is our fourth child. I thought I knew what I was doing. I thought I knew how life would go. When I heard the words, “It’s a boy!” our lives over the next few years unfolded in my mind: infancy, toddlerhood, kindergarten, t-ball, Cub Scouts, and beyond.
We got him home and settled into our lives as a family of six. I remember one night that first week, sitting on the couch surveying the living room floor, scattered about a few toys were four precious bodies: our children, three bigs huddled around a treasured little, and the thought hit me, “They are all ours,” and my heart was full.
Fast forward 19 months, another bundle from heaven joined the mix, and our middle son, then age seven, snuggled up and sighed, “I’ve never been so happy.” Oh, the tears of thankfulness that flowed.
Looking back, I can’t believe how different our lives are compared to what I thought would be. My husband and I both grew up in families with two children, one boy, one girl, so I just thought we’d do the same. We had two children, for about an hour and a half, and suddenly we were outnumbered by the twins. We joked then that since we were outnumbered, what’s one more? We had no idea the plans God had for us!
I wouldn’t go back to my plans even if I could, but that doesn’t mean this life is always easy. Autism is hard. Some days, it’s really hard. Some days are filled with nothing but struggles. Those are the obviously hard days. But other days, the hard sneaks in when I least expect it.
So it was in the midst of a really great week, reality snuck in last week as we travelled to get our middle son back from Boy Scout camp. I have travelled the road out to Ingersoll Scout Reservation dozens of times with, and for, our older two sons and absolutely love the driveway. It’s long, narrow, and quiet – a very peaceful divide between the busy highway and the seemingly different world that awaits at the end of the drive. It’s just long enough and you have to drive just slow enough that it provides a bit of reflection time.
Ben and Ali travelled with me to pick Tom up from camp last week. I heard Ben happily playing in his own world as we traversed that long drive and the reality hit me. He is the age that I first brought Rob and Tom out for Cub Scout camp. And there is no possible way he could handle the rigor of the day camp schedule. Autism hurts. Reality smacked me upside the head and I struggled to remind myself that “That’s okay. Each child brings a whole new adventure.” and “How boring it would be if we’re all the same.” and at least a hundred other catch phrases I’ve used over the years to reassure myself that autism doesn’t define my son and that he will win the war against this disorder. And yet, there was sadness in my heart for what he is missing out on compared to the experiences of his older brothers, and mourning over memories that I’m not getting to make and share with him this summer.
I needed to stuff the gloom and get a grip on our current status as we had a boy to retrieve. A quick text exchange with his Scoutmaster and we were headed to find him at the climbing tower – the crème de la crème of scout camp. I was excited to see him climb as he had just learned the day before that there was no minimum age as he had been misinformed earlier in the week and this, this was the moment he’d been waiting for since his older brother told him about it five years prior.
Much to my surprise as we rounded the last batch of trees, it wasn’t just the climbing tower. My son was prepping to zipline from a tower several stories high. Oh my word, it was high and he is not a big person to begin with, but looked especially tiny with his legs dangling from the platform. One deep breath and he was flying through the sky on that zipline. It was such a rush just watching him and so rewarding to hear his younger siblings cheering for him at my feet. What a neat experience, to watch my son do something so exhilarating and so touching to watch his siblings nearly tackle him once he was done, so proud of him, and so excited to see him after nearly three weeks of him being away from home.
We stayed long enough to watch a couple of Tom’s buddies do the same and the cheers were just as loud for them. Fun times, indeed! Tom said his goodbyes and we were on our way, or so I thought. I called for Ben and Ali so we could go home. Ali came right away but Ben stayed at the fence, watching. I called again; he stayed. The third time, I went to him, put my hand on his shoulder and said, “C’mon, Buddy, it’s time to go home.”
Ben said just loud enough for me to hear him, “I need to do dat.”
Tears are fighting their way in again as I recall our exchange there at the fence of the climbing tower at Ingersoll Scout Reservation. While I know he can’t handle the rigor of the schedule and all the ins and outs of the scouting program now, that doesn’t mean he won’t get there. I have to remember as we work together to navigate the spectrum scene and all the challenges which come with it, that even though things may not go according to the timing of my plans, that doesn’t mean it won’t happen at all.
Of course I don’t know if the time for Scout camp will ever come for Ben, but I do know that if it’s something he sets his mind to do, he will get it done, and we will be right there celebrating, cheering, and probably shedding a few dozen tears.