I’ve reached four summits this summer: Shasta, Thielsen, Wizard Island, and Lassen. I definitely felt a need to stretch my legs for various reasons. But my handy desk dictionary lists another definition for summit: “a meeting among heads of state.” These meetings are often referred to as summit talks, and I just had one a few days ago. Except in our family they’re now called “sleeping bag talks.”
I think of my sons as heads of states. They are the heads of themselves, and so I need to check in with them every now and then, to regroup, and to just talk. I used to have lofty ideas of holding monthly “family meetings” about what was going on in our lives, what we need to work on, what we’d like to do, etc. Of course, nothing that structured could actually materialize. If I were to walk into their rooms on a Sunday afternoon (which my delusional self always thought would be a good time for a talk) and say, “Hey, guys, let’s have a family meeting!” they would be all, Are you serious? That’s so Brady Bunch, Mom. No, they’d be much too busy building Lego/playing Halo/Googling Everything. And so, I have to sneak in my family summit talks. I’ve learned to strategize.
Take our recent camping trip, for example. What else do you do in an 8 x 9 tent with your sons on either side of you and one of them can’t sleep because you forgot to give him his medication until late in the afternoon and it’s keeping him up? That’s right, you talk. When autistic/ND kids want to talk, you go with it. Carpe diem.
I can’t remember when I’ve had more fun talking with my boys! Nigel started off with a discussion about time travel, influenced by having watched Back to the Future for probably the fifty-eighth time. But, unlike his usual one-sided talk about how he was going to make his own time machine and what he would do with it, he wanted to converse. He asked both Aidan and me what we would do if we had a time machine. After talking about famous people we wanted to meet (Abraham Lincoln and Charles Dickens), and then talking about all the presidents who were assassinated and possible reasons why, I came up with the suggestion of going back a hundred years and buying stock in Coca Cola. The boys yelled “Genius!” and high-fived me in the dark. Then we talked about what we would do with the money. I must admit that, aside from saying we’d use some of the money to help out friends and family, we’re not the most altruistic bunch. Aidan wanted to start his own company (now it was my turn to high-five him), Nigel wanted a room full of Lego (which, in my opinion, he already has), and I wanted to travel more and be able to take the boys with me.
And after a while, Aidan fell asleep, and then Nigel turned to me, as if he had been waiting, and asked, “When did you first see signs that I had autism?” And I told him that when he was about two and a half I realized that he wasn’t trying to talk or interact, and that by the time he was three, after some evaluations by doctors and therapists, it was determined that he had autism. I couldn’t discuss – yet – the complexities of his sensory issues, the way he screamed and writhed on the floor of grocery stores and restaurants, not because he was having a tantrum, but because someone had turned on an electric coffee grinder. I couldn’t tell him – yet – about how he lined up his toy cars along the back of the couch and laid his head to one side and stared at them while he sucked his fingers instead of driving them around on the floor making engine noises. I don’t know if he’s ready to hear about all that yet. But I knew that he could understand the not-talking part. As soon as I mentioned it, he said, “Probably I was just taking my time.”
And since it was dark, I did not wipe away the tears streaming down the sides of my head. I said, “Yes, Nigel, I’m sure you were. And I’m glad that you learned to talk. But if you didn’t, that would be okay, too.”
And then he said, “Mom? With that money we get from time traveling, how about if we give some of it to other kids who have autism so they can have speech therapy to learn to talk?”
I hugged him and told him we could certainly do that.
Next time we go camping, I better bring a whole box of tissues.