Thursday, May 4, 2017

Stow's Epic Journey

It turns out that having two kids on the autism spectrum can make life pretty crazy at times. Among the interventions we've used on and off over the years is behavioral therapy. These days, we're fortunate to live near one of the best play therapy centers around, so both Stow and Sky work with therapists there. Because our particular combination of poor processing, anxiety, and sensory overload together with a considerable age and developmental gap between Sky and Stow can make for some challenging parenting, I often find myself texting the therapists between sessions.

One day a couple of weeks ago, I was engaged in a text exchange as I waited for Pink to finish checking out books at the local library. In it, I was describing to the therapist how life at our house is somewhere between "survival of the fittest" and Lord of the Flies. Just as I typed Lord of the Flies, though, I was interrupted by Pink.  She seemed upset.

"Stow's here!" she exclaimed.

Lord of the Flies...

You know how when you get news that makes no sense because it's so far out of context that you can't place it? Well, that's what this was like. Since I KNEW that Stow was at home doing his Superkids homework on the computer with Ren and Sky, I knew he couldn't ALSO be at the library. It was impossible--which clearly meant that Pink was lying, which really didn't make any sense. But, before I could figure why Pink would concoct such an outrageous story, Stow ran up to me and gave me a big bear hug.

I've never been more off put by a hug in my life. It's hard to describe the feeling one gets when one's 5 year-old appears in a place he's not supposed to be. I sought a rational explanation:

"Is Daddy in the car?" I asked.


"Then, how did you get here?" I followed up, not really wanting to hear the answer.

"I rode my bike!" he replied proudly.

Stow has only recently mastered the art of riding without training wheels. This day, this ride was probably only the fifth one he's ever taken without them. In order to get to the library, Stow would have had to leave the relative safety of our neighborhood and ride about 3/4 of a mile along a very busy road that has no sidewalk and minimal shoulder. Even Sky, who's 12 and who has been riding a bike for years now, is too nervous to ride his bike along that road. Though Stow was standing in front of me telling me he'd ridden his bike to the library, I found it hard to believe.

Struck with a sudden wave of nausea, I calmly stood up, took Stow by the hand, told Pink to meet us at the car, and left the library. Just outside the door, I found Stow's bike and helmet.

A little bike for such a big journey.
Still holding Stow's hand with my left hand, I picked the bike and helmet up with my right, and without a word, put them into the trunk of my car. Stow was simultaneously giddy with the adrenaline rush of his big adventure and puzzled by my response to him. He seemed to expect me to be happy to see him and maybe even proud that he'd gotten so good on his bike.

For a few moments, I couldn't figure out how to respond to this unexpected feat. But, once I regained my composure, I told Stow that I was very unhappy with his dangerous choice and that his bike would go into time out when we got home. He didn't seem to understand why I was reacting that way, so the conversation went like this:

"Stow, you can never, ever do that again. That was very dangerous!"

"It's okay. I am brave. I wasn't scared, even on the hard part. I just told myself, 'You can do it!'"

"But that's a busy street, and you are not very tall. What if someone didn't see you and hit you?"

"Don't worry, Mommy. The people were nice. They stopped for me."

Not surprisingly, this exchange didn't do much to calm my upset stomach or dissipate the growing sense of doom that crowded in around me. Stow had never just left the house before.  He'd never ridden his bike out of the driveway, much less out of the neighborhood. This act was so unprecedented, Ren and I struggled to get him to understand why he couldn't just leave like that.

At home, Ren and I explained that being brave and taking unnecessary risks were not the same thing. We talked about Spiderman and Power Rangers and all the good guys in Star Wars and every other superhero Stow loves, and using their examples, we explained how they were always only brave in order to help others. We told him that no superhero would do something dangerous unless he had no other choice. I'm not sure how much he understood, but I hope a least little.

In the end, we made him repeat the bike rules multiple times--

1) always wear a helmet
2) don't leave the driveway without permission
3) never ride in the middle of the road.

And, then we locked up his bike.

Ren and I have been co-parenting for the better part of 20 years. Stow is our fourth child. Before Stow, I think Ren and I had naively come to believe we knew what we were doing. Turns out maybe we don't.

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