We had big plans. We were heading up to Eaglewood Golf Course for the annual firework show. I was feeling super confident because my autistic son, Oliver, has been killing it lately! I’ve been getting really comfortable going to the grocery store, the pool, even the splash pad. The splash pad! I thought that would never happen.
My younger son, Max, is also crushing it which essentially has lulled me into false sense of normalcy. My husband and I were looking forward to socializing with our friends that we haven’t seen in weeks. We were talking about how fun it’s gonna be to sit on a blanket, eat snacks and not be totally preoccupied with all the issues that have plagued us for years.
We packed our bag, got the boys in their festive shirts and headed out. We stopped to get some snacks and some glow-in-the-dark stuff. The boys fell asleep in the car on the way up to the golf course so Mark and I had plenty time to chat. We talked about his work, the kids and issues of the day. I was happy, like really happy. I was feeling like all the sacrifices we had made over the past couple years was about to pay off. I was going to see how much progress we’ve made. This was the recipe for disaster.
After letting the kids sleep for about 30 minutes, we woke them and headed to the meeting spot on the course. In hindsight, I should have seen the red flags. Oliver couldn’t quite wake himself up. I was carrying him on my shoulders and he couldn’t keep his balance. He started speaking gibberish. Normally I would have logged these two things in the red flag column and started mentally preparing for a meltdown, but I didn’t. We pressed forward.
Soon bounce houses came into view and Oliver immediately fixated on them. ‘Can I play, can I play?’ ‘First we need to go find our friends and then we can play.’ ‘No! I need to play! See mom I need to play.’ I should have added a mark in the red flag column, but I didn’t.
We walked past the bounce houses and he continued to become more agitated. I figured all kids get agitated when they don’t get what they want immediately, we’re totally fine! We got our blanket set up. I said hi to a few friends and headed back to the bounce houses. If you can imagine, this area was total chaos. Oliver was pleading with me to let go of his hand while I searched for the place to buy tickets. I found the table finally and it was swarming with kids. I got in what I deduced was a line and that’s when it hit me.
This was not going to go well. Oliver started screaming, ‘I want to play, no mom, over there!’ I tried to explain we have to buy tickets. It was too late. He was already gone. I looked down and my sweet little Max was doing his best to calm Oliver. ‘Don’t worry Ahwa! It’s not sad. It’s fun!’ We made it to the front of the line and the girl at the table started explaining the rules which she didn’t know was completely futile.
Ok, onto the toys! We made it! Not quite… there were huge lines to get into the toys too. Oliver started crying while Max waited patiently. Once they got inside it only got worse. The noise, the chaos, the obstacles to climb, the rowdiness. It was all too much for him. He collapsed to the ground in full blown meltdown. What was different though is that he looked so heartbroken.
This was the first time I had seen him realize that he wanted to do what the other kids were doing and he couldn’t. And it crushed him. He kept trying, failing and going deeper into emotional turmoil. I didn’t know what to do. I tried helping him with the obstacles, I tried coaxing him out, I tried picking him up to carry him out.
Nothing was going to stop this emotional freight train. I called Mark for help and he arrived almost immediately, thank goodness. I asked him to care for Max while I tried to calm Oliver. I carried a sobbing, defeated little boy past so many scenes of celebration and delight toward the blanket we had set up earlier. Pangs of sadness and jealousy rose in my chest as I watched happy families hanging out. I sat down with him, but I already knew the only solution was to go home. I packed up our things and texted Mark that we have to go right now.
The minute Mark saw us he picked up Oliver and handed over Max. I told Max we’ve got to go home. He pushed back saying that we didn’t see the fireworks yet. I wasn’t anticipating this either. Max is now old enough to understand and feel disappointment about missing out. A wave of mom guilt overpowered me and I told him I will make sure he sees fireworks tonight. How do I balance his needs and Oliver’s? How do I prove to him that he matters as much as Oliver when our actions so often prove otherwise?
As I slid into the driver’s seat, I felt the all too familiar lump in my throat. Tears were coming. I hate crying in front of anybody, including my husband and kids. It was inevitable. It was my fault that I didn’t come mentally prepared for this to happen. I put my kids in a situation that was sure to go south and I didn’t have the foresight to see it. My happiness was replaced with crushing disappointment and jealousy. I tricked myself into thinking that we were ready for this. Ugh.. what a mistake. Mark took Oliver home and I took Max to see fireworks at a friends house.
Once the night was over I sat in bed dwelling on it. Hours passed. 1am, 2am, 3am.. I watched the time tick away. 4am rolled around and I decided I might try reading myself to sleep. I sat in the ‘green chair’ and read for 2.5 hours. No sleep. My brother started texting me around 7. Still no sleep. My family woke and I laid back down at 9am and slept till 10:30 am. Now it’s the 4th of July with another activity planned for tonight. If there’s one thing I know it’s that we’ve got to get back on the horse. We’ll try again, but this time I’ll be ready.