I heard the rather heavy patter of Oliver's feet coming down the hallway before I saw him rounding the corner into my bedroom at 6:15 this morning. Sam was sleeping cozily beside me and Nik was, thankfully, already awake and making coffee. I gently shifted Sammy from the middle to the side of the bed and made room for Oliver. He quietly climbed up, adjusted the pillow just so, and pulled the covers up to his chin. I was still groggy from sleep but Oliver was wide awake and ready to start the day with all sorts of growls and chirps. Anxious that he not wake Sammy -- for then my day would really begin -- I put my finger to his lips a couple of times: Shhhhh. To which he responded by imitating me Oliver fashion, placing his whole hand on the tip of his nose and: Shhhh. Then more giggles, growls and chirps. A few minutes later Sam was awake, I had a steaming cup of coffee in my hands and watched with my head still on the pillow as my boys started to explore the new day.
It took us a long time to get Oliver to sleep in his own bed, in his own room and an even longer time to get him to sleep through the night. Then, about the time when Sam was born, one year ago this week, whatever we had been trying to do to help Oliver through the night suddenly took hold and he began to sleep. Of course having a new baby in the house meant that we weren't getting any extra sleep, but with one less kid to worry about in the night I certainly felt a little more rested.
About the same time that Oliver started sleeping through the night, at two and a half years of age, he also took to staying in his bed upon waking in the morning. Peeking in on him in the morning, I was often pleasantly surprised to find him awake and in bed with a book or a toy or just laying there watching the sunlight creep in. It took me awhile to realize how much I missed hearing the solid, sure, thump of his feet running down the hall to my room in the morning (or what might pass for morning to him). So, while 6:15 is a bit on the early side, the soft curl of his hair as his head finds a place just under my chin on the pillow next to me more than makes up for a few minutes of lost sleep.
Mid-morning we loaded the kids into the car and drove to an auditorium where a local children's musician had scheduled an appearance. We found a couple of seats on the end of a row towards the exit, not sure how Oliver would do once the performance began. Unable to sit while the seats around us were filling up, Nik took him into the adjacent hallway were he could run around and work out any nervous energy he might have. And when the singer/songwriter finally took up the guitar they made their way back in. Midway through the second song, however, it became obvious that it wasn't going to work out. But rather than leaving we went back into the hallway and sat down on the floor directly outside the propped open doors to the auditorium where we could still listen to the music and see the stage. When Oliver needed to he ran a few laps up and down the hallway then settled back into my lap for another song. To help Oliver relax and enjoy the music -- which he clearly liked -- I held him tightly and alternated between massaging his hands, applying pressure to his jaw and swaying with him in my lap while cupping my hands firmly over his ears. It occured to me at one point that, while keeping Oliver where he could enjoy the show was a lot of work for both of us, we probably looked like any other mother and son to the uninitiated. In fact, three or four people just inside the doors offered us their seats, to which I simply stated that it was better for us to be where we were. And later we were joined by at least a half dozen other kids and parents.
A short time after we went to sit in the hallway I happened to see one of Oliver's classmates and his father exiting the auditorium from another door. The child, who also has autism, was visibly upset. The father slowly and gently helped his son into his coat but wore a sad, familiar look on his face and the two of them walked out to the parking lot. As they left I turned my attention back to the darkened auditorium. There were probably 150 kids in there and 2 of them had autism. Now one had left and we were sitting in the hall. Were there others, I wondered? Maybe. But given our own experiences in the past, and what I had just witnessed, I know that it is sometimes easier to just stay home. And therein lies the rub: our kids need to be out and about and experiencing all that the world has to offer, but out and about can so often overwhelm their senses. How many times have we geared up and gone someplace only to either leave five minutes into an activity or wish that we had? And how many times have we stayed home althogether?
Too often I get caught up in thinking about Oliver's "deficits". The list of skills that he has to learn -- things that other kids easily absorb -- is long and depressing. But this is a journey that we are on together and today, sitting cross-legged with Oliver on my lap, my hands cupped tightly over his ears and the both of us swaying to the music, I realized that it is a learning adventure for both of us. Sometimes we stumble and end up with bloody knees, but then there are the times when I can close my eyes and hear the solid, sure, thump of our feet taking us a bit further in the right direction.