Five years ago, I watched Rylie sit on the steps of the gym pool. I silently begged her to get in, to splash around, to jump in with improper form and her hand holding her nose. But, she only wanted to sit. After a few minutes, the echo of the room was too much and we left, but not before her hands were clamped tightly over her ears and her body was a wet noodle of distress.
Four years ago, I took Rylie to a junior high basketball game. We had just made it to the opposite side of the gym when the buzzer went off signaling a time-out and Ry turned ghost-white. We cheered from outside the double-doors, but not before 2 more buzzers and me carrying a terrified, sobbing child back through the crowd.
Three years ago, I took Rylie to the zoo. We saw as much as we could and then stopped for snacks and a potty break. Three years ago, those crazy Dyson hand dryers were a new and fabulous invention… but no one expected the jet-engine flow of air to be triggered every time someone opened the bathroom door to stand in line. Parents and children, typical and special needs, terrified and annoyed… we all left. Immediately.
Some of this sensory and speech life is so predictable. You prepare for it, you bring extra snacks, you board last, you use key words, and sometimes your day resembles typical. But there are always the surprises you can’t account for. The perfect storm of tired, hungry, and scared that elevates a tantrum into a breakdown. The highway of emotions that has no exit. The effect that has no cause. The constant battle for solid ground. You find yourself afraid of grocery stores and potential traffic jams, circuses and cracks in the sidewalk outside your door. What will break today?
Last week, I watched Rylie splashing in water up to her shoulders. The pool was sloped and she lost her footing. As a friend and I sprinted to the edge ready to jump in, we watched as Rylie took a deep breath and started kicking furiously. She made it to the side without our help and without panicking. Once on dry land, she cried… because it was scary. But she cried for 5 minutes. We didn’t have to leave. We didn’t have to sit in a dark room. We just had to take a break and redefine the boundaries. Rylie went right back in.
Today, Rylie rode with us up a mountain for an hour and then back down again. The return trip was full of thunder and lightening and a road without a guard rail. Instead of hiding on the floor of our van and shaking with anxiety, she searched for light in the sky and scanned the hills for sheep. Her hands were still over her ears, but there were no tears, no wailing, no panic.
Tomorrow, I will take Rylie back to that same zoo and, no doubt, we will have to stop for a potty break.
I’m not afraid.
She’s not growing out of her challenges.
She’s growing into herself.
She still breaks down every day. She still choose physical over emotional strength. She still, at age 7, speaks at a 2-year old level. She still hates hand dryers and random buzzers. But she knows her limits a lot better now, and so do I. So much is still unknown,
but I am not afraid and she is not going to break.