January 11, 2011
Waterfalls, Blue Skies, and Dreams of the Past
When my son was small, his father and I liked to take him hiking.
It was one of his favorite things to do.
My son's father would strap a heavy-duty hiking pack to his shoulders. Daniel would ride along his back. And off we would go.
We hiked along mountains all over northern Arkansas. It was something we began when Daniel was just six-months-old.
We hiked all over the Ozarks. It was as if we were the only three people for miles.
And I felt like the luckiest woman in the world.
Those memories are so glorious. So miraculous.
I can remember the waterfalls.
I can remember the serenity.
I can remember the amazing blue sky one day when I looked to the heavens and thought ...
"I will never forget this moment. I will never forget how magnificent the sky looks right now. It is the most beautiful shade of blue I have ever seen."
After Olivia was born, we went on a few more hiking trips. She rode on my shoulders. She could never hike for as long as her brother. She loved it, but she would tire after a while and need a nap. Daniel, in comparison, was simply enthralled with his surroundings. If he did tire, he would fall asleep right there--in the hiking pack, on his father's shoulders.
One of our favorite hikes was at Petit Jean State Park. It wasn't as secluded as many of the other trails we hiked, but it was closer to home, and it boasted a magnificent waterfall. We'd start down a steep path that eventually began to wind along a creek. The trail ended at the waterfall. My children loved it.
When I think back, I realize that Daniel was much more mesmerized with the waterfall than was Olivia. She was looking at everything in her surroundings, and she intently would study any other hikers who came along the path. Daniel, on the other hand, was so much more singularly focused.
He always was.
You can see "the autism" when you look back--you can see the signals, the signs, the red-flags--even though it is so unfair to yourself to think about it that way. How many "typical" toddlers would have been mesmerized by the waterfall?
I can tell you: it is so incredibly difficult for any parent to accept that the beautiful child they saw enter the world is anything less than ... perfect.
It seems like a lifetime ago--those days when I would hike alongside Daniel and his father, with Olivia in the Snuggli.
What happened to that family?
The answers are painful. Autism is part of the story. And it is the central part.
But it is not the only part.
There are other influences.
An inability to see, and accept, the problem at the same time.
An inability to grieve at the same time, in a similar way.
And an inability to share, to communicate about, the grief.
There were other factors at play, too.
I have learned a lot during the past year about just how much trust can be taken for granted. And violated.
I also have learned a lot about just how evil people can be--how they can look upon a troubled soul and take advantage, thinking nothing of the pain that they are causing to so many people.
I have learned what it is like to truly feel alone at the end of the day.
But a part of me can still remember ...
what it was like to hike in those mountains with my children...
what it was like to listen to the cascading waters ....
what is was like to look upon that beautiful, perfect blue sky.