Every summer there is an air show near Karla’s work. She wants to take Nick to see the show, but they do it their way. They go the day before the show officially starts and watch the planes practicing from a shaded spot in the parking lot of the air field. They laugh at the idea that other people were going to pay to be shoved into crowded bleachers in the hot sun with music blaring and people yelling for hours on end. They watch the acrobatic places loop and the fighter jets shoot by for maybe 45 minutes, and then they are done, happy and satisfied.
Karla has the day off from work. She could do anything she wants with any number of her friends to enjoy this day. So where is Karla? She is in her “cave” (bedroom) with her laptop and her diet soda, totally content.
At least twice a year there will be a reptile expo somewhere nearby. Nick and Karla both love reptiles, but not crowds and noise. So they take Karla’s little RV to the expo and retreat to it whenever necessary. Nick gets a set of keys and they make sure they both remember where it’s parked. If they lose each other in the venue, which is easy to do when you’re both likely to get distracted by really cool stuff, they just meet at the RV. They leave when they’re done, whether that’s after 4 hours or 45 minutes.
My mom offers to take all my kids to Disneyland. I send the two younger ones, who are thrilled. Nick is thrilled to NOT have to go. While his siblings are among the noise and long lines of Disney, where is Nick? Camping with mom and Karla, fishing for trout by day and catfish by night, cooking his catch over the fire, his soul fulfilled.
We drive to California for Thanksgiving. My aunt hosts, and we spend two nights with her, arriving Wednesday. She has one spare bedroom and expects me to take it for myself and put the kids on air mattresses in the living room. But Nick gets the bedroom. She thinks I’m so good to sacrifice for him, but it’s not a sacrifice. I don’t need my own room, but he does. Plus Nick is quiet in the morning, but my younger son is not, and sleeping in the living room with him allows me to keep him from disturbing anyone by shoving a tablet and headphones at him when he wakes up way too early. Nick also gets the bedroom as a retreat space when all the relatives arrive for Thanksgiving dinner. We all have a great time, especially me because I am at peace, knowing all my kids’ needs are met and I don’t need to worry. Win/win!
I used to think it was sad that I could not experience things with Nick the same way I could with my other kids. Any attempt to do something “fun” like take the kids to a fair or fill a day with activities led inevitably to arguments and meltdowns. Then Karla taught me how to do fun things the autistic way and truly enjoy them, and I learned to accept that some things are just not fun for Nick and that is perfectly fine. For every “fun” thing we don’t do the usual way or at all, there is something else we can all enjoy if we follow his lead and redefine what “having a good time” means to each of us.