My daughter’s middle school class had a field trip recently. At first, when I heard about the trip I didn’t think anything of it. My job was to sign the permission slip, send in money, and hope to remember to pack Izzy a bag lunch the day of. But in telling me everything they were hoping to do on that field trip, Izzy was so excited to go and asked if there was any chance I could take her. I really didn’t think I could but I didn’t hesitate to tell her, “Let me see what I can work out.”
It took some brainstorming, but I was eventually able to tell Izzy that I’d not just be able to bring her to the museum, I’d be happy stay with her, too. “You’re gonna drive me and stay?!” she squealed. Yep, I was. Before she got too excited, I quickly let her know that I didn’t think I’d want to drive anyone else, just her. That’s because Ronan and his part-time caregiver were going to have to come with us. It wasn’t my first choice, but if I was to go, so would they have to go as well.
The night before the trip, I was asked if I had room in the car to bring 2 more students to the museum. I did. But did I want the responsibility of driving them? The field trip permission slip form is now multiple pages long. In signing them, we parents release the school and the administration from any sort of liability. We also sign off on allowing medical staff to attend to and treat our child should there any medical emergencies arise. Initially, after reading those forms, I told Izzy that if she wanted to stay home instead of go with her class, I’d be okay with that. We could do something fun together, a mommy date…just us. But she really, really, really wanted to go, so I made sure I could. But I had only planned to driving her up and back. Could I add more people to the mix? Yes, I could, but did I want to? Thinking about those forms and my responsibilities as a driver made me shudder. I’d have to think about it.
When the field trip was first announced, I hadn’t even entertained the thought of going with Izzy let alone offering to drive her friends and also the young teacher who requested to join us. Originally, I had nothing else planned for me that day and easily could’ve surrounded myself in silence. When things get very busy for our family, as they have been lately, I crave silence. I desperately needed it, but there’d be none if I opted to go on this trip. My desire to be with Izzy that day was greater than my need for alone time. So was my desire to help others. So, on Tuesday morning last week, with a car full of silly middle schoolers, we took off.
I knew one of the other students well and the other one in passing. Both very kind, I was glad to have more time with them. I was excited that the young teacher joined us, too. She has been a beacon of light and hope for my children for the last two years. I thoroughly enjoy the stories the kids share of their time in her presence and was looking forward to having this extra hour with her while we traveled. Once buckled in, the girls chit chatted while the adults—me, the teacher and Ronan’s aide, listened in. Ronan, who sat in the back seat with Izzy and one of the classmates, took everything in stride.
As we got underway, the girls and their teacher began to play Would You Rather. One person asks another person 2 questions: Would you rather this, or would you rather that? Some scenarios were quite thought provoking and required time to reply while others were slap-stick hilarious. The girls played a few rounds and had me laughing so much. It was so fun to hear their responses, so I asked if I could also play. Izzy was up next, so she asked, “Mom, would you rather Ronan have full healing (recovery), or…..would you rather have one million dollars?”
Before I could answer, one of the girls said, “I know what I’d want.”
The teacher said, “Good question, Izzy.”
Ronan’s aide smiled and gave an approving look at Izzy for thinking of such a good question.
Waiting a second longer before I answered, I looked quickly at the rear view mirror at my children. Izzy is one of Ronan’s best helpers and wants nothing more than that full healing for him. I long for it too, but I think her desire for him to be typical again is actually stronger. Just last week, she and I talked well past her bedtime about Ronan, about the seizures, about diseases and vaccines, about his medical history and her medical history, about what we knew when Ronan was a baby, and about what we didn’t know also. “Mom, you didn’t know. You didn’t know he’d be hurt. But when I came along, you knew better.” My heart swelled. “Yes, sweet child. Exactly that,” I said. With that realization, she cried. Buckets of tears. Now, while playing a game, it was my turn to cry.
This Would You Rather can be a silly game. But it opened up a chance for me to be vocal about Ronan and how hard some things can be for him. With my answer already ready for Izzy the moment she asked it, I took a second longer to make sure my voice didn’t tremble too much as I responded, “I can confidently say that I would rather Ronan have full healing than a million dollars.” Before I could add anything else, others in the car chimed in.
“I’d like to see that, too.”
“Yeah, that would be awesome.”
It was my turn to ask a question next. I thought of something, asked it, and then went back to my own thoughts. I couldn’t help but think of other things I would rather…
I would rather have listened to my mother’s intuition than ignored it like I did years ago.
I would rather have been more informed than blindly trusted like I did.
I would rather my children not know the worry, stress, and heartache I sometimes feel about what happened to their brother.
I would rather…well, I would rather things be a little bit different than they sometimes are now.
Life is different for us, very different than what we imagined life would be. If we could go back in time to reset the clock, I would. My kids would, too. Since that can’t happen, we work with what we have and do our best to create positive moments along the way. We know that sacrifices may have to be made in the process, but that doesn’t stop us from trying to do things better. Drawn back to the conversation, I glanced once again at the image in my rearview mirror and smiled. The girls were still enjoying themselves but had moved onto a few rounds of Truth or Dare. As a child, I never chose to be dared. Too shy or worried that I’d be embarrassed by whatever ridiculous thing I was going to be asked to do, I preferred being truthful. But that day, when Izzy’s best friend asked me, “Truth or dare?” I said, “Dare.”
Giddy with excitement and almost to the museum, she said, “Mrs. Jameson, when we get there, I dare you to hug Izzy extra long – in front of allllll the boys - and say really loudly, ‘Izzy, I love you!!!!!’”
I couldn’t wait to give Izzy the biggest hug.
After we met up with the other carpool groups, I hugged that kid as long as I could. We laughed so hard as I loudly and joyfully declared my maternal love for her. Then we went to explore the museum, Ronan right behind us in the wagon so he could preserve his energy for the entire outing.
I ache to join the kids on these fun school events, but with Ronan’s needs, and with only part-time help at the moment, I have not been able to go with, stay with, and return with my children’s classes when these types of events are scheduled. I wish I could be part of the kids’ adventures a little bit more, and in rearranging Ronan’s day I got to do just that. I got to enjoy myself and be part of Izzy’s fun.
I still have some concerns about some of the school forms coming home, but I’ll save that concern for another time. This time, it was all about being available to one of Ronan’s siblings. I’m glad things worked out like they did for me and Izzy. I’m very glad that I got to spend one fun hour driving 2 of her closest friends and her sweet, young teacher, too. That day, I was filled with thoughtful, heart-warming encouragement and entertainment. It wasn’t the quiet hour that I’d been craving, but it was one of the happiest ones I had last week.
Cathy Jameson is a Contributing Editor for Age of Autism.