Let me start from the beginning. My husband is a member of the Air Force Base Honor Guard. A couple of weeks ago, Dave had a detail. The detail was for the NASCAR Camping World Series at Portland International Raceway.
Neither I, nor our children, have ever been witness to Dave performing an Honor Guard detail. Dave used to be a big NASCAR fan; in fact we have a few things signed by Dale Earnhardt. I had been debating on whether or not to take the kids for weeks. Saturday afternoon one of my dearest friends called me up, on her way home from a meeting. “I’m coming to pick you up. We’re going for a bite and a drink”. We have been working on, shall we say, some treatment stuff. (More to come on that) So we ate, had a drink, and then brought the rest of the meeting back here to my second office. The garage, in lawn chairs. Laugh if you will…
After the meeting was over, she and my hubby brought me to tears. The mantra was; “You NEED to take some time off!” I still was not sure if I wanted to take the kids and go. I really wanted to take the kids. I’d never been to a race before. I wanted to take all of them. What am I thinking? I don’t even take all of them to the grocery store together. Two maximum; that’s fun planning when your spouse is deployed.
I thought I had lost my sanity. Take all of them? I wanted to see Dave. I wanted our children to see their dad. They are so proud of him, as he is of them. I had no idea what to expect. I was as prepared as I guess one can be, given that when I used to go grocery shopping, I could not get Nathan down the aisle fast enough. If I paused to look at ingredients or compare prices, he was pulling cans off the shelves and stacking them up on the floor in front of where they were on the shelves. I imagine those folks were happy when Dave returned home and we moved. I kept telling myself, it will be ok. I felt like I was lying to myself. Let’s go to the park? That’s one thing. A NASCAR event; quite another. Nathan is easily over stimulated by too many visuals or too many sounds. I knew there would be both.
We had to do it; I had to try, the kids had to try.
I woke up Sunday morning. We’re going. Shower, hair, face, kids, diaper bag, and water. All of us out of the house and on our way. Silent concerns about porta-potty’s and tethered cord (I’ll be writing more about that too). We’re doing this! I think what ever bit of sanity I had left blew out the window on the way to PIR.
When we arrived, we immediately found where Dave was supposed to be. A couple hours later Dave was on the start / finish line with his team, the colors, and his rifle. We were seated in the front row of bleachers directly across from where he was (less than 50 yards away). I was so proud. The kids were paying attention to what was going on (although extremely antsy), and so proud of their dad. As a military spouse, I can not describe my feelings at seeing my husband protect our country and the presentation of our flag. I was physically unable to stand and put my hand over my heart during the National Anthem (Samantha was hot, tired, and sitting on my lap crying), but my Autism Salutes pin was over my heart and I felt with all my being, that our country understood.
Just after Nathan regressed in 2004, he had a meltdown that few to this day have topped. My mom was cleaning up from dinner, clanging pots and pans; the TV was up really loud; the house was really bright; the kids were having popsicles, and all of a sudden Nathan let loose. I mean he let loose like nobody’s business. A voice kept telling me that if I could get him downstairs into the tub he would be ok. It took every bit of my strength to carry my flailing, screaming, hitting, kicking, and biting child down the stairs and make it in one piece. That was one of the worst nights of my life.
It would be months later that I would figure out that the meltdown happened because he was so over-stimulated by the loud pots and pans, TV, bright lights, and cold popsicle. As we were sitting in the stands watching the race I realized we had all the ingredients for the perfect storm on our hands. The kids were all enjoying sno-cones, it was hot, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, and man was it loud! I was mentally prepared. There was to be no storm that beautiful day! The kids were awesome! A bit, well, ok… a lot, over stimulated? Hell yes, especially Nathan! But I learned an important lesson from my kids. They need a big test every once in awhile. This was a big test for sure. They all did so well, we stayed for almost the entire race!
Sunday taught me that I need to take more time for family. I have sacrificed, but my own children have as well, even as I’ve been fighting for them to bring them to where they are now. By this outing, my kids, especially Nathan, taught me just how much he (and they) can stand, how much he can tolerate, and how far he has come.
It has been years since we’ve been able to do an outing of any type; this was the first time since autism entered the picture that we’ve done something as a family with no meltdowns! A few days after the race, I talked with Nathan’s kindergarten autism classroom teacher (who was also his therapist during Dave’s deployment last year), and she laughed with joy when I shared this all with her. Her response? “Nathan wouldn’t have been able to handle that a year ago; forget about when he was in kindergarten.” Being insane sometimes can prove to be quite lovely! NASCAR was Sunday Mass. We all need communion every once in a while, right?
Angela Warner runs Autism Salutes and is actively involved in autism advocacy, especially for military families.