Summer has officially begun now that all of my children are on school vacation. If this summer came with a wish, I'd wish for lazy days and lots of them. I am not a morning person so having an alarm-clock free start to my day is going to be great. My oldest already appreciates the end of her homeschooling lessons and has her sights set on hanging out with friends at the pool. My younger children are excited to have extra LEGO building time as well as more frequent trips to the park. Because I've got chalk dust in my veins, I'll still provide educational opportunities for my kids and have plans for some fun circle time games and books sometime between a late breakfast and a picnic lunch. We've all had a really busy year so I happily welcome a break from the intensity of the regular school year.
Keeping my typical kids active during the summer is not usually a major challenge. I pick a few summer camps, short day trips and plan lots of play dates to keep them busy. I try to balance their needs with Ronan's time consuming appointments that take no time off despite the summer season. His therapy sessions and medical appointments happen year-round so it's not unusual to find all us squished into waiting rooms or driving the long drive to his far away but necessary specialists.
My kids are used to scheduling fun their fun after Ronan's must-get-to appointments. Finding down time for them is essential for their well-being and for my sanity. I am sensitive to how Ronan's sibs manage and express themselves as their brother fills up many of my thoughts and much of my time. I'm grateful that my typical kids don't complain about this or see him as interruption to their activities. They accept that most of his behaviors are just who Ronan is and readily open their minds to adapt to his needs and sometimes erratic behavior. I wish I had that level of acceptance because I'm sure it would decrease my stress level greatly.
With what I hope is a more carefree routine ahead of us for the next two months I wonder if I can reduce some of the worry I carry all year long. I'll be honest, Ronan and his special needs fill up most of every stress I have. Vacation from school and time off from our very full schedule should lead to a more relaxed attitude but I don't know if I can actually fully relax. If I could, maybe that would free up some of the over thinking I do about Ronan. Imagine what I could do for myself with extra time! Maybe I can catch up on some projects I've put off. Maybe I can get more writing done. Maybe I have longer than the five minutes of clothes shopping I allow myself to do at the $4 sale racks at those Super Box stores. Maybe I will do nothing extra or unusual during summer vacation because Ronan's issues also no break in our regular routine--keeping him safe and healthy is a 24/7 job; it doesn't matter if it's summertime or not.
Ronan has gotten himself into a few scary situations even though I am hyper-vigilant about his safety. Despite the very secure locks and safety precautions I have in place Ronan is a very smart and abled child who is able to manipulate our locks. I'm not sure why Ronan prefers to be on the other side of the front door, but he does. He has learned to ignore the door chime alarms. He has made up his mind that sitting in Daddy's car in the driveway is much more fun than playing with every toy he owns in his bedroom. Ronan's safety is a constant worry of mine. That constant worry leaves no extra down time and no time to really relax during any season of the year. Keeping my guard up at all times is my only assurance that Ronan is exactly where he's supposed to be.
Is it progress that Ronan has figured out gizmos and gadgets? Is it a higher level of thinking that will allow him to be later mainstreamed with his typical peers? Is it a step forward to know that hide and seek is a new game of Ronan's even though the seeker (me) is ready to call 9-1-1 to ask for assistance to find a child who doesn't understand he's headed to grave danger? Or, is it a sense of adventure that typical little boys crave and act on? That would be neat if it was just typical behavior because I do know there is some typical in Ronan--I see it, I hear it and I sense it on his really good days that don't include my constant monitoring and worrying.
Whatever it is that makes Ronan try to Houdini himself out of our house, how do I compete with Ronan's very determined mind and convince him that his safety would be much greater served in our home than down the driveway and in the middle of the street? Being on high alert every moment of Ronan's life is something I've factored into my every-day thinking. The mental lockdown I have keeps Ronan safer and reminds me that as typical as Ronan can be during one good moment on one good day, he isn't ready for normal yet. I can't afford to take a complete break from watching him, and I can't let myself believe I'm on vacation from Ronan's needs during a school break. I've slowly and very carefully taught Ronan's siblings that as much as we went to let our guard down and our daily responsibilities fly out the window, we can't. We can take a mental break from some of life, and we should so that we can be even more refreshed for later, but Ronan's lack of safety understanding must always be a top priority.
On the days that Ronan's desire to leave the house is forefront in his mind, I can only hope and pray that I am not more than a step or two behind. It takes being in two places at one time with eyes on the back of my head mentality to keep all of my children safe and where they are supposed to be. With the amount of checking, double checking and triple checking I do to keep up with everything and everyone, it's no wonder I'm constantly running here, there and everywhere. I'm not surprised at the number of white hairs popping up on my head or how my body aches the longer I parent my children.
I should be the first one to sign up for a real vacation. How I'd love to take a short break from everything because I'd happily give up my daily stress. I'd love to unlock the constant worry that swims around my head. While summer vacation in our house might include less scholastic responsibility, the constant motion of all of my children as they explore and enjoy new seasonal activities gives me little rest. There is no lazy now or ever. My children and their summertime activities will surely fill up our calendar and my present thoughts. So will the head count I do several times a day--one, two, where's Ronan, three, four, five...
I'd wish for easier any day of the week. I know it's up to me to help my children, to provide the outlets they need to learn and to make sure they are safe so they can grow. I have plenty to do all of that and to do it right. I've given up parts of what I want do to for me when I started out on this journey, and I've accepted that long-ago started projects will remain unfinished now and for a bit longer. The constant monitoring I give Ronan to ensure his health and safety are project enough for me.
Cathy Jameson is Contributing Editor for Age of Autism.
Cathy Jameson is a Contributing Editor for Age of Autism.