I recently talked to my typical kids about a house emergency plan. We hadn’t had a review of that topic in a few months. I wanted the kids to remember how to safely leave the house should we ever have a fire, earthquake or other event where we’d have to evacuate quickly. We talked about how to call the police and which neighbor could help us if we had a middle-of-the-night scare. My oldest daughter and my typical son understood the review well. Ronan’s next younger sister had many questions and of course many concerns. I answered honestly while also hoping to not instill fear as I spoke.
I explained that these types of events are called “What if…” moments. No one ever wants to go through them, but we should all be prepared for them just in case. We covered what constituted an emergency, who was going to grab whom on the way out of the house, where our meeting place was and how we’d stay safe once help was on the way. My five-year old sat quietly listening and then asked, “What about my stuff like my Bekah Bear and Flower Pillow?” I reminded her that we would be sad if we couldn’t see her things again, but we can always get new ones later. “There’s only one of you, and I can’t go buy a new you. So, get out of the house as quickly as you can. Don’t go back in. Please, don’t go back.”
Two days after we had re-established our family emergency plan I had to make a 9-1-1 call. Fortunately my older children were at school, so only my youngest and I were home at the time. I had less people to get outside quickly. The emergency was averted and then resolved with the assistance of our local rescue crew. In just a few minutes an entire scenario of “What Ifs” flooded my thoughts. I shudder at the thought of “What if….what if the house went up in flames? What if I couldn’t get out of there fast enough? What if I couldn’t save my own child?” I am thankful for fast thinking on my part and a blessing that saved us from potential disaster.
With only a precious few minutes to act, I had to call the fire department, run upstairs, wake up my sleeping child, run back downstairs, get outside and scamper up my driveway away from the house. All the while I was checking off items on my mental “What to do in an emergency” list. Think. Think. Think! Slowing down was not an option, but I had to slow my thoughts to know exactly what to do: make the call, get me and the kid, run like heck, don’t go back. It was tempting at the very last second to go back and grab my purse. That split second tempted me to go 5 feet further into the house to grab our file of important papers that would be difficult and time consuming to replace. But, I remembered the plan. Stick to the plan. Things can be replaced. Life cannot. Run. Find the meeting place. Wait for help. Don’t go back.
Don’t go back. Don’t. Go. Back. I do that though when I go back in time with other thoughts. It’s not the “What If” thoughts so much as the “What Could Have Been” thoughts about Ronan. I think about the years of early parenting and being a very young mother. I was so young. I was still so new at it. I was so trusting (a.k.a., stupid). Really. I took a great deal of the baby information my friends with older children shared as gospel truth. They bought the more expensive Gerber baby food. I bought Gerber baby food. They used the Baby Bjorn front baby carrier. I used a Baby Bjorn. They took their kids to well-baby visits. I took my kids to well-baby visits. They got their children their vaccines. I got my children their vaccines. How did I let certain things happen? And, why didn’t I know about the flip side? Surely other brands of baby food would suffice. Didn’t I know that back baby carrier were better and more comfortable? And, aren’t inflated vaccine schedules that aren’t mandatory too much too soon? I was going through normal chain of events normal parents did because at the time, what I thought I was experiencing as a parent was normal.
Normal. Life for us now is “normal.” It’s normal for me as I’ve adapted from the What Ifs when they turned into What Could Have Been and morphed into What Is Now. I try not to go back too often to those thoughts, but they creep in over time. It’s hard to realize that then, when I believed what Ronan was doing was normal, was something else. Learning how to adjust and overcome those things Ronan had continues to help me face much of what is part of everyday now. It’s what I know. It’s what I try to understand and accept. It’s our normal.
I will say that going back in time has served a purpose: I learned a great amount of information from Ronan’s past to help me plan his present. I sometimes have to gently remind myself that if I hadn’t discovered how to look for his delays he might be even farther behind today. If I didn’t run into the people who guided me when I did who knows what path Ronan and I would be walking. I can’t fully look away from what happened to Ronan because that will always be part of life. How I handle that past will forever affect the future for my son and for our family.
I have a feeling I’ll always look over my shoulder. I’ll always wonder. I’ll always hope that one day I can forget about how life changed forever. I can’t go back and retrieve everything that happened, but I will use the past as a stepping stone to something new and something hopefully better. Ronan shows me hopefully better every few weeks. He can read. He staring to write. He’s learning how to type.
Not too long ago Ronan started something new when I dropped him off at school. I bring Ronan to the curb to his teacher (who then walks with him into school). A few days a week Ronan looks back at me before I drive away. He’s never done that before. Usually he’d slowly head toward the front door of the school. Lately, Ronan gets out of the car, takes a few steps and glances over his shoulder. He looks at me and waits. I look right back at him. He stares at me with those big, brown inquisitive eyes. I blow Ronan a kiss or sign “I love you.” He lingers another second or two until I wave goodbye. Turning his head toward school Ronan then continues walk into school. He’s ready for his day.
I sit in the car and smile thinking, “Wow, he looked back.” Ronan looked me in the eye. He waited for me. He wanted one more kiss, one more piece of assurance from me. He got what he needed. He moved forward, and he started his day. Go, my beautiful child. Keep moving. Teach me always how to go forward. I’m right behind you.
Cathy Jameson is a Contributing Editor for Age of Autism.