Every week is a busy week for our family. With five kids, we always have lots going on. Last week was no different. Even though we had only one after school activity on the calendar for Wednesday, a basketball game, it would be our busiest afternoon. The game would start a little bit after school got out, but before I could go to it, I had to go back to our neighborhood. A neighbor of ours had asked Izzy to check on their dog. If we timed it well, I could get her to our neighbor's and then to the game with 5 minutes to spare. Halfway to the neighbor's house, I said, "Maybe I'll use the bathroom at home before we go back out..."
Saying that out loud made me absolutely have to use the bathroom.
So, Izzy and I made a new plan. Instead of me waiting at the neighbor's with Izzy while she walked the dog, I would zoot to our house with Ronan, who’d come with me to pick up Iz, and use the bathroom. She would walk home, change out of her school clothes and grab a snack to eat on the way to her little sister's game. She'd have time. As long as nothing got in the way.
We live in a pretty decent area, but as we drove up our neighbor's street, we saw a stranger a few houses down. It gave me an unsettled feeling seeing him. She didn't say it at the time, but Izzy had gotten a weird vibe when we drove past him. Mother's instinct told me not to leave my daughter alone as she would normally walk the dog past the house where the man was. So I parked the car as she took care of the dog. I definitely had to use the bathroom by then, but it would have to wait.
Once the dog was taken care of, Izzy got back in the car and said, "Hey, I thought you were going to leave." I told her I easily could have, and normally would have, but Ronan kept looking for his sister. I signed to Ronan, "Do you want Izzy?" He immediately signed, Yes, while continuing to look for her. Twisting his body trying to see which direction she went, he was acting unsettled. Not until she was safely back in the car did he relax. "Your brother didn't want me to leave you," I told Izzy. Buckling herself in, she smiled as we got back on the road and headed toward home. We'd lost a few minutes but could still make it before the first buzzer if we stayed focused.
Spying our driveway, I said, "I'll use my bathroom. You use yours. Ronan can sit and wait for us in the den with his iPad. We'll grab snacks, then go. Okay?"
"Got it, Mom," Izzy said confidently.
We raced to see who could be ready first. Barely two minutes later, I started to make my way toward the kitchen. Mid-step, I paused. Ronan's iPad was on the floor in our front foyer. He never willingly leaves his iPad anywhere. The second he wakes up, he asks for it. He has to wait until he's at least gotten his meds, his bath and his breakfast before he can get any iPad time. Ronan would never abandon his favorite object unless...
My mind raced. It was quiet, too quiet. Things did not end well last time I remembered it being this quiet.
I was in the bathroom for less than two minutes! Where could he be?!
I could see that the front door was locked; so he couldn't have gone out that door.
He's not in his room; I would have heard him go into it.
He's not in his siblings' rooms; Izzy would have said something.
He's not in the living room; it's too quiet in there.
He's supposed to be in....the den! Near the side door! Could I have left it unlocked?? I'm sure I hadn't. I don't normally run in my house, but I took off like I was being chased by bad guys.
"Ronan!" I called out. I tried not to sound too panicky, but I'm sure I sounded very panicky. "Ronan, bud, where are you?" My heart was racing. It's been a very long time since we've had a wandering incident, but knowing the potential is still there, I quickened my pace. Before I got too far, I noticed that the light was on in the bathroom off of our kitchen.
That's weird, I thought as I began to run near it.
Even weirder was seeing someone sitting on the toilet in that bathroom.
Not only was the person sitting, I noticed as I went past the door, their pants were pulled down.
What the heck?
My old, injured knee did not like the abrupt stop I made as I realized who was sitting on the toilet, but the pain was worth it. There was Ronan, who is two weeks shy of his 17th birthday, sitting on the toilet in the bathroom. While Izzy and I were using the other ones in the house, Ronan decided to use the bathroom as well. I was so proud of him. His siblings, when I got to share the news with them later, were even more elated: Ronan?! Yes!!!!! Great job, buddy!!!
Our long-time readers may recall that my son has not been successful on the toilet. It's not because we haven't tried to get Ronan toilet trained since he was a toddler. We have. So have his team of therapists and caregivers. We've waited almost 15 years for him to be able to be independent on the toilet. I'm happy to share that this past Wednesday, around 3:47pm, Ronan used the bathroom all by himself because he knew he had to.
After she'd changed into play clothes, Izzy came around the corner to assist me. Ronan's aim wasn't perfect when he was using the bathroom and some pee landed outside of the toilet bowl on his pants. He'd need a new pair to wear to the game. Izzy quickly got those and gushed, "Ronan, you did great! I didn't know you had to go. But it's good that you knew." Izzy then grabbed snacks as I got Ronan changed. With this happy interruption, we were still hoping to get to the game on time. But having to take off his shoes, get the damp pants off to put new pants on, and then put his shoes on again, would take a few minutes, 5 minutes to be exact—the exact amount of spare minutes we'd calculated earlier.
After cleaning and changing Ronan, we hustled back to the car. Since she likes to be prepared, I said to Izzy, "When we get there, go ahead of us and bring Ronan's backpack with you. Wait for me at the door, please. I'll get Ronan out and meet you. Then, we'll sneak in and go to where we usually sit. Ronan likes it there and can usually sit through the entire game." Izzy was agreeable and said, "I hope he can make it through the whole game." I hoped for that, too.
Those 5 minutes we lost back at the house were key, because it takes about that long for Ronan to walk the short distance from the car to the gym. You and I could walk that distance in less than a minute. But it takes Ronan lots longer to motor plan and to maintain his energy to get from the car to the door. Losing those minutes meant we'd be walking in after the game began. In fact, by the time he got to the gym door, the game was well underway. Fortunately, because people recognize Ronan and are accommodating, he is never rushed once he's inside the building. Slowly making our past spectators, we made our way to his usual spot. As we walked, I couldn't help but smile. We'd made it. Once Ronan was settled, I could enjoy the next thing on our agenda - watch the game and cheer loudly for my kid.
And that's exactly what I did.
Wednesday afternoon was more than just a busy afternoon for me; it was one of the best afternoons ever.
Cathy Jameson is a Contributing Editor for Age of Autism.