Emma and I are leaving this…
and returning to this…
without Richard and Nic. I know.
Crazy, right? Except that Emma is going to day camp. A camp she adores and has been going to for the past four years. A camp for neurotypical children, run by a man who welcomed Emma and urged us to let her attend four summers ago. Each summer he gives me updates on how she is faring. Joe will shadow Emma as he has the last three summers. I will write and get work done for my business, before heading to Jerusalem for the Icare4Autism conference at the end of July.
This Thursday Emma and I are going to Fire Island to stay with my dear friend, Bobbie for the weekend. She and her family have rented a house on Fire Island for the summer and invited us out several months ago. Emma has been talking about going since April. And while Emma is excited and can’t wait to go, I am filled with trepidation. Because along with Bobbie and her two children, one of whom is Emma’s age, there will be another family too. I have never done this, spent an extended period with a neurotypical family, forget TWO neurotypical families. It will be just me and Em, with no one to help out if things start to go badly. It is a testament to my friendship that I was able to accept Bobbie’s kind invitation. I have spoken to her at length about some of my fears. She has a vague idea of what I’m talking about. But it’s vague at best.
What if the other children don’t include her? What if they do include her? What if she wants me to spend the entire time in the cold ocean? What if she takes off all of her clothing and runs through the house naked? What if she makes strange noises and whips her string around? What if the other children make fun of her? What if they say things to her that hurt her? What if they pretend she doesn’t exist? What if they talk about her in front of her? What if I’ve turned away, even for just a second when this is done? What if she wants to play “duck, duck, goose” and they tease her or laugh at her for wanting to? Will I be able to remain calm if any of these things happen? What if I don’t have the words to explain that they need to appreciate her? What if I can’t find the right words to describe how amazing she is if they’d just put aside what they’ve been taught to expect from someone? What if? What if? What if?
Why do I think in these terms? Emma is Emma. Let me take a page from her book of self acceptance. She is who she is and who she is, is pretty f@#king fabulous. I do not need to worry that Emma will behave in a cruel or manipulative way to another child. I don’t have to worry that she will gossip or whisper behind another child’s back or knowingly exclude a child. She will not bully or lie. She will not play favorites or tell secrets. Emma will not play tricks on any of the other children or make them feel badly about themselves. It’s not in Emma’s nature to tease or ridicule. She isn’t capable of behaving in hurtful ways to others.
I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to worrying. Emma is different and truthfully, so am I. I have never felt completely secure in these kinds of situations. I have never felt fully at ease in groups. I have always felt slightly apart from. As though everyone else got the same script, but the script I was given was to a different play with different characters and in a different place. It’s been this way, long before I had children. I feel most comfortable with people who are a bit “quirky.” One of the things I love about communicating with Autistics is that I don’t have to second guess anything. If I don’t understand something I say that, I don’t have to pretend. There aren’t any hidden agendas. No one’s trying to socially outdo the other. There is a directness and an honesty that I appreciate. No one is going to talk about the weather or if they do, it’s because it’s somehow impacting them in a meaningful way.
My friend Bobbie and I have known each other for more than twenty years. We have been through a great deal together. She’s one of those friends who asks questions instead of giving advice. She has listened to me go on and on about Em and autism and she has followed Emma’s progress, and mine too. She has been there for me, applauding me, cheering me on and when I’ve asked for it, given me her opinion. When I think of her, an image of an extended hand comes to mind. She is there for me. She always has been.
So I’m taking a chance. Whatever happens it will be memorable. And who knows, we may even have a really nice time. But regardless, I will have pushed past my comfort zone by trying something new and this time, Emma is leading the way.