This past weekend Em and I went to stay with my friend Bobbie on Fire Island. I wrote about all my worries and concerns at length in a post last week that I’ve linked Bobbie’s name to in the above sentence. It was a really long list of What ifs. I knew if things got to be too much, Em and I could always head back to the city by ferry and then train. I had a plan B. I was prepared. Fourteen years living with Richard, the ultimate boy scout, seemed to finally have worn off on me. I packed lightly. I had my computer, my iPad, a book, Douglas Biklen’s Autism and the Myth of the Person Alone; I printed out stacks of scientific papers by the neuroscientists, Kamila and Henry Markram as I will be interviewing them in Jerusalem in another ten days and because this is what constitutes “light” reading for me. I brought a variety of highlighters and pens and pencils and my camera.
Emma insisted we bring ten of her books, which I tried really hard to talk her out of, but that she finally convinced me she couldn’t be without. We had more books and technological devices with us than clothing. Never mind, I thought to myself, it’s hot, we’ll be living in our bathing suits. And then Bobbie was outside and we ran downstairs, piled into her car and headed off on our little adventure. By the time we arrived in Fire Island it was afternoon. There are no roads so all the homes come with bicycles. You drag your things from the ferry in a little cart, which you then unload and leave the cart and bikes outside your house. Inside children ranging in age from 4 to 14 raced around and adults ranging in age from their late 30’s to late 60’s chatted. Emma was in her element. She loves nothing more than a house bustling with people and lots of noise.
The ocean beckoned, but Emma caught sight of a swimming pool on someone’s deck, “Go swimming in the pool?” she asked pointing to the neighboring house. I explained that this wouldn’t be possible, though I could tell Emma remained unconvinced and when Bobbie told us there was an Inn just a few houses away with a big swimming pool, it was decided. Off we went with Bobbie’s daughter Mina, who is exactly the same age as Em. We jumped and splashed and played “chicken” where the girls sat on our shoulders while they tried to push each other off. There was lots of laughter and squealing with excitement and delight and I had a moment when I realized I was laughing and Emma was laughing and Mina was laughing and Bobbie was laughing. I stared up at the sky in that moment, atheist that I am, and said a silent thank you. It was heartfelt and honest. I was relieved. So incredibly relieved.
Here I was with my daughter, visiting my closest girlfriend with her family and another family, whom I didn’t know, but who were wonderful and we were welcomed. The children were kind and inclusive, no one looked at me or Emma in that odd way, as though they wanted to say something, but weren’t sure they should. No one spoke about Emma to me in front of her as though she were deaf. No one treated her as though she couldn’t understand. Everyone, children and adults alike, were kind and when Emma insisted on playing her special version of Duck , Duck, Goose for the 25th time everyone played and came up with inventive word groups and laughed and chased each other around and around.
Em carrying our left over Buffalo Chicken Wings home
“Sleep wake up, go swimming in the pool, go to the beach, say hi to Bobbie and Mina and Frankie and Molly and Luca, play. Sleep wake up go swimming, play in the ocean, sleep wake up…” Emma said that first night as I snuggled next to her.
“Wait Em, we’re here two nights and then you have camp on Monday remember?”
Em nodded her head, but the following night she said the same thing.
On Sunday morning she said, “Stay on Fire Island with Bobbie?”
“No Em. We have to go home this afternoon,” I told her.
“I want to stay with Bobbie?” Emma said sadly.
“I know, Em, but Bobbie has to go back too. We’ve had a great time. But we have to go back to the city.”
Emma nodded her head and said, “That makes me sad. Come back later? Come back next week?”
“Maybe next year.”
Emma nodded. “Okay. Come back next year!”
I thought about how fearful I’d been, how I had carefully planned for problems that never transpired. I felt such gratitude toward Bobbie for having believed this was a good idea and for urging me to go, for providing me and Emma with a safe place to test the waters. It reminded me of something an elderly woman said to me when I was in my thirties and struggling – sometimes you have to let others believe in you, so you can learn to believe in yourself.
Em at dusk on the beach
Saturday night on the bogie board
Em, Me and Bobbie heading back to NYC on the ferry