Tuesday, July 23, 2013

When Parents Grow Up

So, we've been on vacation in the US for the last 4 days.

All in all it's been great, catching up with family, friends, eating at favorite restaurants and walking down memory lane.  Plus, there is the space, the open roads, the convenience and that US dollar to Euro exchange rate which turns us into consumers-with-a-capital-C.  

Maya's been an absolute trooper.  She's dealt with long flights, lots of waiting in line and temperatures topping 100 degrees fahrenheit, which by the way, is never great for her Excema.  Still, she's been great, going with the flow, the unfamiliarity and having absolutely no routine.

Sometimes it takes a trip like this to see how far you've come.  

This morning we woke up and decided to take Maya to the Carnegie Science Center, probably one of the BEST children museums in the world.  It's a beautiful place with wonderful exhibits and lots of space and oodles of fun and exploration for kids and adults.  The layout is great as well, with sweeping views of the city of Pittsburgh and even when it is packed to the brim you don't feel like you are on top of other kids.

The last time we were in Pittsburgh, four years ago, we also took Maya there but it was a very bad day for her and we left after just an hour as Maya couldn't handle the sensory overload and just wasn't having any fun.  We made the the rookie mistake back then of not taking Maya's feelings fully into consideration, we felt that since it was such a wonderful museum, Maya "had" to enjoy it, no matter how much torture it was.  That hour was sixty L  O  N  G minutes of laying on the floor, covering her ears and screaming.  We left to keep ourselves from losing it with our daughter and with each other.  We retreated in defeat.  Our daughter was the ONE kid who couldn't enjoy one of the best spots on earth for kids.  

Parental fail.   

We've learned a lot since then.  We've learned that it really doesn't matter if we are in a kids paradise, a mall playground or hanging in our hotel room, what matters is that our daughter has a good time.  We've learned how to (most of the time) not heap our expectations onto her, but to let her go and discover what she likes to do, whatever that is.  Most of all we've learned that when something's not working, it's better to just sometimes make an ad hoc decision to shift gears instead of continuing onward when something isn't working.  

So, we armed ourselves this morning with a pancake breakfast and decided to try once more.  We talked to Maya about the Science Center, we showed her the exhibits on the Internet so she would know what to expect, we told her if she didn't like it, we would leave.  

 We went to the exhibits that she wanted to and skipped those she didn't like.  We walked out of the electricity demonstration because it scared her.  We didn't worry about whether or not she understood gravity but just let her have a good time.  

We learned.  We did better this time.  She had a great time.   We laughted, we had fun, we marveled at our daughter's wonder.

Until Omnimax that is.  

Leo really wanted to see this movie at the Omnimax theater about the Hubble telescope.  Maya enjoys watching documentaries on space so he felt it was a total no brainer.  As we bought the tickets in the back of my mind I wondered if Omnimax would be too loud for her, but I figured we'd go with it.  She was excited to see the movie as well.  Plus the box of Sour Patch Kids I let her have sweetened the pot no end.

We were good to go.  

In we went.  Maya saw the seats and the screen and immediately grabbed onto my leg, she stopped communicating with words but with furious nods, always a telltale sign that a meltdown is in the works.  She went very tentatively up the stairs and avoided looking directly at the screen.  She insisted we sit in the third row.  Leo, who always wants to sit at the top was disappointed but Maya's movements were already tentative enough, any further we thought she might transition to a meltdown,  so we decided to just sit where we were.  Leo tried to get Maya to sit back in her chair to enjoy the film more but she was having none of that and finally turned away from him refusing to look at the screen.

I asked Maya if she wanted to leave, she said no, but that she just didn't want to sit back in her chair.  I told her she didn't have to and I put my arm around her.  When the movie started she covered her ears.  I rubbed her back.  

It took about half the movie's running time but slowly I felt her body relax and I heard her gasp with wonder at the beauty of the stars and the magnificence of seeing the earth from space.

I felt like it was a victory.  Actually anything without a meltdown is not only a victory, but something to be celebrated with actual song and dance.

We went to leave the theater and then it happened.

Maya froze at the stairs.  She started shaking, she couldn't go up.  Both hands gripped the banister and she bent over looking at the ground.  I tried to get her to let go of the bannister with one hand to help her up the stairs.  She was having none of it.

My husband looked at me with frustration.  I told him to go on ahead and that we would follow.  I asked Maya again to take my hand.  She shook her head furiously and made a squealing sound.  I then told her that I would stay behind her, to take her time but to go up the stairs when she was ready.  Slowly she climbed, she took one hand off the railing and put it on the step above her.  "That's it," I said, "you're doing it." After about three steps she got down on her hands and knees and started crawling up the steps, one at a time.

The usher in the theater asked me if she was scared of heights.  "No, I said, she just needs a little extra time, " without missing a beat she replied "no problem at all."

It took about 10 minutes but she finally made it up those steps.

If this had been four years ago, I would have been stressed and would have considered it a colossal failure that my daughter couldn't just walk up the steps like everyone else.  I would have been fueled by  my own embarrassment that my kid was having such a hard time with such a seemingly easy task.  Four years ago I would have most likely lost my patience with my daughter and would have made things even worse.  Four years ago I would have considered today a complete and utter failure.

I am no longer a rookie, I've learned through five-plus years on our autism journey.

A few years ago today would have been a failure, but today  I consider it a success.  She made it up those stairs, sans meltdown.  I didn't yell, I didn't make it worse, I wasn't fueled by embarrassment.  I stood behind her, I encouraged her.  I didn't heap my own expectations on her, but let her find her way.

Maybe my daughter is not the only one growing up?


  1. I know exactly what you're talking about. I still struggle sometimes with the embarrassment of people looking, but I've gotten much better at not making the situation worse by trying to hurry along/force my kids to do something. Also, those omni stairs are scary...I am not a fan of the movie myself...ha. K won't even step foot inside, yet, although did make it through a planetarium presentation recently, which was awesome. The dark and loud I wasn't sure about, but she did great! It's always good to remember how far WE'VE come, when looking at how far THEY'VE come.

  2. again an eloqently written piece and many points of interest to all parents. tears of happiness in my eyes. kol hakavod to Maya and to both you and Leo!

  3. It's great to hear that you are on holiday and that it is going well. Time gives us a lot of things... We become more patient, tolerant and forgiving. Our views also change. I guess time enables growth in all areas. Have fun and be happy. x