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An Instant

August 12, 2013

Never neglect details. When everyone’s mind is dulled or distracted the leader must be doubly vigilant.

~Colin Powell

We are finally getting truly settled in our new home. It’s been three months since we moved out here to the forest among the farms, and I couldn’t be happier. Each morning I wake to sunshine filtering through the trees that surround our house, and each night I fall asleep to the breeze and the gentle sounds of the forest at night. It is heavenly. It is peaceful. This place we have found has been wonderful for the children. Troy runs, bikes and drives tractors to his heart’s content. Joyce relaxes in her own room or chooses from the multitude of swings that are now hanging all around the house. And Mary’s favorite spot is still the front porch swing,watching the wind blow through the trees. It is the definition of home for us. It is peaceful and seemingly easy, and I realize now, that it has encouraged me to let my guard down just a little…..

Yesterday I got a sharp reminder of just why we live in a constant state of vigilance. People who don’t live this life simply can’t understand the constant, ongoing alert mode that we must live in. Many of our friends know that Joyce is a wanderer. They know, but I’m not sure they know what that means for the rest of the family -how that seemingly simple statement plays out and intertwines itself into the lives of the rest of the family. And I see the same patterns developing in Mary now that she is gaining in strength and endurance, and suddenly the prospect of having two little girls who elope is not just a bad dream, but a very likely eventuality.

I knew it was going to be a difficult day as soon as I started waking the children in the morning. We were heading to a friend’s birthday party. It was to be a low-key party at the home of a close friend – meaning no Chuck E Cheese kind of overstimulation. Daddy got called away on a trip at the last minute,which meant that all three children would have to come along to the party. I gathered myself up in the morning and gave myself a pep talk – we could do this.

The excitement and angst of getting to see school friends who we had not seen all summer was visible on Troy’s face as soon as he woke up. Two mini-meltdowns put us behind schedule before we even left the house. I had started our morning with every intention of making an attempt at church (even though I knew it was unlikely we would last past the first reading). It became ver clear that wasn’t happening. We calmed and managed our way into the car and boldly off to the toy store. Friends who have known us a while may notice they usually get gift cards – they are faster and don’t require actual trips to the toy store. But what can I say? I got cocky…. So forty minutes and two more (Troy and Joyce this time) mini meltdowns later we emerged from battle the toy store, exhausted but victorious with gifts in hand. On to the party we went. The kids had a great time, but I could tell Troy was on edge as the party grew in size. Selfishly, it was great to get some time to chat with adults while the kids played in the back yard. After the party the kids entertained themselves on their apple devices while I cut the grass quickly at the old house that we are still trying to sell. Then on to the grocery store (are you seeng the pattern of absurd cockiness and denial about how much we can realistically pack into a day?). But of course, we were hungry, and we couldn’t just go shopping on an empty stomach…. so we stopped in at a Qdoba (Mexican) restaurant for a quick bite. And everyone was very well behaved! Now, if you know anything about autism, or just kids in general, you can see this story building, but it didn’t fall apart in the typical severe meltdown kind of way you might be expecting. No, this was far less dramatic but much more dangerous. The lull of the forest seems to have made me forget to be in the constant alert mode that we lived under in the hustle of the city.

I parked at the grocery store. Troy and Joyce jumped out of the car as I was pulling Mary out of her car seat – something I typically do not allow in what I consider high risk scenarios like busy parking lots. Before I could even get Mary all the way into my arms, Joyce took off. She started running for the store, thrilled to get to play with the other kids in the free childcare area of the grocery store. As she ran, out of the corner of my eye I saw a red streak – a car speeding down the parking aisle, heading straight for my girl. Before I could even react, I saw her snapped quickly back towards the safety of our car with such force that she hit the ground. With well-practiced, lightning fast technique, my nine-year-old Troy had snatched Joyce by the arm as she ran by him and pulled her out of harm’s way.

Joyce was, of course furious with her big brother for pulling on her, but I was grateful, and saddened. I can’t even tell you how many times Troy has rescued his sister from oncoming traffic – how many times over the last few years my sweet little boy has run into traffic to stop his little sister. I have, over time developed a strict routine for exiting the car and maneuvering parking lots, and had kept this from happening for several months. I have changed the way I drop them off for school in order to ensure that Joyce never sets foot in the school parking lot, and simply walks across the grass so that Troy’s anxiety won’t get the best of him first thing in the morning. Now, all of it, out the window with one careless moment – one day where I let myself get too carried away with confidence. I had forgotten for just an instant what I was dealing with and let my guard down. At best, I had played once again into Troy’s anxieties. At worst, I nearly lost Joyce. In an instant. And it is a constant risk. She wanders, she leaves, she runs, and she has very little judgement about safety. We have tried everything – social stories, role playing, bringing behavioral consultants with us on outings to address the problem. All we can do is keep a tight grip on her, manage the routine, and never let our guard down. And pray that we aren’t heading down this same dangerous path with her sister.


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