As you sit in the backyard gathered around the fire pit, the kids are no longer bugging for smores, in fact, chances are, they are all inside watching television, the novelty of warm summer nights gathered around the fire has faded with the embers of the June flames. The iridescent glow in the backyard that in early June was filled with fireflies, becomes dimmer and dimmer. The nights, although a subtle change at first, are becoming shorter and cooler and every retail establishment has long since abandoned the racks of shorts, bikinis, and tank tops and replaced them with jeans, sweaters and jackets.
With all these signals of summer slowly coming to an end, nothing is more telling in our house than an empty swimming pool. For some reason, when the calendar is flipped from July to August, the long, lazy days of lounging by the pool do not flip with it.
One of the main reasons this worrying, whacko mother agreed to have a large body of water placed in the backyard was because Ryan, the most sedentary child on the planet, loved to swim. In fact, I wrote a blog last summer, http://www.awenestyofautism.com/blog/my-fish-out-of-water about my little fish out of water and his love of the quiet peacefulness he discovered in a muted, calming world 8 feet under water. Swimming, was hands down, the best, and quite AWEnestly, the only, form of exercise my boy got, so a big, deep hole was dug in my backyard and filled with money....I mean, water. And for the past three summers, Ryan enjoyed that pool all summer long, until the calendar flipped from July to August of course.
- So, you can imagine my surprise and my heartache that on this last day of July, my little fish has not so much as stuck his big toe, or should I say big fin, in that pool. The closest Ryan came to "getting wet" was filling a water gun up to squirt the dog. This boy, who once upon a time would have willingly traded his lungs for gills in order to spend half his summer underwater, has now opted for dry land and as of the writing of this blog, he has no intention of "getting in" anytime soon. I am dumbfounded.
As I have done so many times over the course of Ryan's lifetime, I quickly pointed the finger at autism for this drastic change in my boy's behavior. I first assumed that it was a sensory thing, so, I told Ryan if he didn't want to swim because he hated the feel of the icky, sticky sunscreen, he could swim in the evening when sunscreen wasn't necessary. Ryan assured me that he did not hang up his gills due to sunscreen.
I then wondered if there had been one too many bee sightings, even though we purposely did not plant flowering bushes around the pool. Autism tends to make Ryan's anxieties, bugs being at the top of the list, somewhat consuming, so it stood to reason, autism and "killer bees" were to blame. Yet, Ryan, who once needed me to walk past the azalea bush to cross the porch, no longer needs my hand as he bravely, albeit rarely, enters outside. This threw the bee theory out the window.
It also crossed my mind that perhaps with puberty in full bloom, maybe Ryan felt awkward about his changing body. When I carefully inquired about this new line of thinking I was told, "I'm perfectly fine with my body.". Scratch that theory too.
I told Dan, Kyle and anyone who would listen, "Ryan has something stuck in his head about swimming, some new fear, phobia or idea he is perseverating and obsessing about. Curse that autism." I just felt certain it was autism that was keeping my boy from jumping off the diving board and I was determined to push him back in that pool one way or another.
My constant nagging and non-stop barrage of questions in an attempt to decipher why Ryan wouldn't get in the pool, as well as treat bribes, and the occasional threat of diminished screen time, in order to get his butt in the pool, only backfired. My desire to find out "why" only caused Ryan more stress about swimming which has made him dig his heels even deeper into dry land. Pointing the finger at autism, really did point all the other fingers right back at me.
I just didn't understand it. Why would autism take swimming away? Friends, yeah, I get it. Parties, yep, totally understand that too, but swimming? I just couldn't wrap my head around it. Why take something away that Ryan loved so much? Then after asking Ryan for the 150th time, why he didn't want to swim anymore, he finally looked at me and said, "I'm over swimming, it just got boring." I finally put my aging, non-manicured, pointy finger down. If autism could smile, and say, "na nee na nee poo poo", it totally would have. Ryan should have done it for autism instead.
It seems that if I choose to point the finger at someone, if there has to be someone to blame, I needed to stop pointing the finger at autism and start pointing it at Father Time. Was Ryan's lack of swimming as simple as something he outgrew? Sure, many kids still like to swim as teenagers and even adults, but, Ryan has always been his own guy, not worrying what others do, or what others expect.
When Ryan stopped playing with his Thomas the Tank Engine trains, I didn't point the finger at autism, I just chalked it up to growing up and losing interest. When Ryan gave up Blues Clues for Spongebob, I didn't point the finger at autism, I just accepted that Steve was no longer as funny as Patrick. So, I guess when it comes to swimming, maybe Ryan has decided that there is more exciting things to do on dry land than there is in an 8 feet deep swimming pool. As a mother who "goes under" and actually soaks my hair about four times a pool season, and who prefers to float atop a raft with a well designed cocktail holder, one would think I would get it.
It's time I retire that pointer finger (the middle finger will continue to remain active, since as of yet, I have not found anything else more suitable for the a** who cuts me off on the highway) and take a look at the three fingers pointing back at me. I need to accept that Father Time will transform my boy into a teenager in just a few short weeks and along with that change, more changes will be on the way. Changes that I may see coming and changes that may knock me off my raft and get my hair wet. Changes that have little to do with The A Word.
Rather than pointing the finger at autism, I am learning to be grateful that Ryan has come so far and is able to make choices, decisions and have thoughts that are in no way influenced by autism. Most days, the choices Ryan makes are made just because he is Ryan, not because he has autism.
So, as the summer days slowly come to an end, I will need to tear up Ryan's time card for the pool time clock because it appears he has hung up his swim trunks this summer. Just in case he has a change of heart, (very doubtful since it will be August tomorrow) I will keep at least one of the three new swim trunks I purchased this summer.
If the swim trunks still have the tag on them by winter, I will hold on to them, just like I have held on to all the Thomas engines as well as the VHS Tapes of Ryan's beloved Blues Clues. Some things I must let go of and some things I will always hold on to....things that are bittersweet reminders of days gone by, days that are fading as quickly as the summer sunsets, days that have had nothing at all to do with autism, but, days that have been filled with choices, changes and progress.
The only finger pointing for such change and progress should be at Ryan. He has made the changes and the choices, not autism. The only finger Ryan should see is his own, shimmering in his reflection of the boring, backyard pool that he refuses to swim in anymore, regardless if there is still nine hours left until we flip that calendar from July to August and the "Pool Closed" sign is hung up for the season.