My smile didn't head north because I don't love the beach, oh no, I am, and always have been, a beach girl at heart...as long as it's not raining and the water is above 76 degrees and shark free. I have always loved the sand, the sun, and the waves, and believe me, I've got the wrinkles and sun damage from my carefree, SPF free days to prove it. However, once you have kids, days at the beach change. Carting kids and kids' beach essentials make the carefree beach days, not quite so carefree anymore.
As young, carefree 20 something, I use to laugh at all the crap parents toted to the beach when I happily stepped onto the sand with a chair and a towel. Then I became one of them, sort of, in a way...not really. When you add a dab of autism to the sunscreen, swim diapers, shovels, pails, boogie boards, beach chairs and endless please keep them from whining, bribe them with anything regardless of the sugar content snacks, the once cool ocean breezes can feel as fiery as the gates of Hell.
Year after year, as we endured tears and whining, bribes and threats, and after exhausting each and every possible distraction that would not make the sand feel so sandy, the sun feel so sunny, and the wind feel so windy, I would think, "Next year, he will learn to love the beach. Next year".
Yes, each and every year, as the car was packed up and the beach gear was dragged up from the bowels of the basement, with the remnants of sand and dried tears (both Ryan's and mine) covering the shovels, the pails and the boogie boards, I would silently pray, "Let this year be the year my little man finally gets what all this "down the shore" fuss is about. Amen.".
As I futilely attempted to remove each and every grain of sand from Ryan's stressed out body, I would see those "other mothers" and I can AWEnestly say, I kind of, sort of, really hated them. Those "other mothers" who sat in their beach chairs happily watching their children frolic in the surf and bury their siblings neck deep in the sand.
Those "other mothers", whom I believed took for granted the perfect beach day. The mothers who stood along the shore, camcorder in hand proudly capturing such beautiful moments so that in their golden years they could reminisce these perfect child rearing memories in the years to come. As I stood by, tears streaking my sand covered face, silently and selfishly hoping a giant sand sinkhole would swallow those "other mothers" and their perfectly recorded memories up. Yep, I hated them.
Ryan oblivious to my tears, because he was literally blinded by his own sunscreen infused tears, would rub his eyes, which of course only made his wails of "burn, burn, burn" grow louder, didn't even know anyone else existed on the beach, let alone his feeling sorry for herself, trying to suck it up, mother. Ryan was too busy trying desperately to survive the onslaught of sensory stimuli, while I shot daggers at mothers I didn't even know and Ryan's big brother Kyle jumped in the waves....alone, hoping one day his little brother would join him.
Little did I know, that my time, as a mom happily enjoying the beach with all her children, and Kyle's time (having a brother body surf the waves) was coming, we just had to be patient and wait. I hate waiting.
Like an oyster, Ryan had a hard to penetrate shell that he used to protect himself from things unfamiliar trying to enter his safe, closed off haven. Over the years, Ryan has slowly allowed unfamiliar and foreign stimuli that are horribly irritating to him, inside his protective shell. And just like an oyster's natural reaction to a foreign substance entering it's shell, is to cover up the irritant to protect itself, Ryan too tried to protect himself by closing up to all things beachy.
However, just like a pearl takes years and years to develop inside the shell of an oyster, over time, that once irritant that broke through Ryan's shell, has no longer become something to fear, but, something to behold. In an attempt to protect himself from outside stimuli, Ryan was creating something beautiful within the walls of his shell, something that I couldn't see from the outside. The beauty that lied within the shell needed time to grow and develop so that it could turn into something so exquisite and so rare, that was absolutely worth the wait.
Turns out, I wasn't the only mom harvesting oysters on this particular beach trip. Right down the beach was a group of mothers, who, chances are, at one time or another, hated all those happy smiling "other mothers" with their beach loving neurotypical kids like I did. It just so happened that the same week we were at the beach, so was Surfers Healing http://www.surfershealing.org/, an organization that provides surfing opportunities for kids and adults living with autism.
And just like a string of cultured pearls that takes a single grain of sand an entire decade to form, only time enables the exquisiteness of such beauty to shine forth and be appreciated in the precise color, shape and size it was destined to be.