It has truly been a beautiful day.
I pull up to the school just as the light gray clouds begin to collect overhead and drizzle a cool mist over the windshield of my truck.
They won't be playing outside on a morning like this.
That's a shame. My favourite part of the day is watching him play outside, fully unaware of me- of anyone, really- and completely enraptured in his final run of the school day. Sometimes, he has kicked off his shoes and is feeling the soft grass tickling his toes. Other times, he is darting in and out between the trees, speedily making his way the world in an eternal figure eight.
But not today.
Today, he will be walked out instead. Right at noon. Usually the last of his class, his hand gentle enfolded in the wrinkled hand of his kind aid. She will pass him off to me- his hand into mine- and I will ask him how his day was. I will hold my breath waiting for the smile that signals a day well lived. If it does not come, my heart will sink as I will know that he struggled.
Thankfully, the smiles come most of the time. School is a happy place for him. Sometimes, he is so overjoyed that his eyes ask to meet mine, and within that split second I am privy to all the wonderment and excitement that fill his mind.
His eyes tell me stories that no words could describe.
I see him at the doorway. The picture looks the same as it always has...but there is something different today.
I can't quite put my finger on it.
Yes, he is smiling. But that's not unusual. He is usually smiling. And still, something seems different.
It takes a second to register but when it comes to me, the impact hits me like a ton of bricks:
He is looking right at me. Through my window. He sees me here. He is not just happy. He is happy to see me.
I jump out of the car and make my way towards him, eager to greet him in my usual way.
But I am stopped short. Before anyone can stop him, he has torn his hand free of his aide's, and he is running down the path, arms outstretched, and heartily laughing as he crashes into my knees. He looks up at me, right into my eyes, and holds my gaze.
One second...two seconds...three seconds...
Still looking right at me, he lifts his arms for me to pick him up. And, when I do, he places his hand on my cheek, once again looks into my eyes and kisses my lips.
Hi mom. Today was amazing. I am so glad to see you. I love you.
And then he looks into my eyes again, laughs out loud and climbs into his car seat.
No words were passed between us. None need to be said.
His eyes tell me stories no words could describe.
The pool is quiet today. I love when we get to come early. The dinner time hour seems to drag away the crowd and we have the space virtually to ourselves.
I wonder what kind of swim we will have today. Sam has been in an exceptional mood, but seems tired after his short car nap. Today might wind up being more of a 'swim therapy' day than a 'swim play' day.
That's ok with me. I love watching Sam play, but I do secretly covet those therapeutic sessions where he asks me to help him regulate himself with deep pressure water exercises. What masquerades as a 'joint compression' truly just signifies a whole lot of extra cuddles for me.
But no. Apparently today is a bouncy, stimmy, happy flappy play day.
And he is so thrilled that I can easily bear the pseudo-disappointment.
But there's something different about the pool today.
Today, he is not alone in his Autistic glory.
There is another boy, maybe eight, bouncing his way through the lazy river.
I've come to recognize Autism quickly in children. I suspect the numbers are higher than 1 in 68, and consider this to be a good thing. Neurodiversity is a powerful force of change in our world.
But we seldom see Autistic children at the pool. And never alone. When they are there, it is almost always there with an aide or a parent, cautiously hovering and anxiously looking over their shoulder.
Sam is crashing his way through the waves, soaking up every ounce of comfort and freedom that the water has to offer.
But then, he sees the boy.
He sees the boy.
Not just seeing him as a body to navigate around, but really and truly 'seeing' him.
Sensing his presence. Recognizing in him a peer.
"He is like me."
And the boy sees him too.
Sam advances towards him, and smiles- a smile of understanding and of acceptance, like a secret handshake between two boys who know a secret that no one else knows.
The boy smiles back, his eyes filled with curiosity at this small child advancing upon him.
Their bodies collide like the waves crashing against the tiles.
They laugh out loud. And splash. And bounce. And flap.
An Autistic dance.
The moment passes, far too briefly, but in those few seconds something transpired that I had never seen before.
Somehow, without words and without help, Sam asked this boy to be his friend.
And in those seconds, they were friends like Sam has never had before. Equals. Peers.
"Social skills" can be taught in a class room, but friendship can only be born from the heart.
They seperate and go their own ways, the older boy exploring the pool in ways too advanced for Sam to follow. But through it all, I see them watching each other, observing how the other body moves and experiences the world.
I look for the boys parents to introduce myself, but I can not find them. Perhaps it's for the best. Perhaps my child doesn't need my intervention. Perhaps in this brief moment, he has experienced a depth of friendship so intense and so authentic that my interference would do nothing but mar the memory of that moment of love, shared between two strangers who really aren't that strange at all.
He is hiding under the towels.
This is the ritual of getting dressed. The bright fluorescent lights pain the eyes and the echoing chambers of the washroom overwhelm the ears.
The towel is like a barrier protecting the senses.
She doesn't need barriers. She likes to experience things as openly and rawly as life has to offer them. No sensory experience is too intense. Nothing intimidates her.
They could not be more different, these fruits of my womb.
This week, she has really discovered "play". She wants to play with everyone, all the time. Peekaboo, tickle fights, tag, tea parties...games that are far too advanced for what the books all told me to expect.
But she doesn't understand boundaries yet. She is, after all, only a baby.
Usually, he ignores her. Sometimes, he pushes her away.
Get her off me. I do not want her to touch my body.
We spend a lot of time playing referee between her needs and his.
And today, she wants to play. So I brace myself for the worst. It was a wonderful swim, but transitioning out of the pool is never the easy part.
She puts her hand on his body, and I pull her away.
"Charlie, you may not touch Sam's body..."
But from the very corner of the towel, in the shadows, I see his little face peering out.
And he is smiling.
It's ok, mom. We're playing.
I yank the towel off his face: "PEEKABOO"
He erupts in giggles. He loves this game.
And so does she.
He sees her laugh. It makes him smile even more brightly. He pulls the towel over his head again.
PEEKABOO! I cry out as I tear it off one more time!
The musical sound of children's laughter is God's magnum opus.
My children. Laughing. Together. Playing beside each other. Can this be?
Before the thought can even fully develop, Sam covers his face again. But this time, the game has changed. It is he who yanks it off, with sparkling peekaboo eyes.
And they are looking right at her.
She explodes with joyous glee.
Back and forth, the game continues and I realize that I am no longer a player in it. They are playing alone, with each other, without me...their faces, inches apart. Sharing space. Sharing joy.
As the game draws to its natural end, I help him stand to dress him. She stands too.
Like brother, like sister.
And she stumbles her way across to him, and wraps her chubby arms around his legs for a hug.
He drops an arm down onto her body. Not pushing her away, but pulling her in.
There is no dream sweeter than the one that comes true.
It has truly been a beautiful day.