Yesterday I cried.
Yesterday was Canada Day. The day was filled with lots of things to do and the girls were excited from sunup to sundown. They knew it was a special day and Winnie hounded me to go from the time she opened her eyes. "Momma, I need clothes! We're going to the fair!" Yes, the full sentences, appropriate context and excited... normalness that I so enjoy! It was wonderful to hear, even at 6:30 am.
As we got ready and piled into the van, we went over and over our plans for the day "We're going to go watch the parade, then go get lunch, then go to the fair, then go to Grandma’s for cake, then go home, okay? Everyone understand?" This could not be repeated enough. This repetition may save the day. Preparation is essential, for us and for them.
Arriving at the parade route, we picked a spot on the grass, thankful that we’d found a good spot where the girls could see – the last parade we went to was very crowded. We laid a blanket out and they sat on it, getting up to run in the large grassy area behind us, Grandma and Momma at the ready to run and pounce if things started out of control.
And then the bands came. The girls sat wonderfully on the blanket and watched the entire parade, Maggie needing a break only once during a lull to roll and twirl, then coming back for the remainder of the parade. They tried very hard to remember to wave and say “Happy Canada Day” to the passers by, and accept the candies, flags and other objects given to them by the parade folk with a quiet and awed “Thank you” if they remembered. They tried so hard, and enjoyed it so much. The parade was a success!
Heading back towards the van, my heart stopped as Maggie and Winnie took off towards the van, relief consumed as they stopped at the van, then dread once more as the time it took to open the van was slightly too much, they ran into the busy parking lot. Dropping everything I ran to corral them, shuffled them into the van, buckled them in, and then sagged into the front seat and closed my eyes as relief once again washed through me. Breathe. In. Out. Breathe.
Lunch was much as it is every time. “Chicken in a bag” which sometimes actually comes in a bag, sometimes in a box, sometimes all together in one giant bag… luckily that’s not such a concern now as it used to be. Switching up a kid’s expected lunch from a box, to a bag, to no container at all might not matter for most kids, but for mine, it could be catastrophic, causing a meltdown of epic proportions. They just want what is expected. They want things the same each time. So they know what’s coming. They need that, but they need to learn to that some things they can’t expect, and thankfully our trips to McDonald’s weekly has helped them to understand that some things might not be exactly the same each time, and that its ok. Right now though, that only applies to McDonalds… the trick now is to stretch that to other things, ‘generalize’ the professionals call it, and we’re slowly doing that.
Next was off to the fair, blaring various tunes that Winnie gets to dictate along the way “Can I hear YMCH?... love don’t cost?... Rockstar?... We like to party?” Thankfully if you keep clicking ‘next’ she can tell you the exact one she wants, within the first two seconds of the song she knows if it’s right. They’re hard to figure out sometimes as the names she calls them are simply some of the lyrics, and perhaps not the correct lyrics, but she’ll sing a bit to help you figure it out. She’s good like that – she understanding that you might not understand her, and she doesn’t get as upset as she used to when you don’t understand what she wants at first. We’re all learning patience.
My mom, the savior, had tickets already for the fair. The girls waited as patiently as they could in line for the first ride, picking out the ponies that they wanted on the carousel. Maggie looked all around her, bewildered at all the sights and sounds, the colours and motion, her head swiveling around to take it all in, her attention constantly caught by things we don’t notice – like the colours twirling above our heads. More than once she forgot herself and let go of the horse, leaning back to look up, her eyes blinking as she tried to process the things around her. I have never been more thankful that I was there with her, my hand on her back ensuring she didn’t fall off, my voice by her ear reminding her to hold on, bringing her back to us, asking her questions about what she saw so that she just wasn’t in this by herself, in her own world.
More rides – Winnie came with an agenda – Ferris wheel, roller coaster and games were on her list. Grandma also came with a plan – rides first, then games, then take some candy to go home. If we did them all mixed up together, how would they know when it ended? They wouldn’t. Hopefully this plan would work.
Mom and Grandma standing close by and watching as the rides moved, ready to spring when they stopped. Carnies, not quite understanding why the Maggie doesn’t follow directions (or even notice that they’re there), stand by and chuckle, until we say “She has autism and doesn’t understand you.” They step aside so that one of us can skip in and get her attention, hold her hand and walk her out.
Winnie gets upset that her favorite toy and friend can’t come on the rides with her, her disgusted face and folded arms last only until the rides starts to move. Then the smile that I love lights her face as she grips the steering wheel with vice-like fingers until the ride stops.
More at ease as the day continues, Winnie starts chatting up the girls and boys around her, trying her best to make conversation. They seem to be responding to her and she smiles, happy to be able to talk to them, even a little. Just before we leave, she sees a classmate and stops to say hello, Grandma is bewildered at first, until Winnie politely introduces “This is my friend Purity from lower Lincoln. This is my grandma”. Grandma turns to me and beams happily “That’s Winnie’s friend Purity” she announces proudly.
Maggie and Winnie try their hand at popping balloons. 3 darts each, Winnie gets two! Hooray! Maggie tries one and falls short, Momma takes the second and pops one to ensure she’ll get a prize, Maggie tries the third after a bit of instruction, but still falls a bit short. The girl hands her a piggy which she grips happily, hugging and cooing at her new friend. Tucked under her arm, she comes away happily as we head for our last stop, cotton candy.
Momma and Grandma hold their breath we begin to leave the fairgrounds, our minds on last year. This was where the tantrums started. The long walk back to the car is met with success, excited girls talking about the fun they had, the rides, the colours, the candy… they had a good day. Snapping them into the car seats, momma once again sinks into her seat, and the silent tears of thanks prick her eyes.
Heading to Grandma’s for a bit, we have some cake and things start to break down a bit. To be expected, it was a long day and they have reached their point. The running, the crying, the hitting has started. The entire car ride home from grandma’s is filled with screaming meltdowns by both parties. We get them into the fenced in yard with complaints and screams.
A distraction helps, they sit down, still agitated, to watch a new movie. Calming down, they slowly fall asleep, bundled up together in a pile on the couch. The long day was fun, exhausting, overwhelming and awesome. Momma sits again and cries quietly, happy for the day, sad for the meltdowns, thankful that progress is being made.
Happy Canada Day.