Remember when you were little and you first looked through the kaleidoscope? You might have wondered if you were doing it right. Maybe you didn’t see the appeal right off the bat and played with it for a moment only to discard it and realize later that you had the source of endless magical awe and delight within that rinky-dink cardboard tube of plastic colored chips and a mirror.
I still have moments of realizing I’m looking at things the wrong way round. That I’ve been missing out on joyous whimsy just by looking through the proverbial kaleidoscope in my grasp. The view of the world my children happen to possess. So often it can be maddening and seem impossible to slow down enough to see things from their perspective yet when I force myself to do so I rarely regret the decision.
It was one of those moments that I realized that staring at traffic isn’t half bad.
It was one of the last times we ever attempted to do a family outing together as a group. We’ve since realized that splitting up into separate groups is not only easier but seems to accommodate everyone so that the outing is enjoyable as opposed to surviving an undertaking. In truth, there’s only so many simultaneous meltdowns I can handle at once and I’m outnumbered. We all have to take turns being crazy around here and it’s never my turn.
It was at such a family outing that Owen had melted down and I offered to leave the museum exhibit so that my respective nerds could continue to play with the robots. We sat in silence next to each other on the bench. I offered what I could to help calm Owen down but he kept shifting down the bench away from me and I was afraid he would bolt into the busy crowd just down the stairs. Always a fear with someone on the spectrum who has a tendency to wander off. (And by wander I mean sprint headlong with no plan as to where he’s going and refuses to respond to his name or warnings of his imminent danger, see “elopement”.)
He scooted once more as a woman stepped sideways as she read the display plaques for an exhibit mounted across the walkway from us. The board was mostly translucent with images sporadically mounted but the view behind the display only partially interrupted. Owen had no interest in the logging history of Oregon or the earthquakes that have come and gone but the traffic of I-5 and the bridges we could see from our bench were as compelling as that exhibit was to the woman. Every step she took obscured his view. He was silently jockeying for position to view his traffic like a Mr. Bean episode.
I leaned down, pulled his headphones away, and quietly explained to him he could sit on my lap to see better or we could walk over to the window. He thrashed in confusion and frustration for a moment. I took his hand and walked him over and let him rest his head against the cool glass wall. He sighed. His shoulders relaxed. I played bodyguard and prevented people from pushing through or against him. He held my hand and started shouting out the trucks and sights that caught his eye. It’s his way of including me and I joined in to show I appreciated it but something wondrous happened. I started pointing ones out to him.
He spotted the colors and types of vehicles and I would point out the funny dog sticking its head out of the back of the car. The RV with the mismatched doors. The funny sign on the beer truck. The flow of the traffic was soothing. It became not all that unlike staring at waves.
He leaned against my leg and I stroked his hair. I knelt down next to him and he hugged me. In a small, weary voice, “I want to go home.”
We waited a few more minutes for his father and sister, loaded up, and headed out. It was the last time I took him to OMSI. I was looking through the wrong end of the kaleidoscope. He doesn’t want the loud, new, crowded exhibits or the cool play structures if it means dealing with crowds. He wants space, quiet, and room to explore on his own.
It’s difficult to find things for our family to do as a group so I’ve stopped trying, for now. I’m human though, it’s disappointing and frustrating. There’s moments where I think of something I’ve been wanting and waiting to do with them, show them, experience with them only to remember yet again that it’ll be too painful or overwhelming for them with their sensory issues. I guess it’s no different than a neurotypical parent disagreeing with their NT child over an interest. You like what you like.
I’ve learned to do outings with my kids one-on-one. If I let them come up with the ideas we all have a better time and the view can be surprisingly magical. So for my daughter it’s train rides, theatres, museums, parks when they’re not crowded, and quiet grown up restaurants. For Owen? It’s anything fast and sparsely populated whether he’s riding it or watching it from afar. I’m grateful they both like riding the train, amusement rides, but mostly that they share with me what they see.