April 2nd: Autism has taught me that it doesn’t matter how long it takes to walk a block, it’s more important to know the scent of each flower along the way.
When my daughter was in Kindergarten, we lived in California. Fall 2010 she started Kindergarten, she was 4 years old. K was so excited to be starting school a whole year before she was supposed too. She has an avid love of learning anything and everything that can be taught. She could recite Dr. Seuss books from memory before she could ask for a glass of milk. She couldn’t wait to buy a backpack and supplies. Living in Southern California, we were lucky enough to be able to walk the quarter mile to school and back. She had morning Kindergarten, so her class time was from 9:25am until 12:45pm. It should have taken us less than ten minutes to walk to school each day. This, however, never happened. It wasn’t that we couldn’t have made the walk in that time, it’s that it was fall in California and in California flowers are always in bloom. My daughter experiences the world through her nose. If she could smell people instead of shaking their hands, I’m sure she would. Each day, as we passed the driveways of our neighbors, the flowers called to her. Her OCD got the better of her and I often gave in to her. That block and a half walk took nearly thirty minutes, twice a day. Each morning, we would leave the house at 9:00am. Each driveway or yard we came to, we’d have to stop and smell each and every flower. On days when we were running late, we’d simply smell one of each color from each yard. Now, we had rules. For instance, she wasn’t allowed to walk up a driveway to reach a flower or through a yard towards the house. She had to be able to smell the flower from the sidewalk, and she wasn’t allowed to pick any of them, which she was okay with. I missed these walks when we moved to Virginia mid-year, where it was frigid cold and we had to take the interstate to get her to school. Though, those car rides had there own adventures (like the time we saw the family of deer at the creek near the house), nothing compared to those walks in California. We would sing songs she was learning at school, smell every flower, and talk about anything and everything. My husband was in Georgia for training (we are an Army family, now), so sometimes we would talk about Daddy. Did you know that every plane flying over Southern California was carrying people back and for to Georgia to see their daddy’s? You do now, and that was important at the time. It wasn’t about the tantrums, it wasn’t about the fits and the OCDs, it was about the flowers and the quality time together. Adjusting the time we left the house was a small price to pay for the ability to get to know what was in my daughter’s head after so many years of no gestures and no words. The time she asked “Where does God lives?” was a great conversation to have with my then four year old girl. (Consequently, God lives on the second cloud from the right when facing North on Cambridge Street.) She taught me great things as we went for our walks and she enjoyed the time that was just me and her. Day 2 isn’t about overcoming some great challenge in our family. It isn’t about making progress towards some IEP goal. Day 2 is about patience, that sometimes you really do need to slow down and not always for the obvious reasons. Life is a journey, one that should be fun. What good is taking a walk if you don’t know the scent of each flower along the way?