Summer is over and thank goodness fall has finally arrived. There were more than a few times that I wondered whether I was going to survive the summer with a few shreds of my sanity left to staple together. Cooler breezes have started to float through the windows after the sun goes down, I feel fall’s decent, and even though I don’t fit into the expensive jeans I bought two years ago, I’m ready for pants weather. But before my mind wipes my memory of the summer of 2010 I want to record something I recently found. A bunch of scribbled notes and a conversation I hastily recorded over two sheets of paper late one afternoon at the edge of the pool in late August.
The Roc and I spent many hours at the nearby community pool this summer. In the years past I have loved the pool, loved that we could walk there, that the Roc would be entertained playing in the water, that we didn’t have to find a way to whittle away the day indoors, that there was a baby pool and I didn’t have to worry he would drown. He loved that baby pool right away the first summer we joined when he was still just two years old. Loved to line up his buckets at the edge, and fill them, over and over and over again. His attraction to the baby pool nothing out of the ordinary for a little kid. Over the past couple years his love for the baby pool hasn’t diminished, and for a long time I was okay with that. Until this summer.
This year is the first summer that I was really ready to be done, ready for school to start, ready for fall to come, for the heat to dissipate, to move on from our days spent at the pool. Or I could really say I was ready to be done watching the Roc pour water in the baby pool while all those who poured along with him in years past have now moved on to the big pool. No longer babies. They swim, make up games, yell “watch me!” to their mothers who lounge on chairs or sit with their feet dangling in, they dive for rings, jump in together, tease the lifeguards, mess around at the pool with their friends. While the Roc stays at the baby pool pouring water, and it’s not that the he cannot swim, in fact he loves to swim, has no fear of jumping in, going under water, plunging into the deep end. He does all of those things, and I’m always happy to join him in the big pool, but he continually wants to come back to the baby pool and pour water. Repetitively. This year it became hard to watch.
I had been hoping that this year would be the year that the Roc would spend more time in the big pool and less time pouring water. I was hoping he would reach out more to the other kids, try to engage, because he is so comfortable in the water, it seemed to me the perfect place to branch out. All summer long the Roc and I spent our time divided between the baby pool and the big pool. I, of course, talked to the regulars I’ve seen for years now, but the Roc, for the most part, didn’t talk to anyone but me. I resigned myself to the fact that I expected too much and tried hard to let it go, to not compare, to feel happy for his contentment, because we all say “we just want our children to be happy” and he is happy at the baby pool. I tried hard to settle my soul while I watched the other former baby pool attendants splash together in the big pool and I swallowed the snarky words that threatened to slip between my clenched teeth when people would joke “you haven’t graduated from the baby pool yet?” to me when I would walk past them to the baby pool entrance. I reminded myself that other people’s benchmarks were not my own. That progress and victory look different for the Roc, and to me, are sweeter. If, and when he wanted to engage, he would. I let myself think ahead to next year.
Then, at the very end of the summer while the Roc was busy pouring water a little girl I’ll call “G” persisted in getting the Roc’s attention. No easy feat, but G is the persistent sort. I noted her presence all summer as she followed the lifeguards, played with all ages of kids, took an interest in everyone, talked to anyone, child and adult alike, at any time. Whenever she encountered the Roc she always shouted out a hello and unlike other children who give up trying to engage him after a few attempts, she kept at him, repeating “Hi!” or “Look at this!” until he looked at her. She was not turned away by his tendency to not respond, she just tried harder to get him to pay attention to her. Eventually he did.
Late one afternoon while the Roc was doing his usual in the baby pool G entered. She was excited to see him. Inwardly I groaned thinking I was going to be stuck talking for the Roc as is sometimes the case when she got going and he tunes her out. Plus, I was reading a good book and I didn’t feel like making small talk with a four year old. I glanced around to see if her mother was going to come and watch her and felt relief as I saw her approaching. Then I was startled and sat still as I listened to the Roc and G start to interact. I dropped my book like a hot potato when I heard the Roc start talking and grabbed my notebook and a pen and started scribbling down their exchanges. Here is what I wrote down about their exchange:
Roc: “I like the waves in here!”
G: “Me too!”
Roc laughs: “Let’s swim.”
G: “Roc, can you walk on your hands like this? Roc? Roc? I’m talking to you! Look at me Roc!”
Roc: “Well, I’m being a shark.”
G: “I’m going to be a shark too! I’m mommy shark.”
Roc: “I’m daddy shark.”
G: “Don’t open your mouth. Icky water.”
Roc: “Well I bite.”
G: “Sharks bite. Sharks eat humans.”
Roc: “That’s what kind of fishes we are.”
G: “Shark fishes! Right!”
Roc: “I’m going to get something for our sharks to drink out of.” He gets two buckets and puts them side by side.
Roc, pointing to the buckets: “When we are thirsty our sharks can drink out of them.” He fills up the buckets.
G and the Roc swim around together.
G: “Let’s be sharks that eat humans. Roc, let’s be sharks that eat humans!”
G’s mother admonishes her.
G: “Sharks eat people mama! Mrs. Shark is hungry.”
Around this time I note that the time is 5:56 pm.
Roc: “Let’s get a drink.”
They pretend to drink out of the buckets.
Roc: “Mommy, I want my goggles on.”
G: “I want my goggles mama!! Let’s be sharks under water! Roc, let’s go eat!”
Roc: “No! I don’t want to eat.” They pretend to eat out of the buckets. “What are you going to be? I’m going to be a shark under water.”
G: “Roc! Come over here! Roc! Look at this! Roc! Roc!” She tries to get his attention and show him a toy.
Roc: “Let’s be a shark again.”
G: “Let’s go eat! I’ll share my bowl with you.”
Roc: “Mmmm! Okay, we’re done.”
G: “So, how was your meal at your home?”
Roc: “Good. Mine is green eggs and ham.”
G: “Mine is cereal.”
The Roc to me: “Mommy! Hers is cereal with honey.”
G: “Yeah! With honey! Now let’s pretend we are dolphins! I’m Mrs. dolphin!”
Roc: “I’m Mrs. dolphin too. Can I squirt water out of my mouth like a dolphin?”
G: “Look at me his mother! I’m a dolphin!” “Let’s eat now!”
Roc: “Okay. This is the last time. It’s time to clean up.”
I suggest that they be whales now and then start a catalog in my head of sea creatures to continue the game, walrus, penguins, sea turtles, etc.
G: “Roc I see something! Let’s go under water! 1..2..3!” The Roc ignores this request. “Let’s go eat now. Mine is cereal.”
Roc: “That’s not good for my tummy.”
G: “Let’s go eat again!”
G: “Because that’s how it works. Let’s go! Let’s go play under water.”
I check my phone for the time, it’s 6:06 pm. More than 1o minutes have passed!
They both go under water and swim around.
G: “Let’s go eat again!”
Roc: “Then we’ll be done with that.”
G: “I ate all mine.”
Roc: “I ate all mine too.”
G: “Do you know what? Fish! Let’s be fish!”
Roc: “Then be crabs!”
Roc: “Then be all alligators!”
Roc: “Then eat!”
G: “let’s be mermaids! You be a merman, I’ll be a mermaid.”
They continue on this vain while swimming around and around in the baby pool, at 6:15 G notices some bigger girls in the big pool and rushes out to be with them. Instantly the Roc wants to follow her and cannot get out of the baby pool fast enough. He enters the shallow end of the big pool but doesn’t approach G and the other children. He reverts to swimming alone.
I don’t mind.
Because did you catch that?
Holy smokes! Back and forth conversation. For almost 20 minutes! I had never witnessed that before. He was engaged in play with another child! He conversed with another child! All of it appropriate! I knew I was grinning like a maniac.
I turned to G’s mother as she was leaving the baby pool to follow her daughter and said, “That was so amazing for me to witness. I know you see that all day long with G, but that was the very first time I saw the Roc have such a long back and forth exchange with another child. And he played with her! Appropriately!” Unfortunately, I don’t think G’s mom really got it. She gave me a little funny look and didn’t say anything while she closed the gate. I know that at one time I mentioned to her that the Roc has autism, but she may have forgotten, or she didn’t really know what that meant.
It didn’t matter. It still doesn’t matter as I read through this nearly two months later.
With another child.
So much potential.
I have to continually remind myself, this child is on his own trajectory, his own time line, and that’s okay. Everything in due time.