The Field Trip
I could feel the heat rising up in my face, the tears welling in my eyes, breathless, but they won’t see me cry… I won’t give them that, not today.
You know how you “know” something isn’t going to go well? All the signs are warning you, but that little Pollyanna spirit inside you says… “This time will be different, it’s gonna be great!” Yeah, that’s me every single time I get one of those field trip permission forms. I think, Oh, he will love this one for sure! I’ll go and that will make him more comfortable! This is the one, the one where he is excited and I come home with pictures and a victory story to leave as my status.
So, when I pulled the Christmas Tree Farm form from his Snoopy backpack, I had nothing but visions of us running hand in hand through fields of evergreens, warm cider in hand, wearing our festive Christmas tees! This was it, it’s wide open, maybe with that much space the noise won’t be overwhelming, and this time I’ll get to see him enjoy a trip with his friends!
Pulling up that morning, I could already see the anticipation on his face through the school bus doors. He could see me, but he couldn’t get to me which always makes him a bit anxious. Finally, the doors opened and he wrapped me a hug, smelling my hair, the way he always greets me. I felt even more hopeful then, “He’s happy! This is gonna be good!” I thought to myself.
Soon, all of the other buses began to unload and the field began to fill with happy and excited children, lots of children. Tractors began to drive by, the train began to toot it’s happy horn, parents were laughing and talking amongest themselves and their children, it was all the makings of a day of holiday fun….for most children.
I could see him start to pace more, pulling at my hand to get away, humming loud to drown out the noise. I knew it was too much, but I so wanted him to have a fun day. As we started towards the hay ride, he went limp, not wanting to go. I picked him up and helped him onto the hayride, again into the floor… now the staring started. The children looked, the parents looked… some with compassion, some with confusion, some with judgement. I could feel my face beginning to get hot, my heart began to beat faster, and soon his anxiety became mine.
After the hayride, it was time for a story! A cute Christmas story, eating candy canes and drinking cider. Again, I could see he was overwhelmed. He kept pulling, trying to get away, telling me through his actions that he needed a break. After a while, I told his teacher that I was taking him out for a break. We walked to a little piece of land to the side of the barn. He played in a little patch of dirt and I sad on a picnic table feeling sorry for him, sorry for myself, again longing for a day of “normalcy”. A day where he was just another kid, where people didn’t look at him trying to figure him out, and I could leave with memories of fun instead of frustration.
By the time we started over to the trees, I was in full on pity party mode. Still, I marched ahead and coaxed him towards the trees with the group. Immeditaly, he spotted it. His way of escape, a place that was familiar…My swagger wagon! Before I knew it, he had taken me to the ground as he tried to pull me towards the van. Good grief, that kid is strong when he has his mind set on something. I pulled myself and him up, both of our behinds covered in mud, and could see the entire group looking over at us…I could feel the heat rising up in my face, the tears welling in my eyes, breathless, but they won’t see me cry… I won’t give them that, not today.
Thankfully, his sweet special needs teacher was there on the spot, ready to help, asking what I needed… I just wanted to go. I just wanted to end this day, to calm my child, and salvage what was left of my pride. She understood, hugged me, and as we walked out of sight… The tears flowed. I cried because I was sad, I cried because I was embarressed, I cried because I was angry that I was embarrassed, I cried because I was relieved, and I cried for him…. who happily put on his seatbelt all by himself and looked at peace for the first time all day.
And as I sat there gathering myself, feeling sorry for us, I texted my husband because he is the only person in this entire world who loves him and understands him like I do. And because he always brings me back from the edge of myself. I told him of the day, sending him a picture of Eli happily playing in the dirt alone, and this was his response… Well, beautiful minds don’t conform to normal standards.
You see, fun field trips to the Christmas Tree farm can turn into sensory overload torture for children with Autism. It’s hard, because as a parent you always want to try one more time, you want to hope that this time will be different and he will smile with excitement and have a fun day with friends. But that’s the thing about being brave, trying again, or simply hoping… It still doesn’t mean that it will turn out the way you planned. Thankfully, I’m not on this journey alone. God gave me the perfect partner to come along beside me and remind me that it’s not always about my hopes or my plans. It’s about just embracing and stopping to take in this beautiful boy I have right now, today, alone enjoying the simplicity of the earth instead of following those who flock to the trees. It’s different, not less. The things that brought me joy as a child aren’t the same things that bring my boy joy. It’s a beautiful, heart transforming journey. It’s full of tears and joy, victories and set backs, pain and healing, but we are learning together.
And the next time I get a field trip form… I might just throw it in the garbage and I’ll probably pull it out again. Who knows, it’s a fine line between learning to embrace and never giving up. Just like every other parent, I’m just figuring this thing out as I go ;)