I freely admit that Cindy does an excellent job with Nolan when she takes him on road trips. Our recent family outing, the first one we’d taken in nearly two years, had a few glitches. But we all still were on speaking terms by the time Cindy’s car pulled into the driveway.
Father-and-son trips that involve more than neighborhood walks and car rides that don’t go beyond the border of the county in which we live? I freely admit they can be a struggle for me.
Oh, I’ve tried to work through my trepidation. Two years ago, I saw via Facebook’s marketplace that someone was selling records in a small town located a little more than an hour north of where we live. Nolan had the day off from school, and I was feeling confident. We would take our time, and frequent beverage and pee breaks, and go to that record sale. Nolan would get a lengthy car ride and consume Gatorade to his heart’s delight. Dad would come home with some new platters that matter. It really would be a win-win for both of us.
We got a little more than halfway to our destination before we had to abort because Nolan had an accident (This is where I shake my fist, impersonate a Scooby-Doo villain, and yell, “And we would have made it too if it hadn’t been for the guy who beat us to the convenience store men’s room and decided to take up residence in there!”). One stopover in a nearby city that thankfully had a Target and 50-plus dollars spent on new clothes for Nolan later, I had to admit defeat. I wanted to go big. I went home with a very wet backseat.
Having a son with Autism who also is nonverbal has made me a little more patient and a little calmer than I used to be. Still, I know that things can go south in a hurry when Nolan is in public. I’d like to think I’m adequately prepared to deal with any situation that pops up. Even after all these years, there still are instances when a meltdown or not getting Nolan to a restroom in time makes me wonder if these trips really are necessary.
But they are essential, be they near or far. They’re very good for Nolan, whose opportunities to be out and about have been very limited the last year and a half, and his growth and development. And they’re very good for me too. There are more moments when I feel inadequate as a father than I care to admit. I need to give Nolan more opportunities to be a part of the outside world, and I can’t be afraid of the bad things that might happen while we’re there.
So when a neighborhood church held its annual mega rummage sale this past Friday, I decided that Nolan and I were going. Maybe I wouldn’t get to examine every table and box with the thoroughness of a crime scene investigator, but we would walk to the church, which is just a few blocks from our home, and at the very least look at a few things in the parking lot for a moment or two before leaving.
Nolan wasn’t on board with it. He yelled very loudly in our driveway. He pulled me in the opposite direction of where we needed to go when we crossed the street. He whined once we started walking toward the street where the church is located. He saw a retaining wall of a nearby house, planted his keester on it, and seemed determined to stay there.
This was the moment I could have cried “uncle!”, trudged home, and loaded Nolan in the car for a drive. Instead, I sat down next to him. I waited a few seconds and told him in a very calm voice: “Look, buddy. We can sit here for a little while, but I want us to try to go to the rummage sale. Nolan gets to do a lot of what he wants to do. We’re going to do something dad wants to do. We don’t have to stay long, but we have to try.”
After a moment, Nolan stood up and we resumed walking toward the church. We glanced at a few things in the parking lot once we got there, but there was much more to see inside the church’s gymnasium and cafeteria. Nolan had already fulfilled his end of the bargain simply by going to the rummage sale, but I wanted to see if he would be willing to go inside.
He paused when we got to the door, unsure of what to do. I opened it, and the next thing I knew we were both walking toward the gymnasium, which wasn’t packed with shoppers, but there were several people browsing. Nolan stayed by my side as I looked at a few things. He remained patient and quiet as I perused a box of 45s and briefly chatted with a woman who recognized Nolan has Autism because her adult son also is on the spectrum.
After I’d taken a quick spin through the cafeteria, I told Nolan how proud I was of him for coming with me, and for doing such a fantastic job. I told him he could pick out anything he wanted and I would buy it for him. His eyes went toward a basketball that probably was new during LeBron James’ rookie season and in desperate need of an air pump, and he pulled it out of the box. Needless to say, I was happy to dig a quarter out of my pocket and get it for him. I also was happy he didn’t pitch a fit while we waited in line at the checkout table for the people in front of us to pay for the several items they’d purchased.
We still had to walk home on what was a 90-degree day, and we both were overheating. But we made it without incident, and Nolan got a car ride and an ice matcha latte from Dunkin’ Donuts. I spent a little less than seven dollars that afternoon for a record, a flat basketball, and a drink, but it gave me incredible satisfaction.
No, this wasn’t stepping off a plane and thrusting my arms skyward ala Rocky Balboa after conquering a cross-country flight to the West Coast. It was, however, a small yet significant step forward for both father and son. I know it’s important to constantly remind myself that while there always is the possibility for hiccups, Nolan is very capable of doing very well in public places. I know that I likely won’t get to do or see everything I want to when it’s just the two of us, but I’m okay with that. I know we need to have more days like last Friday: father and son overcoming what makes us uneasy and enjoying ourselves while we do it.
This time we conquered a local rummage sale together. Can an out-of-town record sale be far behind?