Tears and Triumph (#409)

“He’s upset because he got upset,” said Jim. We were driving home with Charlie wailing away in the back seat. Charlie was not raging; Charlie was sad. Sad, sad, sad, desperately sad. “Hey, pal, what is it!” Jim smiled into the rear view mirror. “What happened to peaceful easy?”
Charlie bawled.

We were returning from the pool, but it had been no ordinary swim: We had invited an old friend of Jim’s to the pool, and she had brought three of her daughters. Jim and I had carefully prepped Charlie the night before. His friend had sent pictures and Charlie looked intently at the school snapshots of each black-haired girl. We got to the pool around 6pm and Charlie’s face lit up into that joyful grin to see that Daddy (not just me, Mom, as usual) was going to swim with him. Charlie has been swimming only briefly ever since we stopped getting fries from the pool snack bar (due to his throwing food—there was a lot less of that this week though we have yet to figure out why it has been happening). Tonight, Charlie swam for the better part of an hour and did “jump, swimm”—off the diving board and into the water.

Jim held Charlie’s hand while introducing him to the three girls. Charlie stood before two of them in line to jump off the diving board; he went in straight to the bottom, arms stiff at his side. And he swam and he bobbed in the water, warm after the week’s heat wave; he did his armless backstroke and dove down headfirst. He went woebegone when we gently urged him to swim with his guests and to wait till Adult Swim (which the lifeguards whistle at every quarter of an hour) to get “Frenzz fries.”

At 6.40pm, Charlie got out of the pool and ran, with a yelp. Jim and I glanced at each other, told Charlie he was doing very well, and we all went to the snack bar. Charlie still had to wait as a new batch of fries was cooking and he held Jim’s hand tightly as they walked over the grass to the pool. I carried over a carton of piping hot fries and Charlie asked for them one by one, then asked for a few more from the three girls and their mom. He ate each fry eagerly but worriedly. And then, the crying.

“Sandohs! B’ack car!” Charlie grabbed a towel and looked searchingly at us. “Home!” “You’ve done good,” I said, grabbing my beach bag. Charlie and I started to walk out—Jim was thinking he would stay and talk with our friends—but Charlie’s crying got louder and louder and I signalled Jim that it would be best for us three to stick, and leave, together. Our friends insisted on walking out with us and presented Charlie with a lovely gift—a bear made just for him.

Charlie did not stop crying until we were halfway home to Grandpa’s house. He carried in his new bear and called for “jamas.” He shoulders lost their tense set as he looked at photos of the ocean and some of his former therapists on my computer, with Layla playing. He went to sleep with his picture schedule beside him—“it’s the weekend, Charlie, so you don’t have school BUT a bike ride and then the ocean” (how we miss school and Charlie’s teachers on the weekends)—his squishy balls, and the photos of those new friends.

And I thought, sitting down in a stiff brown armchair in my in-laws’ basement across from Charlie, of how he cried in the car and how that was all—how Charlie was crying because he felt bad, he felt sad, and how there was no tantrum (as there had been time and time again, a year ago).

In Autismland, the triumph of a day comes sometimes with smiles and joy, and sometimes with tears. With honest tears.

4 Responses to “Tears and Triumph (#409)”
  1. tara says:

    Charlie is pretty amazing. He is figuring out how to regulate his emotions and that is such a tough thing for everyone- not just kids!
    I hope the new bear is comforting for him.

  2. Kari says:

    Bravo, Charlie for knowing your limit!

  3. I do think we were pushing Charlie a bit—he was definitely telling us that—tears and all, he got through it really well.

    Thanks for cheering him on!

  4. Shawn says:

    It’s great how very clearly Charlie let you know when he had enough and needed to leave. That’s a skill I consider priceless.

    Swim on!

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