Charlie at the helm (#454)

I have written often about how at home Charlie is in the ocean. Charlie swimming—bodysurfing his new favorite thing to do in the roaring, pounding waves this summer—is Charlie at his most able, and happy.
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This weekend we found out how much Charlie is equally in his element on the water.

This weekend, thanks to an organization called Heart of Sailing, Charlie started to learn the basics of sailing. He handled the tiller to steer. He untied a line. He made his way to the bow, Jim beside him. They sailed for 2 1/2 hours and Charlie was peaceful easy-feeling and smiling the whole time.

And, very aware of the fact that he was on a boat and that the boat was moving through the water, courtesy of the wind on the mainsail and, occasionally, a motor. Just over a year ago, a friend had taken the three of us sailing up in Rhode Island and, while Charlie certainly enjoyed it, he did not seem too interested in the fact that we were on a boat in the water. He let out one fierce growl and swing of his head when the conversation was about autism. This weekend, Charlie was both peaceful and interested the entire time and Jim—who has been talking about sailing lessons since last year—walked off the boat positively buoyant.

Charlie had climbed right onto into the No Ahs Arc, donned the life jacket handed to him, and fastened the straps, his face—if you click on the photo you might see it—wearing that open and inquisitive look. I suspect he knew that he was off for a new adventure.
Charlie’s face wore that look for the whole weekend, almost.

Jim and I had read about Heart of Sailing from reading a local newspaper while we were on the beach for vacation in August: Talk about perfect, we both thought: A first lesson in sailing for Charlie and an excuse to go back to the beach!

However, precisely because this particular beach is Charlie’s favorite place (on earth, I am starting to think), we had more than our share of trepidation about how Charlie would handle going and leaving. School with his new teacher has been going very well for Charlie and he waited very patiently for Jim to come home on a rainy Friday night; Charlie was grinning as we drove over the bridge to the beach. We went for a beach walk in the moonlight soon as we dumped our bags in our motel room. It was gray and misty on Saturday morning but the sun came out around noon and the water and sky were the perfect blue as Jim and Charlie sailed away on the No Ahs Arc with Captain Andy and Donna of Heart of Sailing.

(Yes, I, “coward,” did not get on the boat—I got a large cup of coffee and tried to catch up on last week’s work and get ahead for next week’s.)

(The only thing I finished was the coffee.)

Charlie was awarded a certificate signifying that he had been a crew member of Heart of Sailing and a medal on a blue ribbon that he clutched on and off in the car, calling for “b’ue ocean”: Sailing over, he and Jim headed straight down to the ocean to swim while I ran to get towels and suntan lotion.
The current was strong, the waves tall; the foam thundered. Charlie ran cat and mouse in and out of the waves before venturing in with Jim for some rigorous swimming. I stood on the sand and marvelled at how Charlie always seems to know to duck his head under when a wave approaches, even from behind.

“Do you realize it’s only been three years since he really learned how to swim in the outdoor pool?” Jim asked me. “And now he’s an ocean swimmer.”

An early morning swim Sunday morning was even better though there was one moment when Charlie was standing in the waves and then disappeared under them in the next—and the next, and the next—-and then his dark head bobbed up, a few feet over. Jim pulled Charlie up on his back and in they went together, with Charlie letting go when they were further out and swimming across the wave crests.

Then we went back to our motel room, Charlie showered and then realized that we were going to go because I was packing up clothes and puzzles into our bags. Charlie cried out and threw himself on his bed: “Noooooooooooo.” The cry and the “nooooooooo” came and went for the rest of the afternoon, as we took our time leaving by climbing a lighthouse and having lunch at a steam bar whose college-age workers were stacking chairs on tables. Charlie lay down (still seat-belted) on the backseat of the black car several times, but sat right back up when I asked, and cried again.
He cried, and that was all. No massive tantrums like a year ago; no writhing and banging and flailing; no “no school tomorrow!”. “Ride the yellow school bus to see your teacher?” Jim asked. “Yes,” said Charlie.

When we got home, Grandma and Grandpa were “having supper” (as Grandma puts it); Charlie went hunting for his bike helmet and off he and Jim went to explore some new (and hilly) streets. “He does this funny thing,” Jim laughed after Charlie was tucked in bed at 9pm. “We go up some really steep hills and he pedals really strongly and then three-quarters of the way up, he just stops. He puts his feet down and he expects me to push him and I do, but he wants me to push him the whole rest of the way.”

“So what do you do?” I asked

“I say, pedal! pedal hard! pedal!” said Jim. And then:

“He’s the greatest kid. He’s got heart.”

With such a boy at the helm, I think no hill too steep, no wave too big—it is all an adventure, on land and sea, with Charlie.

5 Responses to “Charlie at the helm (#454)”
  1. kyra says:

    wow. what a fantastic program and what a fantastic experience! i am so proud of charlie. that boy is a natural! we’ve been talking of moving but i don’t know how we could leave this area–we are only a few minutes from the beach and fluffy is like charlie, loves the beach, the water, the ocean!

  2. Lisa/Jedi says:

    I’m so glad Charlie enjoyed the sailing! I remember B’s transition from passenger to active participant in the process- kind of a “welcome to the next level” 🙂 Sailing is a wonderful life-long activity (as my 76-year-old, still-active-sailor, father-in-law can attest to).

  3. Wade Rankin says:

    “He’s the greatest kid. He’s got heart.”

    I guess some things ARE genetic.

  4. lisa says:

    Sailing is one of my most favorite things in the universe. The place I feel most at ‘home’ in my body and mind is on a sailboat. How wonderful that Charlie got to experience that joy!

    May it always be smooth sailing for your boy with that big heart.


  5. Water in the genes, in Charlie’s case…..

    Trying to figure out how to make sailing a more regular adventure for Charlie.

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