On Saturday, the kids and I went to Hidden Lake Gardens. It was a beautiful, early fall day. A light breeze added a comfortable coolness to the warm air.
We started our adventure in the conservatory. Each wing has a section for a different climate, such as temperate, arid and tropical. We visit every year and see the same plants, yet I always find it interesting the different aspects of the plants the kids take notice of as they grow older. They started out full of energy, bouncing from one climate to the next, pointing out the interesting flowers on the banana plant, the tall cacti, and the tadpoles in the pond. After we exhausted the conservatory, we headed outside to venture the grounds.
We wandered over to the junipers, laughing about the tag game we made up and played last year. We came across a path that we didn’t see on the map and decided to explore that to see where it went. I am not familiar with the trails, but I could see generally where we were on our map.
It was a quiet, wooded trail, with lots of squirrels and chipmunks. We came to an open field, and there was a fork in the trail. Elizabeth chose the way. We all followed her while I made a mental note of how far we went and in what direction. When we reached another fork, Wil decided that was far enough and he sat right down on the spot.
“Come on Wil. We don’t have much further to go.” I said. Wil’s response was to hug his knees to his chest and put his face down on his knees.
He loves piggyback rides with Elizabeth, and she enjoys giving them, so I asked Elizabeth if she would give him a ride.
“Wil, do you want a piggyback ride with me?” Elizabeth asked.
Wil’s head popped up, he considered this for a moment, then stood up and said, “Yes!”
We got Wil onto Elizabeth’s back and off we went. It soon became difficult for Elizabeth to carry his weight on the uneven surface so she set him down. With this little break in walking, Wil was encouraged to walk again. We all made our way down the trail until we emerged on a road. We started to make our way down the road and I realized this road would lead us to the 5 mile trail. Not good. I told everyone we had to turn around and go back on the trail we just emerged from to return where we started. Katherine asked for my phone to look at the compass. I told her we needed to be moving South or East. We turned around and Katherine took the lead back up the road toward the trail. Before we reached the trail, I realized Wil was no longer with us. He had planted himself right in the middle of the road. I walked back to him and again tried to encourage him up.
“Wil, I know you want to get back, but the only way is the trail. This road actually leads to a longer trail. I will carry you for a little bit, but you are such a big boy now, you will need to walk like your sisters.”
“Ooooooo, noooooo.” He sighed.
“Sorry, buddy, that’s the way it is. We’ll get back before you know it. Come on, let’s go.” Then I heard a car coming. Fortunately it was going slow, but Wil was seated in the middle of the road and I needed to get him out of the way.
“Wil, a car is coming. You have to get up now. They won’t see you here.”
“Wil, please, you need to get up now.” I started to lift him up under his arms. Katherine was walking back toward us and I asked her to help encourage Wil.
“Wil, look! There’s the psycho-killer squirrel!” Katherine said pointing toward the woods.
As I lifted Wil, he looked in the direction Katherine was pointing and started laughing.
“Oh, no Wil! We better hurry before he gets us!” I said. We all started feigning fear, including Wil, and ran to the side of the road. The car slowly rolled past probably thinking we were the psychos 😉.
(A few years ago, at Matt’s parents farm, there was a squirrel that was chattering it’s head off and the girls started calling it the psycho-killer squirrel. It turned into a joke. Whenever we hear a noise in the woods it’s the “psycho-killer squirrel.”)
Katherine, compass in hand, led us back down the trail through the woods. There was a huge rustle in the bush next to us and we couldn’t discern what it was. Bigger than a cat, but too small to be a coyote. We soon discovered it was a turkey. “The psycho-killer turkey!” Katherine said and we all started laughing.
All was going so well I began to think Wil may actually make it the whole way back without incident. But, of course, when we reached the first fork in the trail, Wil again sat down.
Now it was our time to sigh, “Ooooooo, noooooo!”
“Come on, Wil!” Said Elizabeth. “Let’s get back. Mom’s going to get us a snack. If you stay here I guess I’m just going to have to drink your Coke.”
“No! Don’t drink my Coke, Elizabeth!” Said Wil.
“Sorry, Wil, if you are not there I will have to drink it.”
He put his head down on his knees. “Wil,” I said, “Elizabeth is not going to drink your Coke, she just wants you to get back up. We all want to get back just like you do. But we are not going to get back by sitting here. In fact, the longer you sit here, the longer it will take to get back.”
Wil lifted his head. “I’m hungry, Mom.”
“I know honey, we all are. Let’s get back and get something to eat.”
He considered that but did not move. The girls were a few feet away, so I walked to them and said, “I’m sorry, I know this is frustrating. Just think, you are learning some amazing problem-solving skills. When your friends are freaking out about little stuff, you will be like, is that all? That little stuff just won’t bother you. I know this is hard, but I promise you learning how to handle this now will make your life so much better. It seems backwards but learning the hard things now helps you understand the difference between big stuff and little stuff. Just like now. I know forcing Wil up won’t work. Because I’ve tried that. I’ve learned that letting it be his decision is what works best. So let’s walk ahead, but not too far where we can’t see him. The last thing I want to do is lose him in the woods. When we are out of his eyesight, let’s stop and I bet he will get up and follow us.”
The girls and I made our way up a little hill and around a bend. We stopped, and peeked through the trees.
“Mom, look! He’s getting up!” Elizabeth said. Wil was in fact up and walking our way.
“Ok, let’s keep going forward, but don’t let him know we know he’s there or he will plop down on the ground again.”
“Ok, Mom, we are still going South. On the right track.” Katherine said.
“Good work, Katherine, lead the way.” I said.
We made our way forward with quick, discreet peeks back at Wil. He kept his distance from us but kept moving forward. He actually began singing! The girls and I were enjoying this success fully. We started recognizing landmarks and cheered that we were almost back. Elizabeth called back to Wil, “It looks like your are going to get your Coke. Poor me!”
“Oh, Elizabeth. You are plain silly.” Wil said. His high spirits were back and when we emerged from the trail, we made our way back through the junipers. There was a big hill down to the gift shop.
“Mom, let’s all run down this hill,” said Katherine. So we all took off down the hill straight to the gift shop. I will tell you this: running downhill is always fun, but never as appreciated after multiple stops and starts. We all felt that sweet freedom together.
Everyone picked out their snacks from the gift shop, and Wil got his Coke. He’s only allowed Cokes on special trips like this, and I’m careful about what time of day he has a Coke. It was already 6pm with our delays on the trail, but after our adventure, I was not about to deny Wil his Coke. “Ok, girls, brace yourselves. I’m allowing Wil a Coke at 6 at night. We are in for it!”
When we got home, Matt built a bonfire, and we roasted hot dogs and marshmallows over the fire. Wil was a chatterbox. Matt said, “What has gotten into that kid? He is talking non-stop.” The girls and I looked at each other and started cracking up.
Once upon a time, I worried about the impact having a child with special needs would have on Katherine and Elizabeth. It’s not that I don’t worry anymore, or that life has become easy. Rather, it’s a life I have found to be fuller. A life that is one to embrace and cherish because of it’s ups and downs and stops and starts. I mean really, how can you know the full-on joy and ease of running down a hill together if not for the proceeding stops and starts? How do you recognize the beauty of what is overlooked as little, when what is truly little is deemed as big? How do you find quick laughter in a shared look, without a memorable story that was created together behind it? I believe if you have lived the answers to these questions, the impact of life has been a blessed one.