Sunday, February 24, 2013

"I've Got You."

We were watching the ocean waves crashing, far out in the distance. My son and I were walking on the beach, looking at patterns in the sand, looking at shells. I was lazily watching him. He was happily running on the beach, filled with joy. 

It was a bitterly cold day on the beach. But it was the ocean, and when you have a chance to see the ocean, you see it. We had traveled out to the Washington coast, and after a lackluster day, we drove to a place where we could walk out on the sand and see the ocean in its full glory. 

The weather was turbulent. We had been hit with a couple of surprise rain squalls. There were white caps on the water, and the waves seemed particularly explosive. 

A group of kids was out closer to the edge of the surf, and I heard their parents getting excited because the tide was coming in closer. The tide crept in toward them, soaked their shoes, and they went running away giddily. The tide kept rolling in, slowly but determinedly.

"Son, we need to get back," I called. "The tide's coming in too fast. We don't want to get wet." 

And then the tide devoured the beach. It came up to our feet, and it kept coming. My shoes were suddenly waterlogged; then it was up to my ankles. Then my calves. Then my knees.

It kept coming in, like a bathtub that had filled up suddenly. Oliver began panicking and screaming. I grabbed his hand, and we ran as hard as we could toward the dry sand, while the water roared around our legs. 

The water was up to his waist. He was running in slow motion and screaming at the top of his lungs. He was about as scared as I've ever seen him. I just held tight to his hand and I kept shouting back, "I've got you! I've got you!"

"It's trying to pull me in!" he screamed.

"It won't. I've got you, son. I've got you." We ran and ran. 

Finally, the enraged wave receded, and we were able to reach dry land. His mother, shocked, raced up to greet us. Oliver was still screaming, shivering from the bitter cold water that had drenched him. We ran back to the car where my brilliant wife had stashed an extra set of clothes for him. (I had no such luck. I didn't expect to need an extra pair of clothes. I had to drive back to town and buy a pair of emergency sweats.) 

~     ~     ~

They call them sneaker waves. We didn't see it coming; you never see them coming. The tide was actually going out, or so we thought. That's why we were so complacent. We thought we were safe.

Sneaker waves are dangerous things. They are impossible to predict and they take people completely by surprise. They pull people out to sea. It happens. I don't like to think about it now, but it does happen. Sometimes, they pick up floating logs or huge rocks, and then you have a dangerous wave with a weapon. Imagine, seeing a 1000-pound rock floating in toward you, being carried by an out-of-control wave.

I had seen the signs. The signs on the ocean beaches don't mess around; they use phrases like "you can die" and "you will be swept out to sea." But I didn't think about them. I thought those warnings were for people stupid enough to go wading out in the water. I didn't think we were in danger on the sand, so far away from the edge of the water.

I can't even describe how fast that wave came in at us. It moved with the speed of a monster tentacle in a horror movie; you think you're safe and suddenly PHWIP! it's wrapped around your waist. We went from dry and safe to overwhelmed and terrified in a matter of seconds. 

If it had kept coming, I don't know what would have happened. I would have picked him up and run if I had to. I would have thrown him to shore if I had to. It hit with the speed and the shock of a car crash, and here I am, a day later, sitting in a warm office, still shivering at the memory of the wave that tried to pull me and my son into the Pacific Ocean. 

Saturday, February 16, 2013

The Rules Haven't Changed

(Note: I'm going to start working more to keep this blog more active. I have lots of readers out there, apparently. Thousands of you have found this post about double-swaddling, and I'm grateful to each of you for reading it and sharing it. I keep being amazed that people still read this blog, and especially that you still read posts I wrote years ago.

I used to blog a lot more when my kid was smaller. Now that he's older, I have to remind myself I'm still a blogger dad. I'm putting it that way because "daddy blogger" just seems like an insult. 'Oh, you're a daddy blogger, how cute!' No, I'm a dad. Who happens to have a blog. My job is being a dad.) 

When Oliver was little, it seemed like I would blog daily about what was going on with him. When he was a baby, it was easy. First of all, I was home with him for the first year of his life as a stay-at-home dad, so I had lots of time to sit and contemplate his existence. He didn't do much, but it was amazing watching him. He would roll over, he would look at me, he would reach his little doll-like hand out to me, and I would sit and think about how miraculous it all was, and then I'd write a blog post about it.

I'm working now, and he's going to school. So we don't spend nearly as much time around each other.

I'm fortunate, though. My wife and I have a staggered schedule, so she goes to work early and I get the morning shift with him. He wakes up three hours before he goes to school, so we have plenty of time to be with each other. He plays with Legos, he reads, he watches old shows like Godzilla and the Power Rangers and the Fantastic Four cartoons, and we eat breakfast and we talk about stuff. About school. About the kids in his class. About stuff.

And then we drive to school at a breakneck pace, trying desperately to make it before the second bell rang. Usually, we miss it but I just walk him to class anyway.

When he was a baby, I had to feed him bottles of Mrs. B's milk. It was very hard at first, and for the first couple of times, he fought and thrashed and wouldn't let me feed him. It was upsetting for me, and obviously, he wasn't digging it either. So I looked around a couple of other blogger dads, and I figured out that the more anxious I was at feeding time, the more anxious he was going to be. So I started forcing myself to be calm during feeding time. "You're all right, little man. It's just me, and it's just your lunch. No big deal." The more I relaxed, the better it went. Success breeds success, so the better the feedings went, the better I felt about them.

The same is still true. Especially now that we know he has Asperger's, I have to pay more attention to how he's feeling at different parts of the day and how I might be contributing to that, consciously or not. Our mornings have been problematic for a while, and I realized what the problem was. We have three hours - THREE HOURS - to get ready for the school day. And yet, I'd been waiting until the last five minutes of the day to ask him to do some basic things - going to the bathroom, putting on his socks and shoes. And my son is not a person who likes to be rushed. So he'd dawdle, and he'd get distracted, and inevitably it would take him twenty minutes for him to do something that I could do in 30 seconds. And we'd be late.

What's wrong with that equation? What's wrong is that I'm thinking about how I would do it. I would move faster. I would look at the clock. I would realize how late it was. Well, my son is not me. He does things at his own pace. And I just need to accept that. Instead of trying to force him to be me, I need to accept who he is.

And for me, that meant changing our schedule. Now, I give him a full twenty minutes to do those final last-minute steps before we walk out the door. And it works! We make it to school sooner. There's also less yelling, less hectoring, and less resistance from him. I just give him enough time to do his thing. If he gets distracted, I still nudge him back on track. But it's not an emergency anymore. I'm respecting who he is. And I have to remember that my anxiety level feeds directly into his. When the last conversation before school includes a lot of yelling and badgering, it can't be good for his psyche. I like it this way.

So the rules when he was a baby are the same as they are now. When I'm stressed, he's stressed. When I calm down and relax, things go better. He's still the same kid he always was. And I'm still the same dad, who sometimes forgets that.