My son is surprising me.
My five-year-old has autism and that means most other children are different. He’s socially out-of-tune much of the time. He’s less coordinated. Things don’t come natural to him. His fingers move slower and with less dexterity, so too does much of his body. He has verbal dyspraxia so it can be hard to understand him. His words come out in the jumble and we have to key in on one or two to get his drift. The words are up there and he knows what’s going on. He even corrects us when we make a mistake or simplify things too much or take a different route home, or if we try to con him and his two sisters into doing something but don’t come through on our end of the deal. “But you said, ‘We’ll go to the beach in the morning if we went to bed.’” We had. Last night. In a bid to get the kids to bed quickly so Mum and Dad could have some alone time. A chorus of “Me, me, and me” met our suggestion of going to the beach. Well, then, we told the three children, all under eight years of age. “The quicker to bed, the quicker the morning comes and the quicker we can go to the beach.” With my son we’ve got to keep our word – with all of them, really – or we’ll get called up on it. We try. But sometimes things don’t work out as planned, and we scorn ourselves for making – and breaking – promises. And my son frets.
But not for long. He is making huge strides in everything. We are on the coast for a four-day weekend, with friends and their two children. The five kids are having a wizard time. There goes my son riding a skateboard across the patio, totally in control, agile and deft.
This is not the way it should be, according to his original prognosis for autism and a lack of bodily balance and symmetry. He struggles to sit down at a table. It’s tiring for him. He prefers to stand. Or to sit on his head, or to lie down with his head falling off the sofa, watching TV upside down. It’s the way he has always been. Yet, yet… he’s learned how to ride a bike on his own and without training wheels. And now he’s speeding across the patio on a skateboard. “Look at me, Daddy!” There he goes and here he comes back again.
We went to the beach as promised and I went surfing on my longboard, coming back to hang out with the kids and our friends. My son, who has never shown interest in surfing, came up to me and said, “I want to try.”
“Certainly,” I said.
Out we went into the surf that he loves so much to splash around in but fears so much. I’ve often taken my eldest daughter, now eight, out deep to ride the bigger surf on her boogie board. My son said, “No.” He’d had enough spills when I took him out to pick off some big waves to ride all the way to the shore. “This is a good one!” And off he’d go, whizzing to the shore. But holding tight and nervous. And doing it, I’m afraid, because Dad was so keen (and living his youth vicariously through his children) that he started to say, “No thanks,” when I asked if he wanted a whirl. I stopped asking and two summers went by without him having another go.
Now he’s keen.
He hopped onto the board and got into position and I pushed him out through the whitewater, over the waves and out not too far to catch a big one that would take him to shore. We turned and he didn’t look scared. No. He looked determined. He looked content. He wanted to have a whirl. And he certainly did. I pushed the board gently and the wave took him and he rode on his belly all the way to the shore with the broadest smile ever, so my wife reported to me when I reached her and him, still lying on the board in the shallows, and paddling as best he could. He slid off and we went for another and another. Then a double-up wave caught him off balance and he wiped out, and my thrill sank. He fell off and under and rolled and he came up spluttering. And his face for a second said, “That’s enough.” But then he smiled and let out a hearty laugh and he turned to look for the board. He grabbed it and said, “Another.” And we went for more and more and it felt good for him and for me. My son who had been too scared and too awkward to surf was catching the thrill. He wanted to surf. And a dream started formulating in my head of our family of five spending our holidays chasing the waves throughout South America and further afield to Costa Rica, Hawaii and Tahiti, and then to Australia and New Zealand. The world would become our playground for waves. But first my son wants to catch another wave right where we are, in Pinamar.