Reprinted with permission from a featured article that appeared in the September/October 2005 issue of Autism Asperger’s Digest magazine. Learn more, www.AutismDigest.com.
All of us make daily choices in life. Most of these choices are trivial, like what to have for dinner or what color socks to wear. Other choices are more life-changing, like whom to marry, where to live, or what house to buy. Sometimes, choices are made which at the time seem to be in error, but allow us, if our ears, eyes, and mind are open, to learn about life, our children, ourselves. Sometimes a wrong turn can lead to nothing less than a miracle.
It was a spring Saturday in the Bay Area. There was nothing exceptional about the day, except that it wasn't raining. Not bad for a weekend in the wettest year California had experienced in decades. The sky was blue with white puffy clouds, and it was on the cool side - a great day for a picnic.
April and I decided to spend the day in Sausalito, a trendy upscale town on the waterfront just north of the Golden Gate Bridge. We packed a lunch and ate hot dogs, chips, and sodas with a spectacular view of the San Francisco skyline. The pigeons and sea gulls, we discovered, are only your friends when you're eating. They're not one of God's more loyal creatures, to say the least. Later that afternoon we blew bubbles with Shamus, our four- year-old autistic son, in a local park before starting the drive back to our home on the Peninsula.
On the way home I took a minor detour; I wanted to show April some nice places to have a picnic another time, with a great view of the San Francisco Bay. As luck would have it, despite our best efforts to follow the signs to the freeway we somehow took a wrong turn. Or was it a wrong turn?
We soon found ourselves among green rolling hills that we could see eventually led to the Pacific Ocean. We were debating whether to turn around, or just keep going and enjoy the ride. It was so beautiful, we decided to venture on. By the time we arrived at the ocean, April had no interest in making the short trek to the water. I parked the van and walked to the beach by myself, staying only a few minutes. It was no fun being there without my wife and son. That's just not the way God intended it.
Before maneuvering home, we knew Shamus needed a potty stop. Even though the restroom building was not more than a few hundred feet across the parking lot, we figured the less walking our boy did here, the better. Parked cars are a real distraction for Shamus. Once “business” was done, I turned to Shamus and said, "Shamus, do you want to go to the beach?" He was never a beach-lover before, but I thought I’d give him the option. Surprisingly, he said "yes." Kids, even autistic ones, do change sometimes, I guess…
We watched the waves tumble in, leaving the hissing, white-green foam behind. Shamus seemed to be enjoying it so much - the sound of the ocean, the frothy surf, the big sky overhead.
Now, Shamus is a native Californian and our home is only 10 miles from the ocean. He had been to the beach many times before and had never been too interested in exploring beyond the blanket he was sitting on. But today was different; he wanted to get his feet wet.
San Francisco is not a “beach” town, despite its physical proximity to the ocean. The water is cold, and summer weather along the coast is usually cold and foggy the entire day. Bay Area residents, especially coastal residents, don't wear shorts and don't keep beach towels in their car. Extra blankets and jackets are a far more practical item to have on hand.
But here was my son wanting – for the first time - to get his feet wet. So, we rolled up his pants, took off his socks and shoes, and I did the same. Shamus got his feet wet. He was ecstatic. As for me, the water felt like ice, my feet were frozen, my rolled-up pant legs soon unraveled, and in no time, both our pants were soaked - and we had no dry clothes. And yet, I wouldn't have traded that moment for anything in the world. It was our moment - father and son - playing in the surf. Nothing else in the world mattered to either of us. For most four-year-olds, such a moment would be routine. With our dear Shamus, however, I take nothing for granted.
April is such a “Mom.” Even today my own mother, who is 82 years old, often tells me to put on a sweater when she is cold. A mother's nurturing nature transcends generations and crosses cultural lines. As April motioned for us to come out of the water, even trying to bribe Shamus with a bag of potato chips, I shook my head. I laughed and laughed and shook my head. “No way,” I was thinking to myself. This is our special moment in time. I knew what she was thinking. We were cold and wet - more specifically, Shamus was cold and wet. Dad can take care of himself. And I knew that I would allow nothing - not even a loving Mom waving a bag of potato chips - to spoil this moment. Potato chips and a warm minivan could wait.
After we came out of the water, April drove home as I sat in the passenger seat, stripped down to my T-shirt and underwear. Shamus wore only a shirt and a towel – and a big smile on his face. As we drove south across the Golden Gate Bridge, I thought about what a miracle God had given me that day - and all because of a wrong turn.
Patrick Paulitz, a freelance writer, lives with his wife April and son Shamus in San Mateo, California.
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