Slight change of plans this week as we went to meet the J-Man and Mary’s family at the beach a day earlier than planned. We stayed a couple of days and then came back home – and we let the J-Man stay there for the rest of the week. He was having so much fun at the beach that we couldn’t make him leave yet. That was more important than our uneasy second thoughts, which of course are more about us than him.
He comes home tomorrow, and it has felt like missing part of my arm for most of the week. It has been good for us to have a little vacation (or stay-cation where we really played catch up on work and the house for most of the week), but God do I miss him.
It was something to see him lead everybody he could to the back door of the apartment where we were staying in hopes of finding anyone who would take him down to the beach – regardless of the time of day or night. It was really sweet when we got there that he led me down to the beach, just the two of us, like he wanted to show me this amazing thing he’d discovered. I swear it even sounded like he was singing to himself while we were walking down the beach access ramp.
We watched him walk up and down the beach with Mary’s mom, stick his legs a little bit in the surf, and get some sand on himself. They drew literal lines in the sand to visually show him where he couldn’t go past on the beach, and for the most part, he followed those boundaries. (Good thinking on their part – visual cues!) Admittedly he was very little the last time we went to the ocean, but he was so much different this time. Clearly he loves the beach and the water. It was like watching a different kid.
There was only one problem. Most of this happened while I wasn’t around. Whenever he saw me, he ran up to me, held his arms up insistently and sometimes a bit frantically, and wanted me to hold him, to the point of just about having to carry him everywhere. Yeah, I’m a softy toward him a lot of times, but there was something else going on here that I’ve yet to figure out.
I’m a believer that in kids who are minimally or non-verbal, behavior itself is communication, and one of the most essential forms of it they have to draw on. He was trying to tell me something, seemingly very important, and I wasn’t (and still am not) sure what it was. Every time I was in the room, he was like this.
Was it his reaction to being apart from us? Perhaps. Was it more than that? Maybe, and I think likely. Was he in some sort of distress? I don’t think so since he was otherwise having a very good time. This has been really bothering me this week. What all is he trying to communicate to me? And why me specifically?
We wanted to take him to the North Carolina Aquarium while we were there, which is about 5 minutes from where we were staying. I thought he might enjoy the fish and the ocean colors and all the water, but all he wanted to do was cling to my neck. If I tried to put him down, he either did these odd movements around me and refused to hold my hand or just turned around and tried to climb back up me. I’m not even sure he registered any of the fish and ocean exhibits. I felt really depressed by the whole adventure, of course because I wanted it to go a certain way and it didn’t (again, my emotional baggage and not his). I felt like the guy who’s clueless and doesn’t get the obvious message blaring right in front of him.
We also tried going out to eat with the family, and he refused to be anywhere other than on my lap. He was pretty miserable the whole time. He had gotten up really early that morning and was very tired, but it was still uncharacteristic of him.
I know he missed (and still misses) us, and we certainly miss him. I just feel like there was something more going on. Around others, he’d do his thing on the beach, walk up and down it and play some in the water, play out in the backyard of the place we stayed, let others read him stories, and generally be himself in the ways I’m used to seeing him when he’s in one of his more calm and sensory-balanced states. As soon as I came into view, though, everything about him would change.
If all behavior is communication, what’s he really trying to tell me? I’ve been carrying this question around all week, and I don’t feel any closer to an answer.