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Dar likes road trips and the seashore. We like making him happy and taking time off. One cheap way for all of us to get what we want is to take minor holidays on the central coast, as we did during 2017’s long Independence Day weekend.

Window policy changed on this trip. When I drive around Berkeley with Dar, I often roll down the window next to his back seat, because it makes him happy. I used to roll it down all the way, but wifey stopped me some time ago. She said that someday Dar may figure out how to unbuckle his seat belt and then he may jump out of the moving car. I consider this unlikelier than, say, an 8.0 earthquake hitting San Francisco, but limited myself to rolling his window down only halfway, and that only on city streets (not the freeway). On this trip Dar threw a tiny piece of paper out of the half-window and his brother freaked out. Afterward, more for Dar’s safety than for any other reason, wifey insisted that Dar’s window remain closed at all times. I assented, though I don’t love Dar’s life bubble getting smaller.

On the other hand, a better milestone was reached this weekend: wifey stopped putting water wings or a life vest on Dar when he dances at the surf’s edge. It seems that wifey finally accepted that Dar is not going to rush headlong into the waves. Dar loves getting his feet and calves wet, he’s cautious about the rest of him. Is this because of the (generally chilly) temperature of ocean waves that hit the shore of Northern California? Who knows? Dar can’t say. Wifey still watches Dar on the beach like a hawk watches a mouse. And when we trade kids, wifey insists that I resist being distracted by my phone. It’s a reasonable general rule, although I insist that Dar is not about to be seized into any undertow. (If he is, the phone in my hand could be spun into an advantage: instead of wasting seconds fishing through my pocket for it, I can quickly toss it while diving headlong into saving Dar.)

Dar’s brother has just now reached the age of Loving Rides, and wifey is No Fan of Rides, so we hoped that a day at Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk could be a happy one all around, with me and little brother on the kiddie rides while Dar and wifey chilled on the shore. Well, three out of four ain’t bad. Brother and me enjoyed the rides. (I had somehow never done the Cave Train Adventure before. Better Cavemen Than Expected!) Dar enjoyed the waves. I doubt wifey enjoyed much. She became worried enough about Dar to transfer him to the pool-like eddies on the south end of the boardwalk (near the Ferris Wheel). It was still a good day. Uh, mostly.

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(There’s Dar seen from the Ferris Wheel.)

Dar loves water. I (we) had never seen the Steinbeck Center, and it was offering 19¢ admissions to celebrate its 19th anniversary, so we drove (yes) 19 miles east of our Monterey hotel to thrill to a museum dedicated to California’s most celebrated novelist. Well, that is, some of us thrilled. Dar was, as we lovingly put it, “on super-fuss” the entire time. We couldn’t take two steps into the exhibition on Grapes without feeling Dar’s Wrath. Basically wifey and I had to do as we sometimes do in restaurants, and take turns. But it’s almost like Dar knew that we had driven in the opposite direction as the ocean. I doubt his 5-year-old brother, who studies maps and map apps, could have told you that. So maybe Dar is like those penguins that know how to find home from hundreds of miles away?

Maybe. If that’s true, another part of Dar’s homing beacon was the manmade swimming pool at the hotel. He was all about it. Swims like a dolphin.

Here’s one thing that they don’t tell you in the Autism Handbook: it’s very hard to get a severely disabled person to stop rubbing his or her eyes. You know what you instinctively do when your eyes are bothering you, right? You rub them. But how do you ever learn that rubbing them only makes them worse? Trial and error? Well, maybe. I think you normally learn that from an older authority figure. Dar doesn’t process these sorts of subtleties. I would guess that the instruction “rubbing your eyes makes them worse” comes sometime after three-step directions (e.g. “wash your hands, brush your teeth, then clean your face”) and before quantum physics. He’s not doing two-step directions now. Gonna be a while.

The rubbing doesn’t really affect us, but his eyes are perpetually as red as stop signs. I floated the idea of Visine to wifey; she’s not exactly overjoyed at more chemicals placed in or on Dar. Red eyes aren’t exactly the worst problem on the planet, but I wonder what the normals think.

I also wonder how often, and how much, to explain Dar to the normals. He approaches them at places like pools and restaurants, and was up to his usual tricks on this trip. He tends to touch their collars from the side and say “teeeeee.”

Me: “He’s just saying hi.”

Normal: “No problem.” (to Dar) “Hi, what’s your name?”

Me: “He doesn’t mean any harm.”

Normal: “I see that.” (to Dar) “So, how are you?”

Me: “He can’t speak.”

Normal: “That’s okay!”

At this point I usually drag Dar away. Most people are chill, although we met a tennis-player-looking lady working at an art gallery in Carmel who Was. Not. Having. Us. At. All. Geez, okay, we’ll leave already. And I always liked you before, Martina Navratilova.

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Our Fourth of July was muted. We’re lucky that Dar isn’t one of those autistic kids who freaks out at firecrackers or fireworks. On the other hand he doesn’t care about America or the flag either. We took him to Monterey’s parade, which was low-key and pleasant. (No horses? Come on, Monterey.) I watched the (avowed) Monterey Republicans get into a little spat with the (avowed) Monterey Democrats. Dar couldn’t care less. Maybe that’s best.

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On the way back, we had a little moment at Pigeon Point Lighthouse, on the coast about halfway between Santa Cruz and Half Moon Bay. The lighthouse is closed, but you can walk amongst its ocean-side rocks in its nicely fenced-off area and enjoy the California coastline. This was perfect for Dar. (I failed to get a good picture of the whole area, but there’s me there.) He walked to the end of the fence and stared as the waves crashed against the rocks. If Dar can sense water like a divining rod, I can sense my wife’s stress level. With Dar contained and uniquely happy, her shoulders relaxed. I breathed in the salty air. For just a moment, I imagined the feeling of another life, where we had two neuro-typical kids, where we could travel where we wanted with them, and occasionally leave them both to their own devices. And as I imagined it, I felt it, an impossibly light feeling, like floating on a cloud.

And with the next wave-crash, it was gone.

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