Monday, December 2, 2013

Fathers and Sons at the Playground

The summer came and went without a visit to the beach. Without walking along the sand or dipping our feet in the water. 

Over the weekend, we decided to drive to the beach. It's off season and the parking is free and we knew the playground would be empty. 

The Boy loves the beach. We walked up and down the beach holding hands - more out of need than out of want. The Boy wanted to run, take off his shoes, throw himself in the sand and roll around. But it's winter in New York City. And it was a cold November day.

Norrin and Joseph | Orchard Beach | 11/30/13

After walking along the beach, we headed back to the playground. We were right, it was empty. The Husband and I sat on a bench and relaxed while The Boy ran around. Though The Husband and I sat on benches at opposite ends. This playground is large and there are exits on three sides. The Boy was happy, running freely, flapping his hands. It's nice having the playground to ourselves, a little luxury.

And then they came in. A father with his teenage son. I heard him before I saw them. His voice in the midst of changing from boy to man. His voice sounded familiar, though I couldn't understand anything he said. When I turned to look, I saw them on the swings. The father was swinging, gently urging his son to do the same, "Kick your legs…kick your legs like me." The son's arms looped around the swing chains and was moving gently back and forth, "talking" loudly. Nothing he said made sense but I didn't want to assume the son was non-verbal (because I'm sure when The Boy makes his strange loud noises, people assume he can't speak).  

In that moment, I felt such a strong connection to the father. We were all at the playground, at the beach on cold Saturday afternoon because we knew it would be empty, "safe" for our kids. I imagined the father's worries, his joys. I smiled at the father, though I don't think he noticed - his gaze was focused on his teenage son and trying to teach him how to swing.  

I turned my attention to my son. He was standing at the platform in front of a "fireman pole." I could tell he was hesitant. He's fearless in many ways and in other ways, overly cautious. 

"You can do it boy. Just slide down." The Husband said. "I'm here Norrin. I will help you. Slide down."

Norrin slid down and I clapped before his feet touched the ground. I ran over and told him he did a great job. I smiled at The Husband, "That's his first time doing that."

"How do you feel?" The Boy asked.

"I feel proud." I said. 

The Boy was cold and requested hot chocolate. We left the playground, leaving the father and his teenage son to have the space for themselves. It was their turn.


Later I asked The Husband about the father and son. "Did you notice them?" I asked. "He reminded me a little of Norrin."

"Yeah," The Husband shrugged and said nothing else.

We don't talk much about autism. We don't talk about what The Boy's future will be like. We don't talk about our worries or fears much. Maybe it's because we'd rather focus on the present. Or maybe it's because it hurts.    

Whenever we see an older boy with autism - it's like looking through a crystal ball. It forces us into the future we are not quite ready for. Sometimes it's easier to look away and say nothing.


The next day I took The Boy to the playground by our apartment. Once again we had the park to ourselves. I sat on a bench and let The Boy run free.

After a few minutes another father and son came in. The son was much younger (probably between 4 - 5 years old) and smaller than The Boy. And I was happily surprised when The Boy said, "Hi! Do you want to play with me?" and the young boy obliged. I watched them chase each other around. 

When The Boy tired of tag, he walked over to the swings and the little boy followed him. The Boy is getting so good at swinging on his own. I thought back to the days when he refused to even sit on the swing and marveled at how far he's come.

The little boy yelled out to his father for help. The father - who was sitting at the other end of the park, reading the paper - didn't get up and just yelled at him to "kick his legs." The little boy tried, wriggling his legs but nothing happened. After yelling for help a second time, the father walked over. 

I watched as the father gently pushed his son, instructing him to kick. And I thought about the father with his teenage son from the day before. I thought of The Husband and The Boy. Different fathers, different sons, different parks, different circumstances - same thing. Just three fathers helping their sons. Doing what good fathers are supposed to do.

Neither The Husband nor I know what the future holds for our son. But I know that no matter what happens, The Boy will always have his father to help him along the way.


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AutismWonderland - written by Lisa Quinones-Fontanez - is a personal blog chronicling a NYC family's journey with autism, while also sharing local resources for children/families with special needs.