Friday, July 6, 2018

Sun and sand. And stories of sisters.

"It will be ok. I will not compare. It will be ok. I will not compare". I close my eyes and mutter this repeatedly. It almost becomes a prayer. Repeat the mantra 101 times and your wish will be granted. 
Nothing of the sort happens. There’s really no magical power to my words because an hour later, I find myself caring and comparing, thank you very much. 
 See, we’re at the beach. We’ve been here a million times. We possibly have walked on every grain of sand here. We’ve likely had our food stolen by every seagull with a good business eye. This is supposed to be our happy place. The place where we come to get away from everything else. Happy, red-faced kids run around us, screeching as they dip their toes in the cold ocean. This beautiful beach, just begging to be enjoyed and captioned on Instagram.
Since this isn’t PerfectWorld where I’m rocking a stunning bikini and a taut tummy, nothing close to perfect happens. I’m wearing my old drab swimsuit. One of my boobs is threatening to escape if I take a deep breath. I forgot to shave my arms so hello 5-day-old Stubble! And my "makeup" is a work of art - somehow highlighting every single wrinkle and pore on my tired face. I’m a walking billboard for 'Effects of aging and 2 kids on woman who often forgets to use moisturizer'.
And all of this would be okay if my son was actually enjoying himself.
Instead, he’s crying his eyes out. He’s been asking and begging to come to the beach. But once he’s here, he’s suddenly unhappy about it. I’m not sure why and I’m not sure there’s even a reason. The sand annoys him; the water makes him mad and even the seagulls know to leave a wide circle around his angry little head. This is autism at its worst. He is hurting so much inside, in that deep dark place where I cannot see what ghosts haunt him. I try to hug/hold him; let him know in some feeble way I’m right there. He howls in my general direction and his skinny little arms punch the air. He’s so upset that none of the usual distractions work. Deciding to give up and ride this one out, I hitch up my swimsuit and settle down.
There’s almost a shrill buzzing in my ear as I take deep breaths and remember that I’m the adult here. I’m supposed to be the one in charge. Nobody can rescue him but me, but I still look around hopefully. Squinting, praying that someone will rescue me. 
And just like that, when I’m least expecting it, the tide turns. 

The boy's doing a full body shimmy on the ground and inadvertently he sends a small tuft of sand into his sister’s eyes. This one small action marks a new player entering the arena. 
Full of that fury seen only in feral cats and four-year-olds, my daughter stamps her stubby little feet, throws her head back and screams bloody murder. “Owieeeee,” she yells as I try to pull her face closer to check her eyes. I narrowly miss a tiny elbow in my face, but I’ve seen enough to know that evolution and her eyelids have worked to protect her eyeballs from any actual damage. I rub her back and whisper soothingly over her tearful complaints. She's having none of it. Fully committed to giving a long performance, she cries even louder. “He didn’t mean to do that sweetheart,” I plead.  And that’s when I perceive the complete absence of sound from my boy.
Oh Crap! I jerk back my head comically, half expecting to find he's gone somewhere else. But he's sitting there, right where he was. Placid, poking his toes into the sand and stealing furtive glances in his sister’s direction. He looks relatively calm. Possibly even worried about the escalating sounds from his sister who is now openly relishing the attention she’s getting as the resident family screamer. A few more minutes; then she decides that it is 'Intermission' time and quietly goes back to building a lumpy sand castle. 
He looks relieved and a tad shamefaced. His sister's outburst has accomplished what an hour of my useless bleating and 'parenting' couldn't. Blissful silence ensues. I don’t dare move a muscle, lest one of my offspring considers going for an encore performance. I am not entirely sure what just happened and how we got to this new zone of almost normalcy where the biggest worry is whether I need to apply more sunblock.
And so we sat like that for a long time - a stiff-backed figure flanked on either side by a busy, sandy child. We went on to have a rather wonderful day at the beach. We made and toppled various structures, dipped our toes in the water and ate obnoxious amounts of cheap ice cream. The kids chased each other, giggling and spraying sand all over me while I pretended to shoo them away. 
That evening, on our way back home, I looked in the rearview mirror. Two content faces yawned in coordination. I saw my daughter crinkle her nose at my son, and that made him burst into laughter. I don't know why and I didn't really care. It was their secret, their shared experience. 

So I adjusted my mirror and drove on. And I whispered a new mantra - Thank God for sisters. Thank God for sisters”.


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