Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Dear Mom...I'm Growing Up

When you're a parent you'll do things for your kids that you wouldn't do for others, even yourself.  The moment I became a mother, I was 110% vested in my child's future success.  Sometimes, ensuring it has meant going the extra mile, but this past Sunday it involved traveling 625 miles...round trip.

With three bags full of Noah's belongings, we loaded up our Camry and headed to Memphis to take Noah to Camp Barnabas or "Camp Barnacles" as Natalie calls it.  Camp Barnabas provides children and young adults with special needs and chronic illnesses, the opportunity to try new things in a way that is safe and successful for them.  Through adaptive activities, they become participants rather than observers.  All of this is provided in a Christian camp setting.  The week Noah would be attending was specifically designed for those with Pervasive Developmental Delay (PDD). Although the plan for this trip had been set in motion six months in advance, when the day finally arrived to go, I wasn't quite prepared.  I still couldn't believe that my kid, the one who used to bang his head on our hardwood floor when upset and spent more years in pull-ups than I care to count, was now going to be eating, sleeping...and living without me, and my mommy-safety net for six days and five nights!

As I double-checked his items list, it was as if my head and body were disconnected.  I couldn't really think about the drop off.  I could only focus on the tasks I needed to do in the here and now -- like labeling every stitch of clothing and personal item Noah owned.  When I asked Noah if he wanted me to pack along his sleeping buddies -- a stuffed Scooby Doo and Beanie Babies, Claude the crab and a pug named Wrinkles, he responded with a horrified look and then vigorously shook his head no. It seemed he planned on jumping into the role of "big kid" with both feet.  I wondered what else he was thinking about shirking...surely not hugs and kisses from his mother.

The drive down was an adventure in itself as Noah had not been on a long car ride since he was a baby. About an hour into our trip, we made a rest stop at a McDonald's. When I emerged from the restroom I found Steve and Noah waiting for me.

"Did he go?" I whispered to Steve.

"No, he wouldn't go.  There was a fly in the stall," replied Steve matter-of-factly.

"What?" I responded.  "Noah, come with me," I commanded as I took his hand and quickly pulled him into the ladies' room. Once inside Noah scanned the room shell-shocked.

"Mom, I can't be in here.  This room is for girls!" stated Noah.

"Noah, no one is in here.  It's fine.  Besides, we won't be stopping for another hour.  Go ahead, it's clean," I said. 

Without another word he entered a stall and locked himself in.  I stood near the sinks and waited.  As the minutes ticked by I counted the cracks in the floor and studied the tiles in the ceiling while woman after woman entered and left the restroom.  After 15 minutes, Noah whispered for me through the door.

"Noah, are you okay?" I asked.  With the room quiet again, Noah cautiously opened the stall door and peered out, "I can't go in here.  It's for girls," he decided.  Apparently he had spent the entire time standing fully clothed in the stall panicking that he'd be found out -- a boy in the women's restroom.

"Noah, you have to at least try because we aren't stopping again for at least another hour," I explained.

With a look of deer in the headlights, his big blue eyes accepted my words and 30 seconds later I heard a flush.  Success.

Back on the road Noah alternated entertaining himself with his DSi and Spiderman activity book while I thought about how far we had come.  I wasn't thinking of the miles we had traveled, rather the growth and accomplishments Noah had attained since we began our journey on Planet Autism.  When we were about an hour from reaching our final destination, we made one last pit stop at a gas station that also served Baskin Robbins.  Noah excitedly ordered a scoop of Reese's Peanut Butter Cup.  However, when the attendant handed him their signature pink spoon, Noah froze. 

"I can't use this," said Noah.

"What are you talking about, Noah?  It's a spoon. It's the only kind they have," replied Steve.

As Noah teetered on having a meltdown over the idea of consuming his dessert with a girly-colored utensil, I held my breath.  Eventually he decided that he wanted the ice cream more than he cared about the color of the spoon.

Although we arrived at the campgrounds right on time, a motorcade of more than 30 cars were already ahead of us. Camp volunteers walked alongside the waiting vehicles to check in campers.  

"Who do we have here?" asked the volunteer.

"Noah Felgenhauer," piped Noah from the backseat.

As the volunteer scanned and re-scanned his list in search for Noah's name, my heart raced as I second-guessed myself.  Inside I worried I screwed something up or didn't fill a form out properly.  

"No problem, I'll just make him up a badge right now.  I know I saw his name earlier.  I'm not sure why it didn't print," explained the volunteer.

So, while my anxiety was growing as our car inched closer to "the drop-off" point, when I looked behind me, I saw that Noah was grinning from ear to ear in anticipation.

Once we reached the end of the line, we unloaded Noah's things.  With hardly a glance at us, he headed straight to the reception hall to meet his personal camp counselor and receive a welcome cheer from the staff.  

Next, Steve and I parked the car and ventured to the nurse's station to drop off Noah's medications and get him formally checked in.  Our last stop was to meet him at his cabin and say our good-byes.  When we reached his "home away from home", we found him already making up his bunk.  While he chatted with his counselor, he seemed almost oblivious to our presence.   

Noah and Casey

Noah outside his cabin with his cabin manager, Kelso and counselor, Casey.

As Steve tugged on my arm, I frantically rattled off the detailed instructions I'd written out in a two page letter to his counselors.  I gave Noah a hug and turned around quickly so he couldn't see the tears that threatened to ruin my strong front exterior.  Steve and I headed back to St. Louis and although our car was visibly lighter, my heart was heavy as I realized my baby is growing up.

Part 2: Dear Noah...Thanks for Helping Me Grow

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