It’s been a busy, very full of mixed-emotions couple of weeks for Matthew and for Mike and I as his parents.
Last week saw the transition to his new school take place. Monday Mike and I met with school board officials along with the staff at Whitney Pier Memorial. During that meeting we all discussed Matthew’s needs and what was necessary to bring success and meaning back to his life, as far as school was concerned. We were excited beyond words with the enthusiasm and positivity we saw. I was so excited leaving the meeting that I told Mike if Matthew didn’t like it that I would go in his place. I loved school through the years and knew that this school and staff was something special right from the get-go.
Tuesday Matthew met his teacher and was able to tour the Learning Centre. He came home eager and ready to go. I was elated.
Wednesday morning he was up and at ’em without any grief. Before I knew it he was heading out the door with the closest thing to a smile on his face that we are used to with Matthew. Please let him have a successful day!
By lunchtime I couldn’t stand it any more. My day was focused on anything but work. I had to send him a text.
“How’s it going, bud?”
“Do you like it?”
“Yeah. I love it.”
I let out a cheer right in the middle of my office. This was like reading that I had just won a million dollars. For Matthew to say he loved something about school regardless of what it was made me cry the happiest tears I have ever cried in my life. When we picked him up that afternoon he was waiting outside with his TA and he was actually holding his head up and had a smile on his face. He had a great day and he wanted to go back. The little, insignificant things that many take for granted; their kids going to school and being at ease with being there was finally a feeling we could experience if even for one day.
Matthew’s mood at home that evening was relaxed, pleasant and playful. Whoa! His level of patience with his 4-year-old brother seemed better and he wasn’t quite as quick to bite mine and Mike’s head off for the smallest of requests. It was almost a little difficult to wrap our heads around.
Thursday morning was much the same. He was up and ready to go well before it was time for him to leave the house. When he was on his way out the door I said the same thing to him that I have said every morning since he started school. “Have a good day, Matt.” It was his reply that was oh-so-different. Instead of a monotone “Yeah”, I heard “That’s not going to be a problem any more, Mom.” Wow. He spent a rainy lunch hour walking down to a local pizza shop with his best friend. He was pleased that he brought his umbrella with him realizing quickly what a good “chick-magnet” it was. Friends he hadn’t seen in a couple of years were resurfacing and he was having a great time socializing. Yes, that’s what I said: Matthew was out socializing with his peers at lunch time. Something that many of us take for granted is one of the most difficult challenges for someone who lives with autism. Crowds, peer interaction, impromptu discussions, unfamiliar surroundings, and general junior high school lunch time mayhem and there was Matthew right in the middle of it all. Perhaps even more exciting for us was his willingness to share all this with us at the end of his day. Yes, we still had to prompt him with questions but his answers were full of detail, excitement and perhaps more than anything, hope.
Along with Friday came the first long-weekend of the school year. A great layout for easing Matthew back into the swing of things. He spent Friday morning running errands with his Dad (what?? when does he do that??) and for the afternoon he lost himself in his gardening. Supper time saw a family supper for my birthday followed by the grandparents joining us for cake. Without having to be begged to join us, Matthew came in and spent time with all of us before saying “OK, the party’s over; I’m going back outside!” It was the most awesome birthday ever. It’s the little things…
During all this school transitioning that’s been going on, Matthew has had another big change introduced to his life. He has always wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps (and the footsteps of his grandfather, uncles, aunt, and cousins); he has wanted to be a firefighter. During the September meeting Matthew was accepted as a junior firefighter with the Grand Lake Rd. Volunteer Fire Department. This basically means that he is going to start getting his feet wet. He’ll start training and learning about the gear and equipment. The world of fire fighting will be introduced to him so when he becomes of age he’ll be ready should he want to continue.
Undoubtedly, there was much discussion based around Matthew’s ability because of his needs. A frank discussion was held between the membership and the Chief of the department (who is also Matthew’s Godfather). Yes, Matthew has certain challenges; yes, Matthew may be a little slower starting out; yes, Matthew may require more time to complete a task; yes, it may take extra patience when explaining something to him. But ultimately Matthew is going to be given as much of a chance to become a member of the department as anyone else would be given. Matthew was accepted as a junior firefighter. The great thing about belonging to a community volunteer fire department such as ours is the familiarity that brings. Matthew has been around the department since he’s been a baby. He’s grown up being around the members of the department (most of whom are extended family); he knows them and they all know him. Ultimately, the only way he is going to know if this is something he wants to do is to try. He couldn’t ask for a better group of people to teach him the trade. We belong to a family of firefighters that is now well into the third generation.
Matthew has been outfitted with bunker gear, has been spending some time around the trucks and equipment and has now rolled on 4 calls. One of the big things we were concerned about was his ability to “drop-and-go” when the pager went off. Transitioning from one task to the next without warning has always been a major stressor for Matthew. Well, we were going to find out very quickly whether or not actually getting to the fire station would prove to be too much for Matt. Again, my boy continues to throw away the mould. We’re 4/4! It’s like when that pager goes off he’s a different person. He told me he loves the adrenalin rush. It feels like it felt when he would be out driving the 4-wheeler. Even though he’s scared and nervous the feeling of the adrenalin rush is something he really enjoys. Whatever he’s been involved in has come to an abrupt halt and off he goes. There was even one call that came in when Mike was at work so Matthew took off running down the road so he could go with his cousin. A day at a time is all we can do. I’m sure the day will come when he’ll have to witness the not-so-nice side of fire fighting but for now his Dad and the others will keep him far away from anything like that. There’s a time and a place and he’s nowhere near ready for that yet. Again, a day at a time.
For now I sit back and smile. I smile at my boy’s willingness to try something new. I smile because I know how hard it is for him to try new things; harder for him than most. And I smile because that’s okay. At least he’s trying.
So this weekend I am smiling for two huge reasons.
First, because Matthew is getting along well at and more importantly likes his new school. Second, I am not only the wife, daughter, sister, niece and cousin of a firefighter. Now I can hold my head high and proud as I am the Mom of a firefighter.
Until next time…