As sad as it is to see Labour Day weekend upon us I can’t help but smile for what this summer has given us. Even though it has gone by at warp speed the summer of 2014 has brought memories and accomplishments that will last a lifetime.
As a family, we were able to spend our first full summer enjoying the pleasures The Hideaway has blessed us with. Endless nights were spent down on the beach with bonfires, music and lots of canoeing as the sun set into the water’s edge. Just as many days saw hours go by as we tended to our property, weeded gardens, took down some trees and enjoyed spending time with family and friends entertaining on our deck.
Marcus had a great time playing soccer for his first time. He’s going to definitely be my sports guy, I think. He counted down to Tuesday nights all summer and looked forward to his trip to the store afterwards for ice cream. It was probably the easiest time all summer we had getting him out of the water! I can’t believe he didn’t get water-logged by the end of it. His swimming skills improved immensely and he grew much more comfortable as the days went by. The highlight of his summer was a two-night camping trip with his Aunt and Uncle which I suspect may become a yearly tradition.
Perhaps the pièce de résistance of the last few months has been what it has all meant for Matthew. As he approaches 500 hours of volunteering at The Wildlife Park his full weeks there will be coming to an end this week as school resumes. To properly explain what this has all meant to him would be impossible using only the written word. There is just no way to convey the magnitude of how this experience has affected him.
For the first time in his life, Matt was not on the outside looking in. He did not have to try to fit in. This new adventure began for him in April and this summer saw him flourish and grow in ways that make me shiver. Yes, his love for animals and nature was satisfied a hundred times over and he was able to spend time doing what he enjoyed but it’s so much more than that.
Living with asperger’s syndrome means that social situations are difficult. Someone can appear to be like a fish out of water. So many of the social ‘norms’ that we take for granted and are accustomed to are regular sources of great anxiety and confusion for someone like Matt. Making friends, engaging in appropriate group conversation, finding those with similar interests, all those dynamics that we ‘get’ and have happen without even realizing the steps involved, can be hard laborious tasks for someone who doesn’t simply ‘get it’.
Over the summer he spent every moment that we would let him at the park. The camaraderie that he formed with the staff was almost instant. He was included in all aspects of park life and gained so much experience in other areas that will now follow him wherever he goes. Besides learning new skills and being introduced to tasks such as welding, construction, carpentry, machinery, bailing hay, logging and lumbering, driving the horse wagon and countless other jobs, he learned how to work with a group and be a member of a team. He gained confidence and earned respect by working hard and diving right in.
Besides that I have to go back to the social scene. He was included. He took part in activities not ‘work’ related. He enjoyed spending time with the crew down at the water, during parades in the different communities and even something as simple as driving around the country side collecting hay. He wanted to be there. He enjoyed himself and he wasn’t alienated.
This week was a busy one for him. Even though he took 3 days off there were two pretty big “Firsts” for him. Much of the staff got together one evening after the park closed for a year-end get-together. Matt was looking forward to this for days. They had a BBQ and a bonfire complete with guitars, singing and stories. Upon picking him up I could feel his joy. It was electric. Sitting among his peers as comfortably as if he were with family I was able to witness first hand that my boy was in his element. Even with the wolves howling in the distance he was relaxed. He interacted with his friends and added as much to the evening as he took from it.
As I type this entry Matt is still at the park – since 9AM yesterday morning! The annual County Fair is taking place this weekend and many of the staff camp for the weekend at the campgrounds there. Once he expressed interest in doing this we didn’t encourage or discourage. We kind of just waited to see as time got closer how he’d feel. Nothing doing, he was going camping. By himself. Knowing full well that Mike was night shift and wouldn’t be able to run out and pick him up in the middle of the night. He was ok with that. He was going to stay.
And stay he did 🙂 Talking with him this morning was emotional for me. He had so much happiness and joy in his voice. Last night was incredible and even though it was a late night (and I imagine a very little sleep night), he had the time of his life. I couldn’t help but get filled up when I was talking to him, to which he quickly replied “Mom, don’t ruin the moment!” Hahahaha!! So on went my game-face and I smiled wider than ever listening to him tell me some of his stories. As much as I want to ask him a million questions, I know that would only frustrate him, so I have to let him take the lead on this. He’s spending today there again so I dare say by the time he makes it home later he’ll be beyond pooped and more than ready to crash.
I’ve often said (and will continue to say) that it’s the little things to many that mean the world to us. In June if you would have told me that Matthew would have camped by himself this summer I would have called you a liar. And by himself I mean without Mike or I. On his own with his own group. Something like that was the furthest thing from my mind. He’s never slept out anywhere besides at a grandparent’s house. He was never comfortable enough.
So as much as this all says for Matthew and the amazing accomplishments he’s gained this summer it says as much if not more for those who allowed Matthew to feel this way. The group of people he has met since he began volunteering at the park – well, there are no words to describe how I feel about them even though I don’t know them that well. They have all given our boy something that he hasn’t had. A feeling of belonging. They are all very good to him, have patience with him, and have told us what a pleasure it is to have him around. It does my heart good in so many ways and a simple “thanks” could never do the justice I want conveyed to each and every one of them.
Matthew has set goals this summer. As much as he has loved volunteering this summer, ultimately his dream would be employment. Maybe, just maybe this could be a stepping stone for him and someday he will be employed there. That would be the icing on the cake to all this. Wouldn’t it be something if someday he’d be able to make someone feel the same way he felt all summer being part of such a great team? We’ll just have to wait and see.
So now it’s time to bring on September! Grade 1 for Marcus and grade 11 for Matthew. Here’s to a smooth successful school year for all.
Until next time…