Thanks to Kelly McElligot for sharing this story.
The sound of peepers fills my ears. They make it difficult to hear much else, except for the tap of my feet on the planks of the porch. With each push, trying to lull and rock my sleeping daughter, whose sweaty body is in my lap, into a continued rest. I wonder though, if I’m rocking for her comfort or for mine. It’s hot and it’s humid, but my cheeks are flush and aflame for a different reason, entirely. You see, we’ve been waiting for this night for the five years she’s been alive. I’m nervous and full of anxious uncertainty, much like Addy would be if she were awake. You can hear it in the pace of my rocking that I’m not talented in the careful art that is waiting, even if I’ve had more practice than most parents. Practice that has been forced upon me. I try to be in the moment; take a mental picture of her nestled up onto my chest and savor every second while she still fits there. The little moments are often our biggest victories. Always waiting for them, with their delayed arrivals, with usually only I to bare witness and relish in them for her… But the way the sky’s brooding shade continues to subtly deepen, I try to cast my fears aside and decide we ought to go now. Carrying her weighty, inactive body to the car reminds me what a big victory this could be for us.
She’s asleep almost all the way on the venture into town, until I repeat her name enough times and she wakes. She’d been waiting the entirety of the day with as much patience as comes naturally to her, and I knew we only had a little time to do some preparing. Not only did we have to reiterate some phrases, I had to assemble the pieces of a half thought of backup plan in case we didn’t get through the night successfully. With Addy’s autism, so much planning and prep work goes into every undertaking, and every new experience. The littlest of details can throw her off and derail the whole train in an instant. It’s why nights like tonight are few and far inbetween for us. Will it be too loud? Too bright? What if she has a meltdown? Unfortunately, Addy has missed out on a plethora of ‘typical’ childhood experiences that shape most people’s lives. This summer, I just wanted so badly for her to have *one* memorable experience she would be able to look back on fondly, much like my childhood home and the peeper’s that inhabit the tall grasses there. Since Addy has been reading since age three, she has read about these idyllic experiences a thousand times over. The reality of family filled barbecues, bike rides, and beaches are often a starkly different picture than the one painted for us by the pages within a little golden spine. ‘The sand is too hot! The sun is too bright! I can’t do it!’ You name it and it might overwhelm her senses to the point where she doesn’t have enough coping skills to deal. The world is oftentimes just too much for her. But not tonight. I needed this for her. And maybe, I needed it for me, too.
My motherly guilty intensifies as we pull up onto the grassy bank alongside countless other vehicles, with families outstretched in the grass. Kids who won’t bat a lash tonight. Us, on the other hand, parking as close to the road we can in case we have to leave before it begins. I’m sitting on an anticipatory set of pins and needles in the driver’s seat, cracking our windows down so we can test the waters. I remind Addy that it’s okay if she doesn’t like it and wants to go. And then we wait.
The first boom translates into a big surprise for Addy’s ears. She instinctively covers them with her hands until that first pop of sparkling color drips into the night sky. Her little finger points out of the car window, and into the dark. “FIREWORKS!” she shouts, her eyes glittering with an excited curiosity. After a few more pops and cracks, my tension is lifted. My daughter’s unsure expression has been completely replaced by genuine joy and amazement. I suggest we sit in the grass on our blanket, just like the other families. She stays seated through some more fizzing and dazzling flashes of color until the show is enough to bring her to her feet. I don’t think I’ve honestly ever seen her eyes twinkle with wonder more in my life, than right now. Finally there is a loud and long succession of booms, flashes and dramatic pops of color that shimmer into the blackness. “The Grand Finale” a term Addy has known, only in our preperations, until now. After the last twinkling display fades to dark, there is celebratory whistling, clapping, and our end, happy dances, high fives, and warmed hearts.
After we pack ourselves away and back into the car, I’m suddenly aware of the long trip home. And although there are certainly miles ahead of us, I think about how far we’ve come; how far we’ve traveled literally for years to get to this point. And as our tires rumble off the bank and over the gravel, I realize how truly ingrained in my heart this night would be… this moment… these fireworks.