Seven years ago---just after Charlie was diagnosed with autism---we were staying at the Jersey shore for two weeks. We were in Minnesota then and the ride out was a blur of two songs we had to play again and again on the tape player (one Barney, one Celtic), and the ride back an even more painful blur of crumpled bags of food and impetigo (I had it). While we were at the beach in New Jersey, two friends came to stay the night and---after encountering a screaming Charlie running up and down the deck staring through the railings---quietly told us they could not stay. (They did, but left efficiently the next morning.)
What to say to our three friends who had come on Friday afternoon for the weekend on hearing Charlie's screams last night?
Everyone slept in. I slipped out to run and wondered what to say, and realized I should just offer my usual, inquiring explanations: The sun (despite suntan lotion, Charlie's nose and cheeks are definitely a bit pink). The ocean swimming in rough waves (body-surfing, boogie-boarding, Daddy-piggy-backing). The seafood (Charlie has been more interested in "fissh! dfisssh! eat fisssh!" then French fries on this trip). The particular wonders, and challenges, posed by New People, our three house guests, Kristina who left this morning, so many other kids.
Our three friends are "kidless" but this turned out to be in Charlie's favor. I am sure that, if any one of them had children, there would have been more stress on Charlie to interact and try to play with the other children, and that would have been one more worry for a boy already having vacation anxiety. They all got up as I was making rice for Charlie's breakfast and coffee (only for two of us---the two women, as it happened). Charlie was slowly pacing from the kitchen to the living room with a casually sweet smile. When he wandered out of earshot, I said, "Yeah, Charlie had a tough night......" and offered my hypotheses.
"Understandable," one friend noted. Then she added, "Smiling now."
Charlie had a 100% day---loving that ocean, a bit mischievous, serious and curious. Jim took him for a long morning swim while I directed our friends to a diner for brunch; Charlie did a Lego Knights puzzle; we all went to the beach in the late afternoon and Charlie swam, swam, got out and wanted a "showah" then draped himself in a towel, ran down to the ocean and in dipped the towel into the salt water. Charlie handed it to me as he ran back into the water twice, thrice, four and more times. I was careful to rinse out streams of sand from his hair.
We dined again at a picnic table in a park with the sun setting behind us. Charlie finished his meal first and ran off to the playground. Jim and I were not done yet and our friend Hal, who has gotten to know Charlie over several visits to Philadelphia, got up to watch him. "Push, swing!" I found Charlie saying to Hal when I walked over. Back at the beach house, Charlie carefully took in the sight of three friends on the chairs and couch, plus Mom and Dad and smiled more. He sat for awhile on the couch with Hal before curling up in Jim's lap, and then going up to bed and, soon, sleep.
Our guests leave on Sunday afternoon and I predict a sad Charlie. There's something about a beach house, and the ocean, that make for quietly happy moments, and great good friends.