I am learning that one of the hardest things about raising our growing older, growing up boy, is figuring out how independent he can be---we can afford for him to be---while still keeping him safe.
Sunday at his favorite beach, Charlie jumped upon his boogie board and kicked his way out to sea.
He had been holding the board and running back and forth, just getting his feet wet, as he has been doing. Jim and I were standing right at the waves's edge with Charlie and, as it had been some while and he must have been getting chilled (it was 87 degrees inland, in the 60s at the beach), gently urging him that it was time to return to the car. Then Charlie went in and kept going.
The current quickly pulled him far out and over. Charlie stayed on his board, impervious to how cold the water was, to how he was bobbing in and out of our view, and to our calls which, as you can imagine, grew quickly frantic. We called 911.
The police came immediately and the EMT right after. By that point, Charlie had turned himself to face the shore and started swimming in. I think you can also imagine how relieved we were to see him standing, dripping wet in the foaming waves.
I ran out with a towel. Charlie stood for a minute with it around him and then, understandably overwhelmed, ran down the beach with Jim after him. They slowed down to walking and we all went back to our car where the EMT checked Charlie who just wanted to turn on his iPad.
What had happened was Fear #1 since Charlie started to swim in the ocean; since Charlie became a better swimmer than Jim.
No more trips to the beach with the boogie board till Memorial Day, when the lifeguards return. We'll have to do a social story or the like to explain this to Charlie, though I'm sure he knows it wasn't right to have his parents yelling at him or policemen standing on the beach. Telling Charlie how cold the water was, or that he could get hypothermia, or things much worse, won't have much of an effect on him. While he may grasp something of what we tell him, it's a different matter when he's in the water, entranced by the waves and the thrill of using his boogie board.
Jim has noted, too, that Charlie is very fast on his bike. He's got a good grasp of street signs, stopping at intersections, traffic, but one can never be too careful. At school and at home, we have started to teach Charlie to carry identification with his name, our phone numbers, and his autism diagnosis.
The rest of Sunday passed very uneventfully. Charlie started talking about "school Monday" and "back to school" on the ride back from the beach. He packed his lunchboxes with juice, crackers, chips, watermelon, and a pack of sushi (he usually eats it as soon as he sees it). He went to bed early but did not sleep till 11pm, saying "school tomorrow" over and over intermixed with "no." At 10.30pm he insisted that Jim come upstairs and lie in Jim's and my bed.
With Charlie's fourteenth birthday approaching in just over two weeks, it's no surprise that he wants to be more independent and do the things that he wants to do---that's teenagerhood. But Charlie has distinct limitations, like the difficulty getting him to understand how cold the water was, or, needless to say, how dangerous swimming without a lifeguard is. We sense that he feels the cold but his capacity for putting up with it is far greater than for most of us. Certainly his desire to swim in the ocean outweighed how cold the water felt and how rough the waves.
Just glad our boy is home safe and sleeping now, anticipating "school Monday," iPad beside him.