Blush. My daughter, Grace, turns 20 in one month. And Easter weekend was the first time the two of us ever took off on our own together. Not for a winding interstate trip through the mountains to our South Carolina family. Just us two on an adventure, the destination, my favorite nature offering: the Western North Carolina mountains.
Grace self-determined in a *PATH years ago that she wanted yearly trips to the beach and frequent visits to the land of Mickey Mouse. And she does with her father, usually while I take off to the mountains, or sometimes elsewhere. Vacations for Grace have been time with her Dad and time for myself. This weekend changed that. This time it was just us two in my newly, in the last two years, discovered spot: Hot Springs, NC.
This time I was traveling with another adult. And this time it was my daughter. The trip was a microcosm of Grace--my adult-bodied child--in the world.
Grace embodies that paradox that most every parent of a son or daughter with autism experiences. Their child looks typically developing, but doesn't usually behave in such as way that the outside world characterizes as "normal." Fortunately, we were in the welcoming confines of a state that fully integrates, embraces and supports individuals with disAbilities. After a three second window, people attempting to interact with her got it. She's different. She has some sort of developmental disAbility. Hence the kind young man with the pregnant wife who sat behind us at the restaurant the first night. Uninhibited and ever full of pure joy, Grace beamed her beautiful face, lit by a yards-long smile at him and held it far longer than you and I would normally interact without words with a stranger, prompting him to cheerfully say to her: "Hey! How are you?" "Hine." (sic) Grace answered quietly, slightly ducking her head but never shrinking that toothy smile of sheer heart delight.
When the waitress came to take our order asked what Grace wanted and I answered, having consulting my daughter beforehand; when the group of women by the fire in the lodge asked in what medium Grace painted, after I had reconnected to one of the employees there, who asked about Grace's art, and I answered with the list of media--three seconds passed and they got it.
It doesn't always happen this way that Grace and I receive the gracious gift of understanding. A typical autism characteristic, unaware of her boundaries, Grace barreled through a narrow passage at the restaurant and slammed into the side of the waitress who was carrying two hot drinks, fortunately sealed with lids. But her first reaction at being body slammed, understandably, was anger. Then she got it. I, horrified, apologized profusely. Boundary-violating encounters with strangers, of this kind or of the over-friendly type, are not always met with kindness and understanding.
The trip home was a long one with frequent stops, including a trip to my East Tennessee alma mater. I had planned to take her there when she was eight. That's how old I was when I went to my first Carson-Newman College homecoming, when my sister was a freshman there. Only, it didn't work out that way and I had a moment of grief accompanied with a quick burst of tears when I recalled this realization to my spiritual mentor the next day. Instead, many years past age eight, I took back a young adult woman with autism--in her case, incapable of the college experience.
Late this morning on Mother's Day, three weeks later, sitting at the kitchen table, sipping homemade lemonade, I found myself savoring memories of our first mother-daughter trip. It was a passage for both of us. Mother-Daughter traveling as two adults. And yet, that awareness, I always have at some level, that she's not fully adult in many ways. The weekend and the memories after were/are a celebration of togetherness, of a pilgrimage to the mountains, and a journey together, now, of nearly two decades.
*PATH: "Planning Alternative Tomorrows with Hope," is a highly recommended planning tool for organizations and individuals.