Our wonderful guest blogger today is writer Victoria Tatum.
Her insights into family, relationships and children are priceless.
by Victoria Tatum
Victoria Tatum’s Blog
20 August 2012
When a parent struggles to understand a child like Eliot, the clues that point toward his condition are like trailmarkers, the stacks of rocks hikers leave along the trail to point others in the right direction. I remember each of the clues that pointed us toward autism as if I were still trudging past those rocks, even as we move into new territory. The first new marker came at the end of a book Blue was reading that told him it was an acute interest in one thing, not unusual intelligence, that most characterized a person with Asberger’s. For Eliot, we agreed, that one thing was music, but Eliot had other outlets that helped him cope too.
The next marker appeared in the form of a man on an actual trail, not just any trail but Scott Creek, Eliot’s favorite place to go with his dad. He and Blue had crossed the bridge and were sitting under a cluster of redwood tress when a lone hiker greeted them.
“I know you,” he said. “We met here two years ago at this very spot. I never forget anyone.” He introduced himself as Jim and said, as part of the family that owned the property, he’d grown up on these trails. In the late 40’s his parents hadn’t known what to do with an Asberger’s child. He was a prodigy on the piano and graduated from college at age ten, but he loved to walk, and spent a lot of time studying all of the plants in the valley. Now he was a consultant for UCSC, helping survey coastal land the university had just purchased.
As he talked, Eliot kept saying, “It’s time to move on.”
Jim’s response was, “For those of us who think outside the box, I understand completely.”
They said their farewells, and that was how, once again, Blue and I came to a conclusion without a formal diagnosis. Eliot wasn’t a prodigy or a savant. (Witness a recent conversation: “E, if tomorrow’s 4th of July, what’s today?” “Uhhh, almost the 4th.”) But he was bright enough, and Jim recognized himself in Eliot.
It was another momentous day on the trail, and with his favorite parent. As Eliot told me on Father’s Day when Blue was watching golf with his dad, “I wish I was with my dad. I rea’y like him better than you.”
It was a good Father’s Day, though, with Carly having made it through her first year of college. The first-semester roommate and the cockroaches in the dorms may have nearly broken her, but she came home a different person. The year before, her Father’s Day card had said,
“Thank you so much for being the best dad ever; letting me use your car a lot, teaching me to drive the Thing, buying me ribs, and playing golf with me. Have a great day!”
This year the card said,
“Thank you so much for everything and for all of the opportunities you have given me in life. You are the best dad one could ask for… Hope you have a great day and that your back will heal soon.”
I have to brag that, despite his preference, I got a good Mother’s Day card from Eliot too. He made it with Colleen at Kid Quest. It was a facemask made out of cool shiny paper, with a tea bag tucked into it.
A few weeks after Father’s Day, the four of us took a guided run down the biggest rapids on the American River. Eliot, who’d survived the Big Eddy on the Deschutes the summer before, took the rapids on the American much better than he did the tire-screeching ride our van-driver subjected us to on the way there.
“I want to go to Australia,” Carly said when we met the young Australian who would be our guide. “For the waves. And the meat pie.” She may have given up the cafeteria food at school, but she’d still triumphed in the Mac Daddy Man vs. Food Pancake Challenge.
On the American River Blue and I slept under the stars, and Carly and Eliot slept in tents. I gave Carly a headlamp for reading, and as Blue and I drifted off to sleep her tent was aglow. It’s what a parent wants, for a child to thrive in the next nest over, like a tent lit up in the night.
Read more of Victoria’s posts at Victoria Tatum’s Blog.