From the therapy clinic visit, to staying at the Hyatt inside the Orlando airport, to an endless day of flying, to Costco and Fred Myer shopping to fill up our forgotten fridge, to a Hamell on Trial concert with friends Saturday night, to Easter Sunday and Nick’s 30th birthday with a surprise-drop-by-for-a-beer party to close the over-stuffed weekend, with jelly on top.
Now its Monday morning and I sit at the kitchen table in a quiet house. Nick just left for work. Elias’s bus picked him up for preschool. And Tonsina sleeps by the door, waiting for me to take him out for a run. And I will. Just not yet.
Not till I give myself this space to write and connect. To process my life with words, with a community who understands.
I need to tell you about the airport.
Seattle. Four hour lay-over between Orlando and Anchorage after a six hour flight west. Elias rolling through the crowds looking for elevators and escalators. Doing his whole body shake when he spots one of his mechanical loves. He calls the flat escalators “fat ones” and the glass elevators “gas ones” and when we finally make it home to Anchorage he says, “Want to go back to the airport.” The boy lives to ride. But back to Seattle.
We take the train from the N concourse to the main terminal and wind our way to the children’s play area so he can climb on the plastic airplane, luggage, tunnels and slide. It’s a strange setting, more so than regular playgrounds, because everyone is there on their way to someplace else. Most of the parents sit on the benches, exhausted, as their children run, climb, crawl, slide, and jump, over-tired but wired and needing nothing more than to move. One dad stands against the wall, where every few minutes he redirects his one-year-old from trying to climb up the slide.
Elias rolls in, far from unnoticed, and almost rolls over a baby’s hand as she crawls out of the tunnel. There’s nothing quite like walker wheels and visual impairment to keep parents on their toes. All eyes watch the boy with the walker. Some look away when I catch them. Some smile.
Elias ditches his walker to crawl so we park it by the side and watch as parents shoo their curious kids away from it. I try to tell them it’s ok, they can check it out, but we all know its not a toy so its hard to know what’s ok. I don’t want them to be afraid of it, or more importantly, of Elias, and yet the walker isn’t really a skateboard to be shared. Not fairly.
“What are those noisy kids doing?” Elias asks me as he points to a group of children who squeal and shout—everyone on the plane-- as they climb on the plastic replica.
“They’re playing on the plane.”
“Yias want to play on plane too.” He says, bouncing in his W sit.
“Go play sweetie.”
By the time he processes my words and crawls over to the plane, all but one girl have moved onto other stations. The girl looks at him and yells, “Everybody climb on the car!”
She runs to the car and Elias crawls after her, he pulls himself up to stand, she glances down at him and yells, “Everybody climb on the airplane!”
And oh my god I am five again. Trying not to cry because I want to play too. Only now it’s not me, its my boy, and watching him get left out cuts far deeper than my own childhood scars.
I want to thrash that little girl.
Elias watches some other kids help a different girl up on top of one of the tunnels and he begins to bounce again. His smile huge. “Yias want to come up too!” he says as he pulls himself up to stand on the tunnel. The kids don’t hear him.
“Yias want to come up too!”
The other kids have already jumped down from the tunnel. Moved on to the next big thing. So I walk into the play area and help Elias climb up to the tippy top.
These are not mean kids. They are just kids playing at a faster pace than Elias. He does not make their radar, their circle, their club.
And here’s the kicker…
The thing that puts me over the edge, that finally releases a flood of tears when we find ourselves in an empty elevator, as all the other travelers without wheels ride the escalator down to the train: I’d never seen Elias so eagerly wanting to play with other kids. Not near them. Not beside them. Not parallel. But with them. So here I am, tasting joy as I witness a milestone—spurred on by a week at the beach with his cousin Tess—my son, who so often seems in his own world, wanting to connect with children, not just adults, and as I watch him strive, these airport kids just pass him by, jump beyond his reach, fly too fast.
I know this is just the beginning.
Just the beginning of a recess that will never end, there will always be faster, smarter, cooler kids who will look right through my son as they leap for the next rung, with parents sitting on benches bragging about their kids, saying things like, “Well, he started walking as soon as nine months,” “My two year-old is very coordinated she can show him how to slide down,” and I’ll be there swallowing my words, holding my breath, hoping for more people like you.
--Excerpted from Following Elias, originally published on Parents.com. Copyright 2009 by Meredith Corporation. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.