27 July 2011

a good, good life (part one)

For the most part - though with notable exceptions I'll easily admit to, like when something electronic misbehaves or the tricycle instructions are written in German - I feel self-sufficient. As far as Em and me and our daily life, I've got this down to a wacky kind of science.

So sometimes I hesitate to enlarge that box. We're happy here; things are great. Should I risk the possible rewards of the unknown and disrupt our painstakingly established routine?

Yeah. I totally should. I tried it this summer and got rewarded with the most sublime 24 hours I remember Em and I having together.

Vacations are great; most families love them. They're new! They're exciting! But they are decidedly not routine, and so for us, they get a little tricky. Em and I have never taken one on our own - exposing her to that much newness at once is a situation where I've always requested backup.

At the beginning of July, she had a week off from her ABA program. I had a week off from work. We had appointments: getting the stove fixed, interviewing babysitters and heading to her last private speech therapy session. But the weekend was a blank slate, and on Friday morning, I decided to pencil something in.

A night away.

Had I thought about it longer, I'd have probably talked myself out of it, but the excitement of a last-minute trip won out. I spent my workday grilling a co-worker on the ins and outs of our destination, and the next morning, we were in the car, just a couple hours away from a whole lot of newness.

Even with a forced detour, the trip there was easy; Em loves to ride as much as I love to drive. The first wrinkle came at hotel check-in, when she caught sight of the pool.

"Go swimming."

"We will, babe. We're swimming later."


"Em, I promise we're going to go swimming. Later."

The lip quivered, and I used one of the only tricks guaranteed to avoid imminent meltdown: I distracted her with lunch. And then I kept her day so full that she didn't think of the pool again until it was time to get in.

First stop: a children's science museum. At first glance, I guessed we'd pay our admission, wander around and be done in half an hour. When I next checked the time, we'd been there for two hours, which meant 120 minutes of complete glee for Em.

The place was nearly deserted, so she explored in her usual way, darting from exhibit to exhibit. Once she was sure we'd touched everything, she made another circuit of her favorites. She was thrilled to discover the giant slide that started on the third floor and ended on the first. She was not thrilled to discover that it wasn't available to her just then. And the attendant guarding the entrance probably wasn't thrilled when Em tried to sneak through her legs.

This time I didn't offer food, I mentioned water. A water table, to be exact, in the great play area that even a space already designed for kids needs. Em got to splash and climb and splash me and climb me. And then we wandered downstairs to the mirrors. I've never seen her so enthralled. She darted by the first mirror, glanced sideways and came to a screeching halt.

Back she came, to position herself squarely in front of the mirror. She was perfectly still for a minute, just staring at her distorted reflection, and then the dimples flashed. She jumped forward, never taking her eyes from the mirror, and then she laughed. The next 20 minutes were all wiggles and giggles, as she danced and jumped and grinned in front of every mirror.

I couldn't take my eyes off her. Sure, it was a rush to see her enjoying herself so thoroughly, but more than that, it was watching her make those discoveries. I got to watch her figure something out for the first time. She was learning, and she was loving it.

(Seems a good place to stop what's turning into a long post, so I'll finish the story soon.) (Hold me to that.)