06 July, 2011

Is the Gate Locked?

check. double-check
We don't ever really relax. We think we do. We get babysitters and go out for drinks with friends. We take turns keeping an eye on Jake, but really there are only five days a year I do not worry about my son: the 'week' he goes to camp. Other than that, my mind, and quite often my body,  is on duty twenty-four hour a day. Part of that responsibility is just what it feels like to be a parent, but I've seen other parents with typical kids, and I see how they can let go of their child's hand in the store, leave the car door or window unlocked, leave the back gate without double-checking the double-lock. They can expect that their child is not going to shimmy through the dog door, and just about disappear in silence.

But there are places that are easier than others. Places where I can let my guard down a little bit, because I either have the safety in numbers of responsible adults, or a well-enclosed space, or just one other person who completely gets my kid, and can recognize things that will be dangerous even if they look safe for another special needs kid.

Our house is one of those places, and thankfully we own our home and can make improvements and adjustments to the walls, and fences without asking any one's permission. Our home is safe, but not without some very serious rules, and a lot of attention to detail. If you come to a closed door or gate in my house...there's a reason, and it's probably not because I don't want you to see me naked. If you make a mistake and leave even one gate or door open, there could be consequences that range from, dirty shoes on the bed (so don't care), to a child covered in dog poop (completely annoying), to a boy who has wandered past the driveway (very worrisome, and I can guarantee that I will cry when we find him), and of course, there's death, because we really can't be sure of Jake's safety awareness, and it's not like he is just going to come back on his own, unless he decides to return through that open gate. Lucy just turned five, but after a pre-teen visitor to the house left the back gate open, I told her that no matter who comes in behind her, even if it is a grown up, it was her responsibility to make sure the gate is locked after any time she passes through it. She gets it, and has done it without complaint, but the amount of responsibility we must place on her is nearly unbearable to me.

Mt. Tallac at sunset.
Tahoe is a safe place for Jake. My sister and her husband, and their children all look out for him, know his abilities, and know when he is not okay by the tone of his vocalizations. The backyard is large and gated and filled with toys and tan bark and a trampoline where the little kids entertain him with their bouncing, twirling and bickering. I know that Jake cannot escape from the backyard, so when Demanda and Jaster clean up the entire place for Jake (thank you thank you thank you), all we need to do is periodic checking for dog poop, which you would do for any bunch of kids playing. With everything taken care of, we can sit on the upper deck, all four children within our view. With nice weather and a frosty beverage this almost looks like relaxing.

And even luckier, I have a few friends who either have Jake-safe homes all the time, or who care about his safety enough to change things while we are there. One family has cleaned up a dirt area and put in palm-sized rocks for Jake to tumble, and ensures that the pool gate is locked at all times, and another has a big front yard that is fenced and filled with dogs and kids who will not let him go out the front gate. We have still more friends who try, in every way, to make their houses a place where we can bring our entire family, by checking gates and keeping the front door closed, even when it's an Open House.

But as much as I really do not want my child to be injured, there is another part of him being safe in our home, in our extended-families' homes, and our friends' homes which may be even more important; it's acceptance. Acceptance cannot be nailed into a wall, or double-locked. Creating an environment of acceptance is not as easy as just sweeping up.

Acceptance is knowing that my son might trample your new grass, or steal the top soil out of your planter, and inviting him to play nearby them anyway. It's not really keeping track of the number of little things he's swiped off your counter, and hidden or broken. And not being too bothered by the copious amount of food that always seem to be at my child's feet. It's inviting a child, my child, with 'toileting issues' to come swimming anyway. It's believing my son has something to say. And it's forgiving me when I can't clean up our debris and dishes because we "have to go RIGHT NOW."

It's inviting us over at all.

And it's inviting us back.

I am thankful.

a version of this post was an editor's pick today at OpenSalon.com
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