My husband Josh and I were married in 1995. We have two amazing kids, Zach (14) and Lily (10). Zach has Autism. Zach is able to speak and have his needs met. He enjoys life, is funny, kind and artistic. He loves to swim, golf and spend time with friends. Lily is goofy, outgoing and spunky. She loves music, playing outdoors and riding her scooter. We live a very calm, structured life, without a bunch of activities. Zach thrives on knowing about the activities of the day, and that each day is filled with time to just play and enjoy.
As many parents of special needs children know, being prepared, planning out the day and sticking to the plan is the difference between a successful day and a day filled with chaos and tears. As in: parent tears. Child tears are usually a given. Swaying ever so slightly from the anticipated structure of the day can cause meltdowns for Zach, upheaval and the inability to reclaim a joy-filled day.
When Zach struggles with sensory overload, he needs to just take a step away—away from the upset, the memory of what has gone wrong, or not as planned. He needs to walk. And sometimes walk for long distances, until his mind stills, until his heart returns to an even pace. He needs to listen to the birds and hopefully meet a dog or two along the way. Our walks are special. It is usually just Zach and me. Zach’s observations in nature, his keen sense of hearing, his amazing mind and conversation can often restore even the weariest of souls.
I have learned many simple lessons from my son. Always walk when you can. Country dirt roads are usually the most fun. Explore, and never be afraid to get a little lost. Sticks and cornhusks make cool makeshift dolls. Dogs are better one at a time. Be very quiet when approaching creeks and springs—you can often hear the frogs. Always stop to admire the green grass that matches the green barn. Remember to sit under the big old pine tree—the pinecones can be used to make funny faces. When all else fails, just walk. Walk until your heart calms, until your breathing is back to normal. Walk the dirt roads until you feel as if you have walked enough.
Then turn around and return. Return to friends, return to family. Return to the green grass and the green barn. Smile as you see the bright red barn through the budding trees. Walk back across the bridge over the creek slowly and enjoy the sound of hollow footsteps. Just take time away. Time away from the busyness of life. When just the sound of the birds talking and the breeze blowing are the most important things to focus on. Where the clouds are breathtaking and the grasshoppers are giants. Just breathe.
I have found that our lives are much more simple than the lives of friends. Our days often revolve around outings to thrift stores and garage sales. The joy of a spiral bound notebook. A Blue’s Clue’s bright orange VCR tape. Small Dora the Explorer toys from the free bin. Water bottles that hold cold water are amazing for washing hands and faces after messy treats. Music is always appreciated. Thank you for playing it during our garage sale adventures. Always buy lemonade and fruit snacks from kids. And always count your change. Most people won’t mind if you take shelter underneath the arms of their huge shade trees. Run your fingers through the long green grass and enjoy the warm breeze rustling the leaves above.
Most of our outings just involve casual walking. From the car to a new adventure. To a garage, to a new shop, to a park that beckons us for new experience. But walking is what each day produces—walking and discovering new sights and sounds sometimes of unknown origin. My own anxious heart is calmed from the busyness of life after walks with my son, because I took the time to relax and see through the eyes of an amazingly special 14 year-old kid. I encourage everyone to walk. Not mile after mile. Just through the neighborhood. Maybe around the block. Never focus on the destination. Focus more on the joy of movement, the peace, the quiet, the entertaining and satisfying sights and sounds. A walk will always be worth taking.
Kelli J Gavin lives in Carver, Minnesota with Josh, her husband of 22 years and two crazy kids. She is a Professional Organizer with Home & Life Organization and sells Lovely Jewelry. She enjoys writing, reading, swimming, and spending time with family and friends. She abhors walks on the beach (sand in places no one wishes sand to be), candle lit dinners, (can’t see) and the idea of cooking two nights in a row (no thank you).Check out Kelli J Gavin on Twitter: @KelliJGavin and her blog: http://kellijgavin.blogspot.com/