Here I am, just shy of 40 years old, and today I think I discovered a new phobia of mine. Firehouses.
Well, not quite firehouses -- just one firehouse. Just the thought of approaching it with my family I can feel my heart rate rise. All I can say is that I'm grateful that it's no longer our local firehouse (we live in an area that is growing at such a huge rate that they recently built a new one closer to our home).
Why did I realize this today? Well, because today they were holding an Open House for the local kids to come and take a look around. They were inviting kids to explore the house and the engines. They would explain to the kids about fire safety. They were performing a HUGE community service, more so than what they do every day. And how did I learn about this? Representatives from Rachel's gym was going to be there helping out, and of course, being Saturday, it was Rachel's gym day. Her class still went on as scheduled....they just had a smaller amount of staff on hand at the gym than usual today. But there were signs.
At some point today, Daniel realized that this was going on. He asked during lunch if we were going to go. You see, he's been there once before and he remembers the experience. He had a great time. He had just turned 4. He got to explore the firehouse. He got to try on parts of the uniform. He even got to climb onto a real-life fire truck. It was really a lot of fun for him. I was there too. So were Rachel and Simon. But it wasn't fun for us. In fact, it was TERRIBLE for us.
(Time tunnel swirlies appear)
You see, that was when our journey into this "Autism World" that we inhabit had just begun. We had just receiving services (probably only a few weeks) and attended a field trip with our local early intervention (EI) program. We didn't know any of the families -- this was probably our first exposure to them. But on a Wednesday morning, I put Daniel, Rachel and Simon into the car and we drove over to the firehouse. We got out of the car and left the stroller behind (you see, I promised myself any time we did anything with the EI team, I wouldn't use the stroller). I had to learn and so did they, how to handle not being so tightly confined. We were there a bit early (we are always either early or late for anything) and we got to look around a bit before the others got there. Daniel immediately jumped right into the experience and was just fine. Rachel and Simon were a bit apprehensive and we were already starting to see the meltdowns. I no longer remember the details but I remember trying to settle Rachel down during one of her worst tantrums ever just in time for Simon to go running off. I remember one of the EI teachers chasing him and trying to keep him contained. I remember trying everything I could think of to engage either of them. We were finally able to settle Rachel down and get her to have a positive experience when she discovered the reflective surface of the fire engine. She had discovered a mirror. And a BIG mirror. And she was able to stare at herself and model to her heart's content. Simon just went from one issue to another. Nothing would grab his attention.
Finally the visit ended. It felt like hours, but in reality, it was probably about 30 minutes. I managed to get them back into their car seats. We had "survived" the experience. Well, the kids survived the experience. I was scarred. I remember turning on a movie for them in the car (something we only do [typically] when they are about to take a long drive) and drove around aimlessly for probably about another hour. You see, driving is one of those things that I do when I need to clear my mind. I can think while I drive. I have explored so many neighborhoods and learned of many hidden treasures in the area through these mind-clearing drives, including where to find the most incredible string of dogwood trees in mid-March. The only other part of that day I can remember was receiving a phone call from EI services while all 3 kids were taking a nap to ask how I was doing (I'm sure they were able to see that I was struggling while at the firehouse -- I'm not exactly adept at hiding emotions [hence why I NEVER play poker]).
(Time tunnel returns to bring us back to present day)
That was nearly 2.5 years ago. Since then we have all learned so much. I'm sure the experience would be completely different if we were to try this again. Yet today when the opportunity had come up, I was grateful to have Rachel's gym class so that I didn't have to go back there. I appreciate everything that our local fire department does. Just like firefighters everywhere, they are willing to risk their lives in order to help protect that of my own and my family's. But if I can possibly avoid it, I don't plan to ever step foot in that particular fire station. Again.
For my full blog, please see http://myfamilysexperiencewithautism.blogspot.com/
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