We haven't been since before Little Man's diagnosis. So the last time was almost three years ago. He was still able to go around in the pram most of the time, so when we were at the beach, he was always in his pram anyway. It was shortly after that trip that we had the initial bombshell of possible autism diagnosis dropped upon us.
For all this time we have not been back to the beach. Partly because of Erik, partly because I was either pregnant or breastfeeding during two of those three years. Way too hard to manage two small ones, another small one with autism and a very tiny one. More trouble than it's worth. Erik's aversion to textures didn't bring any favour to that decision either.
But on new years' day, we went. Can't stay away forever!
We left the house at about 8:15am, and first off, Erik cried and protested when we drove right past the way to grandma's house and onto the highway. I had been talking to him that morning about going to the beach, but "the beach" has no meaning for him. He would have had no clue what I was talking about. I knew that, but hoped it was enough to convey that we were going somewhere new and different. We put on a kids CD and that helped settle him. After that, he was fine.
When we arrived, he seemed pleased to be getting out of the car. We didn't enter any buildings either, so he was very happy. He really does love being outdoors. It was a bit of a walk down to the beach, but he did not have an issue with this. With Mr Monkey and holding aunty's hand, he walked all the way down. And then continued walking around for the next hour. Auntie followed him around for a while as we got things set up. He refused to allow me to take his shirt off. Lately he has become very distressed when he has no shirt on, so I let him just wear it. Probably better sun protection anyway. Then I followed him around for a while.
I absolutely cannot leave him to 'play' in our vicinity. He has no such concept. He just walks and walks and walks wherever his feet take him. Between people's beach chairs, over people's towels, on some people's feet if I was not quick enough. On rocks, seaweed, hot (and I mean HOT) sand. He just goes. He seemed happy enough doing this. But auntie and I quickly got tired. I knew that there would be alot of this sort of watching involved - outings with Erik are always like this - but in heat of up to 44C (that's 111.2F for all you Fahrenheit people), yeah... it got a bit too much.
I managed to convince him to sit down under the gazebo for a while. Then he did something amazing...
One of the things we have worked on right from the beginning with Erik, is his aversion to textures. As a two year old, there is no way he would have touched sand. No. Way. Now, look at him.
Look at those handfuls of sand. He was scraping it up in his hands and letting it run through his fingers. Smiling and really investigating the stuff. For me, this was a delight to watch. Not only that, but he would sit in it too. How wonderful to see the effort of years of work, little by little, gently pushing the boundaries, slowly de-sensitising, to finally see him playing with and enjoying sand!
Baby Miss had no such reservations. Two years old, and on this day, she was right into it from the first minute! Covered from head to toe, and couldn't be happier. Too sweet :)
Most of the day, he would walk around. Most of the time, I followed him. But there was reprieve with auntie, uncle, daddy and other friends helping out at times. When he sat under the gazebo, it was never for very long. I guess it was too boring.
He showed no interest whatsoever in going out to the water. Every time I tried to steer him that way, he protested and whined and made his way back up again. And for a start, I didn't push it. But later in the afternoon, I decided it was time to introduce Erik to the seashore. I carried him kicking and whining all the way to the shoreline where the gentle waves were rolling in. Daddy was there to help, which is good, because Erik was not impressed.
The water was cold, but oh so good on your feet on such a hot day. You could very quickly get used to it. He didn't like it one bit, but with wave after wave, he came to appreciate the pattern it presented.
"Here comes the water Erik! Here it comes! Oohhhhhh! Water!" .... whine, whine, whine....
"Look, there it goes again! Water is going away. Bye bye water" ... slightly less whining, slightly more smiling.
"Here comes the water again Erik! Look! Here it comes!" ... whine, whine, whine....
"It's going away again. Bye bye water. There it goes" .....
We held him there for about five minutes, no more. Then let him loose and I followed him up the beach again. He was very pleased to be let free.
Fish and chips for lunch - seriously, what else do you eat at the beach?! Erik wasn't too interested in food. But this is typical of him when he is having a new experience. My only concern was that he drink enough, which he did - but just barely. Shortly after lunch, he started getting 'difficult'. He kept trying to abscond, would not consent to stay under the gazebo, drop and cry when we tried to direct his walking patterns, and was generally annoyed and grumpy. That's my cue.
Even though I could see the situation deteriorating, I hesitated to tell hubby it was time to go. I should not have done that. By the time I told him, Erik was almost impossible to manage. The plan was the I take him up to the car, and leave the others to pack up what remains and follow us there. What actually happened was that I mostly carried him to the car, because he refused to walk where I was taking him. Crying and tantruming most of the way. I was exhausted, had a throbbing headache, weak and tired from the heat. I guess so was he. But carry him I did. Over the sand. Up the steps, up the hill and through the car park. Every time I put him on his feet, he would drop and scream. So I really had no choice but to carry him.
We got to the car, but I had no keys. There was a playground nearby, and I thought I could take him there while we waited for the others. He would not have a bar of it. He wanted to get into the car. For my son to turn down a playground means that he really is past the point of negotiation. In the scorching heat, I held back frustrated tears as he pushed at me, took my hand repeatedly and placed it on the door handle of the car, cried and screamed, butted his head against my chest ....he was so tired, so hot and frustrated. So was I. And if I had a headache, he probably had one too. I felt so sorry for him - I knew what he was trying to tell me, but he didn't know I knew. We were at the mercy of the others. All we could do was wait until they got there.
Fortunately, they were not too far away. My son and I waited only 10 or 15 minutes by the car. The longest 10-15 minutes of my life, it seemed. Hubby unlocked the car, and we finally got the boy inside. He settled immediately. All he wanted was to get in the car and go home. He'd had enough of the beach for today. Truth be told, he had done remarkably well. We had spent a good 5 hours or so at the beach - more than I expected to. And apart from that episode right at the end as we were leaving, the experience was not overly stressful.
Although it was not a leisurely outing for me, or for my husband, we both were aware that this trip was mainly for the kids anyway. Their pleasure is my pleasure. Their happy experience, my delight. That's just how it is now when we are out as a family. It won't be this way forever, I keep reminding myself. The time will come when things get easier. (I just hope it's not when I'm too old to enjoy a day at the beach in the sun).
The two big girls settled into the back seat, rather quiet all the way home. I think they were tired too. The two little ones.... well... I'll let the picture speak for itself.
Not even one minute down the road..... :)