Recently I went on a Caribbean cruise. For a whole week, I didn't do a load of laundry, or a dish, or wipe a butt. It was heaven.
Meanwhile, my sweet husband ran the fort. Our almost ten year old daughter who has Asperger's is being homeschooled these days, and he left her home in the morning while he walked our son to school, one block over. He would be gone somewhere between 10 and 15 minutes. He made her breakfast, sat her at the kitchen table, and reminded her not to answer the door if anyone knocked.
He always brought the cell phone. She knows the number, but just in case, it is prominently displayed beside the phone. She knows how to use it.
She relishes these brief moments of freedom. They rarely happen because both parents are usually home in the morning. I know she sneaks chocolate chips from the cupboard when she's alone. It tickles me to imagine her wandering around the house, full of herself and her independence.
So one morning, Todd left with Seth, and upon his return, as he walked down our street he saw two people on our front steps. He assumed it was Jehovah's witnesses or some other solicitors and he slowed his step a bit, hoping they'd have moved on by the time he reached our porch. He knew Riley wouldn't answer the door. As he got closer, he couldn't believe it. One of them was actually sitting on our front steps, chilling.
As he got even closer, he realized it was Riley. A neighbor woman and her dog were standing beside her. He quickened his step.
He neared them and noted Riley was in her pajamas and bare feet, and it was cold that day.
Apparently, Riley did not like the cereal he had poured for her, and had attempted to run outside and tell him, but he and Seth were too far down the street to hear her. When she tried to get back inside, she realized she'd locked herself out of the house. Jingle, her service dog, was locked inside.
Our neighbor, whose name I did not even know, was walking her own dog, and she saw Riley outside. She waited with her. She put her coat around her. Because of Jingle, and the community involvement it took to get her, she knew Riley has Asperger's. It made her late for work, but she hung out with Riley until she knew she was safe.
The experience brought up a bunch of insecurities for me. Would a typical ten year old come running outside in bare feet because she didn't like her cereal? Are we wrong to very occassionally leave her home alone for between ten and 15 minutes? Is she safe? She's certainly old enough to take care of her needs for 15 minutes, and she's not one to ever do anything to get in trouble, but is her judgement lacking? She's unattended longer than 15 minutes when we are home and in the shower or busy with other tasks. How do we teach her independence without giving her small tastes of it? What would she have done if the neighbor hadn't come by?
I asked and she replied, "I would have just waited on the porch for Dad."
"Were you worried?"
"No. But I was cold."
We're using this as a learning opportunity. Not liking her cereal is something she could have waited to tell her Dad about. It wasn't urgent. A good lesson for her to learn. As a result of this incident, we've reinforced which neighbor's doors she should knock on if she ever finds herself in a similar situation.
The lesson in it for me?
There are kind people, who will help my child if she needs it, even if I'm not there holding up the world.
Michelle O'Neil explores family, spirituality, Asperger's, service dogs, law of attraction, homeschooling and other things at www.fullsoulahead.com.