Just this morning, though it seems days ago now, we tread carefully down the steep grassy bank below our condo and then inched our way across the slippery old volcanic rock toward the snorkeling bay. It’s 8:30 am and our flight leaves Hawaii in just a few hours, but Oscar declared last night that he wanted to swim with the giant green Honu turtles one last time and we are trying to make it happen.
As we approach the snorkel spot Oscar sees the waves crashing against the black pitted rock, white spray bursting high off the water, and he starts to panic.
“I don’t want to. Uh-uh. I changed my mind.” His voice is still calm but his resolve is clear.
Paul and I communicate over his head with eyebrows and shoulder shrugs. I’m on the fence – the surf is much rougher than it was yesterday when Paul and I snuck away for a half hour in the bay. I’ve been here many times before during high surf and have been slammed against the rocks when an especially big wave rolls in. Paul thinks we can still do it. He slings Oscar up on his back and carries him across the slickest parts over to the edge where I am already sitting with my flippers and mask on.
Oscar’s protests increase and soon he is screaming. “I won’t do it. You can’t make me. STOP!!”
I pull Oscar’s right flipper on up over his stubborn low-toned foot while Paul talks to Oscar about his mask. The mask is all-wrong – it’s squeezing Oscar’s lip. It’s hurting his hair. The snorkel will let water in. Oscar yells reason after reason why it won’t work today, even though it worked just fine yesterday. He pulls the right flipper off but I wrangle it back on and somehow the left one too.
“NO NO NO. STOP!”
The flippers are off again. Oscar is still screaming and I am definitely not looking up at the grassy banks filled with snorkelers and onlookers. A woman calls to me from the water and I just know she’s saying I’m a horrible mother to be putting my son through this. I ignore her and the words I think I am hearing.
Paul says jump, and I do, into the cool jostling water and try to find my balance on the rocks beneath me before another wave crashes in. He picks Oscar up, still screaming and hands him down to me.
We’ve compromised – no flippers, no mask, just goggles and a boogie board. I help Oscar adjust the goggles. Now in the water he calms down and we set out to find the enormous turtles whose scaly heads we see popping up for air from our balcony. Large greenish brown shells float along the surface of the bay at all times of day here, but especially in the morning, and up until five minutes ago Oscar was clamoring to go.
We spot our first turtle quickly, thankfully. The turtle’s flippers pull gracefully through the water. He points his head down and slowly glides to the bottom of the bay where he nestles under a rock. I lead Oscar over and show him where to look. He does, and after watching for a half minute, he comes up for air giggling hysterically. Oscar immediately wants to search for more turtles and we find them easily. The smallest, a youngster, is still much larger than Oscar himself and I think our whole family together would still take up less space than the largest. We swim across the bay spotting them at the surface, resting under rocks and just swimming along peacefully. After half an hour, and seven Honu turtle spottings, I finally convince Oscar to head to shore where Paul is waiting to pull him out.
Usually Oscar forgives his grudges quickly, especially when the experience is worth it, like today. But as I lift him out of the surging waves and safely into Paul’s arms he yells, “That was wrong! Don’t force me like that again!”
Back in the condo, as I hurriedly cram the last stray items into our bulging duffle bags, I reflect on how difficult it is to know just how much to push Oscar. We face this dilemma constantly with everything from simply trying a new book to far more challenging tasks like snorkeling. Today was definitely borderline but Paul and I were in agreement -- we knew that he would love swimming with the turtles and we also know that each time we push him an inch (or a foot) beyond his comfort zone, we are creating memories for Oscar that he will draw upon for courage and confidence in the next difficult situation.
I don’t regret our decision today, though maybe I should. I do regret that in order to help Oscar overcome his rigidity and his fears that sometimes we have to step outside the boundaries of what I consider to be our parenting style and literally force him. I think we’re doing the right thing, and Oscar’s recent willingness to try some new activities (without being coerced) seems to indicate we are on the right path, but stilI I am just not sure.
Mary blogs about life with Oscar (who has Prader-Willi syndrome) and the rest of her family over at Finding Joy in Simple Things.