An Evening with Chickens
There were three places I wanted to be on Saturday night: my sister-in-law's surprise fortieth birthday party in Wisconsin, our church's annual fundraiser to support outreach to the marginalized in St. Louis City, and an Eagle Scout ceremony for a young man Rich has encouraged for years.
Instead I spent Saturday evening standing outside a chicken coop with Nathaniel.
Rich and I started Saturday by speaking to a group of people preparing to adopt. About twenty people completing state licensing requirements to adopt through Missouri foster care system were in attendance. We explained how we came to adopt Nathaniel after we started the process anticipating an older child. We shared a bit of what it is like to adopt and care for a child with significant medical conditions. One woman asked, "Do you guys get breaks? Like time together alone? Do you go on vacations?" I chuckled, grabbed Rich's arm, and responded enthusiastically, "We drove here together!" Standing at the chicken coop six hours later, I realized the day really had felt like a vacation.
Life is all about perspective, right? We had a guest preacher in church today from Zimbabwe who shared what life is currently like for the citizens of that country. In just ten years, life expectancy has dropped from sixty years to thirty-six years of age due to the oppressive leadership of President Mugabe. I immediately thought of the news articles, memes, and comments starting to be posted on social media as the 2016 US presidential candidates come forward. "POWER HUNGRY" were the words I saw accompanying a post recently. I doubt that citizens of the United States and citizens of Zimbabwe have the same perspective when evaluating a presidential candidate's desire for power. Our evaluation here in the US of what constitutes excessive presidential power is impaired by our lack of exposure to the extremes that exist elsewhere in the world. So it is with vacations. What seems like a vacation is based on the extremes of daily living.
Saturday felt like a vacation because our family left the house together. With Nathaniel. Since early November we have essentially quarantined him, and subsequently a caregiver, to avoid common colds, flues, and other viruses. Nathaniel's immune system seems fine, but respiratory illnesses are more devastating for him than other children. After two hospitalizations in three months last fall, we needed a respite from repeated illnesses. Isolation granted us that. It kept Nathaniel healthy December through April. It allowed him to gain some weight. The one on one time with a parent reinforced the progress we have been making in the area of attachment. Coming out of that season, packing up to go multiple places in one day as a family, gave a bit of a holiday feel.
I attended the last of the three events I was invited to on Saturday evening - the Eagle Scout ceremony. It was held about an hour from St. Louis at the lovely Daniel Boone Home in Defiance, Missouri. Saturday felt like a vacation because a year ago, Rich and I were not comfortable going somewhere that far off the beaten path or that far down country winding roads with Nathaniel. Healing from our first night's airway crises has come slow and confidence as caregivers was been gained in inches as we slowly venture further and further from home. Living with the any time potential of a life and death emergency means we always have a charged cell phone close by, we always know where the car keys are, we always know the battery level on the suction machine, we always know the route to the closest hospital. It means driving beyond the previously established limits was a stretch. Someday Wisconsin with Nathaniel. The rolling hills past highway 94 were vacation enough for this Saturday.
A rooster sounded off a loud cock-a-doodle-do and Nathaniel's head quickly turned in search of the noise. I had stepped out of the small chapel where the Eagle Scout ceremony was being held to suction his trach. Hints of the ceremony leaked through the cracked open door. An explosion of laughter at the scoutmaster's story of the Eagle's first camping experience. A round of applause at the description of his steadfast perseverance through the Scout ranks. Nathaniel's inability to accurately process unexpected noises kept us outside. He scrambled for me with grasping fingers at each outburst reminding me of a frightened swimmer reaching for the lifeguard's buoy. Felt safety returned more quickly with the wood door blocking the intensity of the noise. Despite Nathaniel's inability to process parts of the ceremony experience, what struck me was how much he was processing well. His preference for dimly lit rooms has been replaced with a tolerance of afternoons in the sun. His fight or fright reaction to the sound of wind in the trees or lifting his hair has been replaced with a smile and patting himself on the head. His inability to walk bare foot indoors or touch various textures has been replaced with an acceptance of bricks, small pebbles, and playing in dirt.
The rooster alarmed again. "Do you want to go find the chickens?" I asked Nathaniel. He signed MORE and BIRD subtly, yet seamlessly one after the other. The iPad talker was packed deep in the diaper bag under the stroller. But we have our own language without it. A language that even his therapists miss if I don't point out the muted signs offered by a hand at his side. The respite from our augmented communication device didn't stop communication. "Oh, you want more birds?" I asked for confirmation. He nodded. We left the applause behind the white chapel doors and wander off following the promise of adventure.
If vacations are pauses to celebrate day to day life, if they are respites that allow for reflection on Nathaniel's and our growth, if they are furloughs that offer us time to discover unexplored roads - then Saturday evening by the chicken coop was a much welcomed sabbatical.