We took the kids to an open gym the other day. It’s the same gym we visited a year ago in Michigan, and Rhema absolutely loved it. Trampolines and balance beams, a rock climbing wall, foam pits, a large bouncy house, and lots of space to run and roll - it’s a sensory smorgasbord.
Rhema is naturally gifted when it comes to things like gymnastics. She has amazing balance and physical coordination and is absolutely fearless. The kid can pop a backflip faster than I can blink.
I have desired to find a coach who would be willing to work with her and a gym where she could get some real training. Her nonverbal-ness, short attention span, and difficulty understanding language and following directions have made it hard to find a good fit.
Needless to say, we were eager to take her to the gym for open play time. We were going with her aunt, uncle and cousins, and her grandparents would be watching from the balcony above.
The gym was crowded with children, but unlike some people with autism, crowds have never really seemed to bother Rhema.
However, when we arrived at the gym, Rhema was completely out of sorts. She seemed terrified and clung to Brandon for dear life. It was so uncharacteristic of her. We tried to get her to relax and eventually we were able to get her to jump on a trampoline.
But she was obsessed with her pants. Rhema does not believe in pants. Over the years she has come to understand that she must wear them in public. As soon as she gets home (or anyone else’s home) , she removes her pants – often in the doorway. When she is particularly aware of the feeling of her pants against her legs, she pulls the pant legs up to her knees and walks around holding them up. She looks quite bow-legged as she tries to run and walk while holding her pant legs up. (Carly Fleischmann, a nonverbal teen with autism describes a similar feeling of a million ants crawling on her).
This was the scene as she tried to make her way around the gym. She was distracted and disoriented. At one point, Brandon led her to a ladder that was laying horizontally with one end raised off the ground onto a large cushiony mat. There was a line of kids behind her and I watched Rhema try to climb the ladder while holding her pants up. As she tried to climb, her pant legs would drop when she put her hands on the ladder. Then she would grab her pants and try to start over. She repeated this several times never getting very far. It may be humorous to me one day, but I felt only sadness as I watched her struggle.
Soon she gave up on the ladder and began aimlessly wandering around the gym. She did something Brandon and I had never seen. She scrunched her feet and tried to walk around with her toes curled under. It was as if the mats on the gym floor were burning her soles. When she was not holding her pant legs, she flapped her hands incessantly or covered her ears. At the entrance to the bouncy house, she created a pattern of going up and down the stairs repeatedly while humming to herself, never entering the bouncy house. All the while, kids tried to wait patiently in line behind her.
It was clear that she was overwhelmed, but, truly I was somewhat baffled. Almost every weekend we take her to an inflatable playground or open gym, and she is fearless. She usually thrives in this type of setting.
I should have rescued her, but instead I made the biggest mistake of the day. I scooped her up and tossed her into a foam pit. Believe me when I say that normally this would be a sensory delight for Rhema with her body engulfed in proprioceptive input. I hoped this might be the very thing to put her at ease.
But when she landed in the pit she was literally paralyzed with fear. I’d never seen anything like it – her body was completely scrunched up and she could not move. Sheer terror on her tight face. Instantly I jumped in and got her out. Both of us were shaking as I apologized to her over and over again. Fighting back hot tears.
That was the end of our “fun.”
As I held her, I looked around the gym. Kids were jumping, playing, squealing, talking, laughing, dancing, and having the time of their lives. I could see Hope on the other side of the gym, happily participating in a group dance. It looked so easy for her. My niece, Rhema’s age, is a beautiful little gymnast, and she was decked out in her glittery velvet leotard and deftly swinging on the high bars…
And I gave in to the longing. I gave in to the wishing.
“Lord, I want my baby to have a velvet leotard,” I said in a choked whisper.
Since the moment I learned she was growing inside me, I have only wanted everything for her… the big things, the little things, the typical things. That longing is always there – just under the surface. By now I know that it will never go away.
Sometimes the wishing leads me to become envious and judgmental of other mothers. I carry it around like a ball and chain.
I love her with all that I am.
What do I do with the wishing?
Give it to me.
It occurs to me that God has a knack for taking something little and making it great. (See David). Taking something weak and making it strong. (See Esther). Taking something old and making it new. (See me, my life, my heart). Taking something broken and ugly and fashioning it into a glorious work of art. (See any Christian believer saved by grace). Taking the stuff of pain and loss and creating a beautiful instrument of praise. (See Job).
So here I am again, Lord. Releasing to you the pain of dreams deferred and shattered expectations. I’m giving you my wishing. Do what you will.
After a rough day at the gym, you may think me delusional.
But knowing God
like I do,
I still think those two are going to blow my mind…
and there may even be a velvet leotard involved.