On the day that I watched Rhema tilt her head back and gulp down my contact lenses and saline solution right out of the case, I knew it was time for us to get out of the house.
My twin and my neice Lexi showed up and we were off to Bonkers, an indoor funhouse with lots of rides, mazes and games. It’s not the place for anyone who dislikes germs, but it’s a dream come true for a kid like Rhema.
It had been a long time since we’d dared to show our faces there. The last time we were there, Rhema was in full-blown stripper phase. While she was playing in a huge tunnel-tube-maze-thingamajig up in the ceiling, she decided to get “indecently exposed.” She slid down the bumpy slide in her birthday suit. She gleefully ran around inside the gated area, completely oblivious to the fact that she had no clothes on. We watched her run toward a group of kids, and then we watched the kids scatter and scream as N@ked Girl approached.
We tackled her, but Rhema did not understand why she had to stop playing and went into meltdown mode. Meanwhile employees went inside the tunnel to try and gather the clothing that had been deposited in various parts of the maze. Someone loaned us a T-shirt, but I could not get it on her because she was tantrumming so much. I finally just decided to carry N@ked Girl out to the car kicking, screaming and flailing the whole way. Brandon came to the car with Hope and then ran back in to collect Rhema’s clothes. When he climbed into the driver’s seat, we just sat and stared out the window for a while, our hearts pounding.
He cleared his throat, “Well, I think it was really bonkers in there tonight…”
And, because I think I could have cried, we laughed. A lot.
The girls had a blast on our return trip to the funhouse. Rhema was in heaven running from ride to ride, sprinting through the maze, jumping up and down. She wanted to ride a small ferris wheel, and I tried to help her wait in line.
When it was her turn, she scampered into a car and buckled herself in. I had not paid to ride any rides myself, and I was uneasy about her riding alone. But I decided to let her try.
I nervously watched from the sidelines. She giggled and did a little dance in her seat. I watched her lean over and snap and unsnap the empty seat buckle across from her repeatedly. So far so good, I breathed.
Then the ride ended, and I waited as the operator stopped each car to let out the passengers. Rhema was in a car at the top of the ferris wheel – I worried that the starting and stopping of the ride was going to bother her. I strained to see her – she was fiddling with her seat buckle. And then, in an instant, she was climbing out of the car.
Oh Lord. The operator saw her the same time I did.
“NO! Get back in there! You have to sit down!! Oh no!” the woman screamed.
“Ummm. Ma’am? She has autism. She doesn’t understand –”
Immediately the woman lowered her voice. “Oh.”
We watched Rhema as she briefly checked out the view from the top outside the car, and then she casually climbed back in and snapped her seatbelt. (I actually was not very afraid. Rhema is incredibly coordinated and loves heights.) The operator quickly advanced the ride to Rhema’s car, and I grabbed her out.
She squirmed out of my arms and ran off to the next thing. I said a quick thank you to the woman before chasing Rhema to…
(insert hallelujah chorus) The. Merry. Go. Round.
I think she almost paused for a nanosecond to admire it before jumping over the rails. The girl is obsessed with Merry Go Rounds.
I told the operator about her autism right away (should have done that back at the Ferris Wheel). He offered to let me go on with her. And that’s how it went for the rest of our day at Bonkers – everyone was extremely kind and accommodating.
The rule on the Merry Go Round is that you cannot change horses in the middle of the ride. Well, Rhema didn’t get that memo. And she could not decide on a horse, so the operator stopped the ride and everyone waited patiently while Rhema methodically tried out each unoccupied horse (and a few occupied ones as well). She finally settled on one, and the ride resumed.
In the end, Rhema had to ride every horse on the Merry Go Round. For many rounds she was the only child on the ride. Each time she would purposefully slide off one horse and move to the next. She enjoyed every minute of it.
I loved the kindness of the Bonkers staff. I loved the fact that she was able to have fun, and run and play freely. I loved that she kept her clothes on the whole time. It did my heart good to see her giggle and smile.
Small-big things to be thankful for.
And the reminder that we’ve come a long way, and we can do this.