This past spring, my sis and I took the girls to a park. It was a gorgeous day after a few days of rain, and Rhema was ready to run free. Before I could stop her she tore across an open field. The ground was still wet and she splashed through mud with abandon. I watched for a few moments and then gathered my energy for the chase. In the far distance I could see two figures lying on a blanket, and Rhema was making a beeline for them. I took off running across the field, calling after Rhema in vain.
I knew I was not going to make it in time.
When I reached the couple on the blanket, they just sort of stared at me, dazed and confused. They seemed frozen by surprise. The man was lying on his stomach. And my silent, six-year old, muddy girl was straddling him, sitting on his back.
I half expected her to dig in her heels and say, “Giddy up.”
As I pried Rhema off the man’s back, I did not offer an explanation. Just a quick apology to the woman for… “interrupting.” Before either could say a word, Rhema took off, and I raced her back across the field.
Oh the looks on their faces! My sister and I laughed until our sides hurt.
Soon after that I got serious about finding someone to work as an aide for Rhema for the summer. We needed someone to just be with us. To go to the park or the zoo or the pool with us; to help keep Rhema engaged at home or in the backyard.
I interviewed a number of people for the job, and knew within seconds that Melissa was our girl. She had no experience working with a child with autism, but her compassion made up for her lack of knowledge, and she naturally seemed to know how to relate to Rhema. She quickly became a student of Rhema, observing her, making note of her patterns, asking me lots of questions. I told Melissa about Rhema’s tendency to bolt and wander, and her lack of a sense of danger.
“I need you to stick with her,” I said.
Has she ever. When Melissa is with us, Rhema never plays alone. If Rhema goes down the slide, Melissa goes down the slide with her. If Rhema jumps in a bouncy house, Melissa jumps in the bouncy house with her. At first I wondered how Rhema would handle the “intrusion”, having to constantly interact with someone outside of school. But it’s been great for her. And great for us. Instead of chasing Rhema, I’ve had the opportunity to carry on conversations with other mothers at birthday parties or give Hope more attention or just take a deep breath. We’ve been able to embark on many summer adventures because Melissa has been with us.
She’s dodged puke two out of three times, and she keeps coming back.
Once we picked her up on the way to the park. Our plan was to just get our feet wet on the beach, and Melissa was dressed to go out on a date later that evening. I was discussing snails with Hope when I looked up and saw Rhema hightailing it into the ocean. A moment later I watched Melissa recklessly plunge in after her. When she caught up to her, Rhema jumped in her arms and they both stumbled in the water. They emerged completely drenched. Ahh, love her, I thought. She sacrificed her date hair and outfit just for us.
Recently, after a long day at the pool, we dropped Melissa off at home. Hope, whose level of understanding never ceases to amaze me, said in her three-going-on-thirty way,
“Thanks Melissa. We couldn’t have done this without you.”
Yes. Thanks, Melissa, for a great summer. We couldn’t have done it without you!