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“You’re Doing A Great Job” or The Time We Rode The North Shore Scenic Railroad

I don’t always share the more challenging parts of our lives with Autism. But I have wanted to tell this story for a few months now.

In July we took a vacation back to my hometown of Superior, WI /Duluth, MN. While we were there a good friend offered us complimentary tickets to the Lake Superior Railroad Museum. We happily accepted and made plans to come on down to tour the museum and let the kids see the trains. When we arrived our friend said, “did you want to ride the train too?

We had not planned on this added bit of generosity but happily took her up on the offer, even though the train left in 15 minutes which gave us no time to prepare. We decided we had enough supplies in our stroller to make it through the 75-minute journey and headed down to the ticket booth for the North Shore Scenic Railroad.

I was excited to take my family on the train because I was one of the original employees of the railroad when it first opened in 1990. I had many jobs during my 5 years there- tour guide, merchandise manager, waitress/bartender, Brakeman and Conductor. It was a huge part of my life and I was looking forward to sharing it with my kids.

I had been on the train with John and Canyon two years earlier, but Canyon was too young to remember that now. We picked up our tickets, left the stroller with the ticket agent and went to board the train. And that’s when the screaming started.

Canyon was terrified. River and Raven boarded the train with no problem other than the usual trying to get two year old twins up into a vintage passenger train. But Canyon sometimes has problems with new experiences or transitions and something set him into fight AND flight mode. Maybe it the sound of the train, the confined space, the lights-I don’t know-and he can’t tell me–but it sent him into panic mode.

The train cars were full of families and tourists out to have a good time. We walked through the first car, me struggling to pass through the narrow aisles with River and Raven, a large diaper bag, my camera bag and a snack bag. Apologizing for bumping into people we made our way to the second car and tried to set up camp.

Canyon was screaming and sobbing and hyperventilating. John tried to hold him and calm him down but nothing was working. People were staring. This particular train car was two-levels, so there were people seated above us as well as all around us. The windows did not open and Canyon’s screams were loud. Children and adults were peering down from above us like monkeys, trying to see what was happening. River and Raven wanted to run off and explore and I struggled to keep them in their seats.

The train was not moving.

I felt bad ruining everyone else’s trip so I traded places with John and took Canyon into my arms and we walked through the car into the next. We stood in the vestibule between cars and I showed him the open window, trying to explain what was happening and how much fun we would have. He just tried to climb out of the window. I saw that the next car up was almost empty-just a family of four and an older couple. I struggled back to the first car and told John to bring our bags and the twins and we would move back there.

Canyon was still screaming and the family turned to look at me. I rocked Canyon close to me and announced to the car, “I am so sorry. He has Autism. He will be fine in a few minutes. I am so sorry.” I was using all of my being to calm him and soothe him and just wanted so desperately to make it all better.

To be honest, at that point I wasn’t really sure he would be fine. I worried that we would get underway and that he wouldn’t stop crying and that I would have to ask the conductor to let us off somewhere along the tracks and we would have to hike back to the van.

Canyon was still sobbing and the train was still not moving. John took him and they went to the back of the car, as far as they could go. I tried to contain River and Raven. At this point I was so overwhelmed that I was barely holding it together myself. I feel so sorry for Canyon. It’s just not fair that everything is so hard for him. He deserves to be able to be excited about riding a train like other four-year-old boys.

The older couple decided to move to another car. I do not blame them. I was actually relieved. Then they stopped when they got to us. The woman said, “We understand. Our daughter has Autism.” Then she leaned forward and said, “You are doing a great job.”

And I started to sob. So many people are cruel to us when Canyon is struggling in public. So many people make comments about his behavior, or that he drinks from a baby bottle or rides in the stroller. Or sits under the table. We gets looks. We hear comments. No one had ever been so kind. And it was too much.

I don’t remember what else they said but I know it was good. Poor John was in the back with Canyon and all he could see was that they got up to leave, said something to me and that I started crying. He didn’t know what to do!

The other family in the car turned to me and said, “Don’t worry about anything. We are OK!” I cried some more and smiled. They went on “I hope you didn’t think we were looking at you to be rude, we just wanted to make sure you were OK!” I assured them that we were and that I appreciated their comments.

Now that the back of the car was clear we moved to those seats so we could give them some peace.

The train finally signaled that we were leaving the station. The train started to move. Canyon sniffled a few times and stopped crying. He looked around.

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“Do you want some snacks” I asked. He did. He ate potato chips as we backed out of the rail yard. By the time we were moving forward he was also on the right track. He was loving the train ride!

I took him for a walk through the train. I laughed to the family of four-“See! He loves it now!” They were obviously happy for us. We walked through the next car. I was happy to show the kind couple how his mood had changed. When we found them I started to tear up again as I told them how grateful I was for what they had said and how much it meant to our family. They were also happy to see that big smile on Canyon’s beautiful face.

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The rest of the trip was just as it should be for a family trying to travel with three children ages 4 and under.

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It was work, but they all had fun. We took pictures.

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I told way too many “Back when I worked on the railroad” stories.

We survived. But I still cry when telling the story.

I tell this story because I always read those Facebook posts and blogs and quotes about trying to be kinder and less judgmental when you see families struggling out in public.

I can’t help but get angry when someone posts on Facebook or Twitter about a child who is too old to be in a stroller or too old to be using a pacifier. Or that someone walked out of their door and saw a family changing a little boys pants on the street. Or that a baby was crying on an airplane. Or a child was having a tantrum in the grocery store. Or whatever the complaint might be. Being a parent is hard freaking work-special needs or not. No we don’t need your approval but a sympathetic smile or a kind word can make a huge difference in our day.

I always use the quote “Be Kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle”.

That day it was us. I was drowning that day on the train and that couple saved me with their compassion and empathy.

Think of me and Canyon the next time you want to make judgements about someone’s parenting or a child’s behavior. Instead of being frustrated, annoyed or thinking about how you might make this persons troubles seem funny on Facebook, think of us. And give that other family that little bit of encouragement that just might help them through.

Blessed be.

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Every Leaf Speaks Bliss To Me Fluttering From The Autumn Tree.

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Fall, leaves, fall-Emily Bronte

Fall, leaves, fall; die, flowers, away;
Lengthen night and shorten day;
Every leaf speaks bliss to me
Fluttering from the autumn tree.
I shall smile when wreaths of snow
Blossom where the rose should grow;
I shall sing when night’s decay
Ushers in a drearier day.

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Photos by me! Laurie Viets, Wild And Precious Life Photography

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Canyon Channels Nathaniel Hawthorne And We Make The Most Of The Day

…I cannot endure to waste anything so precious as autumnal sunshine by staying in the house. So I have spent almost all the daylight hours in the open air. ~Nathaniel Hawthorne

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There was talk of “getting things done around the house.” We would drop River & Raven off at co-op, pick up Canyon from school and then run two quick errands before going home to clean the house, do laundry, work in the yard, etc. Canyon had a better suggestion. But since Canyon can’t express his great ideas through typical words he showed us how wrong we were to go home on such a beautiful October day by crying, screaming and sobbing. John looked at me and said, “Should we grab Lilo and go to Wilmette?”

So that’s we did.

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It really was too nice to work around the house. It’s October 8. Any day now the weather can decide to switch from Autumn to Winter so we need to soak up sand and sun and fall colors while we can.

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We threw our shoes into a bag and walked barefoot along the beach.

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Up to the playground where John and Canyon played while Lilo and I explored the many signs of fall.

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Lilo was crazy happy to be outside-chasing her ball and exploring and sniffing. And smiling.

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I made little arrangements of leaves and fruits and left them in the trunks of trees for others to find.

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I took a lot of pictures.

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Lilo and Canyon ran through the leaves.

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John and Canyon.

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I don’t think a shot of John doing laundry while Canyon sat on the couch playing with the iPad would be as nice a memory. This was a much better day.

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It was time to go get the twins. But first we stopped for another of our fall traditions. The Culver’s Pumpkin Spice Shake.

Thank you Canyon for inspiring us to have such a lovely day! Now. What should we do tomorrow?

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Hard Court, Easy Decision

We were all at the playground together and the kids entered the tennis courts. This is a good thing for us because the tennis courts are fenced and we can relax a bit, knowing that they can not escape and run into the road. Yes. This is a big fear for us. Our children are impulsive and FAST. So we were on the tennis courts. Playing, laughing, chasing. But the sun was hot and it was time to go. John scooped up River and Raven and left our sanctuary and headed back to the van. I was supposed to scoop up Canyon and follow. But Canyon had other ideas. Canyon wanted to lay down on the cool concrete, in the shade of a big tree.

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I had a few choices in this situation. I could try to reason with him because reasoning with the basically non-verbal Autistic 4.5 year old always goes so well. I could force him to go, kicking and screaming. I could try to lure him out with the promise of milk and cookies. Or I could lay down with him.

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He was right. It felt amazing. I texted John. “We are going to need a few minutes.”

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I totally made the right choice.

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I’m Back. Where Was I? Oh Right Here All Along.

In spirit anyway. Life got busy. Or cluttered. Maybe I was spending too much time with the kids. Or outside with the dog. Maybe I let an old friends harsh critique of my writing and photography worm it’s way into my head and tear my confidence a little too much. Maybe I had other plans and goals and big dreams that overshadowed this old faithful of a blog. Maybe I was just too tired from raising three amazing energetic little wild things. Maybe maybe maybe.

It doesn’t matter. I am here now. For now. We’ll see. Please do see. And come back. And forgive my extremely long absence. I will try to make it worth awhile. No matter what people say.

Laurie
10/7/13
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