When Your Kids Surprise You

Sometimes your own kids throw you for a major loop.

Yesterday was Saturday, and I was not on call. I had a vague plan for the day: Be productive.

Hubby had to go into work in the morning, so, I figured I would take the kids on the wholesale grocery run, come home and get them lunch, then do laundry and housework, then when Hubby came back I would go to the gym and pound out the sweaty workout I’ve been yearning for…

But. I didn’t know it was going to be a gloriously beautiful fall day, sunny and summer-hot. What a crying shame it would be to waste it at BJ’s wholesale club buying diapers and kitty litter and milk. No, we needed to go outside.

The kids have both been obsessed with forest animals recently. Babyboy started it with a fixation on skunks. We didn’t know alot about skunks, so we picked up some  wonderful books about skunks and other forest creatures, an assortment of factual and storybooks, and those have been on the heavy repeat rotation: “Read it again, Mommy!” They’ve wanted to see a real live skunk for months now.

We went to the local zoo last month, and while Babyboy was pleased with several close-up viewings of the African Crested Porcupine, and the Parakeet house was a hit with the multicolored tweeters perching on their little hands to gently peck at birdseed… as we left, he asked, “Where is the skunk?”

So. There’s a wonderful state park near us, and they have the Trailside Museum, which features a little outdoor mini-zoo of sorts, made up of rescued wildlife. I knew the kids had enjoyed it in the past, and I knew they had a river otter, deer, hawks, ducks and snowy owls, but I didn’t know if they had a skunk. I figured, it was worth it to go, at least to see other forest creatures, and run around a bit.

So we loaded up and set off, Babyboy with this little Chipmunk stuffed animal in hand. The kids dashed from enclosure to enclosure, and they did enjoy seeing the animals and feeding the ducks. But, no skunk.

This place also features an indoor museum/ activity center, but you had to pay or join the Audobon Society to get in. I decided, we’d been here three times this year, we’d join. As I filled out the forms and paid, I let the kids scoot into the exhibits (they’re pretty kid-proof, and the place was nearly empty). The lady was swiping my credit card as we heard joyful whooping yells: “Mommy! MOMMY! THERE’S A SKUNK! A SKUNK IS RIGHT HERE! MOMMY COME SEE!”

I asked the lady, “Uh, there’s a live skunk in there?

“Oh, yes,” she replied, “But don’t worry. It’s behind glass and it can’t spray anybody.”

So the kids got to see their skunk, or at least the bushy tail of a skunk as it basically hid in a hollow log in its cage, and they were thrilled. They also saw an Opposum, a variety of rescued owls, various scary snakes, turtles, fish, a bee’s nest behind plexiglass… It was great.

I figured we’d walk back to the car via the woodsy path, and then go be productive. I had brought some small snacks and juice boxes which the kids had finished and I knew they’d be starving soon.

But on the woodsy path, Babyboy announced, “I want to go to the castle.”

The woodsy path that led back to the parking lot is also a trailhead for a bunch of other paths, including one rocky trail straight uphill to the weather observatory and old stone lookout tower. Hubby and I have twice taken the kids up this trail to the top, but not since June, and we carried the kids in backpack carriers both times. I was very surprised Babyboy had remembered that this path led up to the stone lookout tower, which we had called the “castle”.

I said, “Okay, sure!” and I figured that, given how steep and rocky the path was, the kids would toddle up a ways and then turn back. Five minutes, tops. After all, I reasoned, it’s a mile hike over slabby and scrabbly granite, it’s 85 degrees out, they’re only two and four years old, and I didn’t bring water. We would never make it even close to the top.

I also assumed that hiking up the rocky trail would be difficult, maybe even impossibly frustrating,  for Babyboy. As is stereotypical for many autistic kids, he’s physically uncoordinated. Early evals revealed this and a weak core, and PT/OT has been working on core strength and hand-eye coordination. He’s always disliked playground activities that required balance or threw off his center of gravity: seesaws, tire swings, swings. He very, very often can’t make it from the living room to the kitchen without tripping over his own feet.

But I was quickly proven wrong. I dawdled along with Babygirl, and watched in wonder as Babyboy climbed further and further ahead of us. He barely stumbled, and only at the beginning, as he figured out that rock covered in leaves or pine needles can be slippery. When he came to granite boulders and slabs, he focused on the craggy cracks and holes, and he pulled himself up and across without any issues, even with his Chipmunk toy in hand. He started to sweat, he panted, but he didn’t stop, even once. I had to call for him to wait up, as I helped Babygirl over larger obstacles. But even she didn’t want alot of help from me.

Up, up, up we climbed. I was sweating and thirsty. I called out to Babyboy, did he want some juice? We had one-half of one juice box left.

“No, I want to go to the castle.” He answered, and kept going.

I want to go to the castle, too,” affirmed Babygirl.

And so we kept going, me occasionally hefting Babygirl over things, or carrying her up a tough stretch, while Babyboy doggedly made his way.

I watched him doing things I never thought he could do: hike over gravelly, stony patches without tripping; pull, lift and crawl his way up and over large rocks, without help, without dropping his stuffed animal, and without falling; and most of all, cover a long distance of uneven ground without help.

Obviously I underestimated him. Or maybe his strengths and interests lend themselves exceedingly well to trail hiking? He has always been able to easily focus on small, complicated things, like putting together and taking apart complicated Lego structures. For the past month, he’s been done with the regular Legos, and instead intent on the mini-Lego sets, the City sets, with their complex police and fire vehicles made up of pieces so small, Hubby and I can barely see them to get them together. Could it be that this ability to focus helps him to see the cracks and crags in the rocks, and hold where he needs to hold, step where he needs to step?  I figured his determination on this climb came out of that intense concentration ability.

So, up and up and up. I snapped a few photos and sent them to Hubby, who by that point was on his way home from work. Hubby was amazed, and decided to join us on the trail. While he sprinted to catch up, Babyboy, Babygirl and I made it to the Castle.

“We’re here! We’re at the Castle! Look!” I announced. Babyboy looked up from his groundward focus, but instead of celebrating, he announced:

“I want to go IN the Castle. We need to go up the stairs.” He wanted to go up  to the lookout tower.

I was thirsty, sweating, and astonished. So, I carried Babygirl, and directed Babyboy to the old stone staircase. He clambered right up all three flights.

“Lift me up! I want to see,” he ordered, and I somehow boosted him up to the open windows with my right knee, while holding Babygirl. He gazed out over the sweeping views of Blue Hills States Park in early fall foliage colors, and the bay and the city in the distance, all clear on this beautiful fall day.

“There is the city, Mommy! There are the buildings!” he pointed excitedly. He looked and looked until I couldn’t hold the both of them anymore.

Just then Hubby came bounding up the stairs, and we rounded out our adventure with a thankful trip to the tiny provisions shop at the observatory, and a water break.

Babyboy did just as well on the descent as he did on the ascent. He was thrilled to slide down the steeper boulders and slabs on his butt. Towards the bottom he started to run down the dirt path, which terrified Hubby and I, envisioning a flying wipeout and stitches in the chin. But he didn’t fall.

By now it was early afternoon, and we were all really, really hungry. “What do you guys want to eat?” I asked the kids, planning to let them have whatever, for all their efforts.

They both answered, “Restaurant! We want to go to a restaurant!” which usually means a diner where we can order hot dogs and french fries for Babyboy, and pancakes for Babygirl.

Hubby and I were more than happy to oblige, having been so pleasantly surprised by the unexpected, unprecedented family hike, and so off we went.


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