I should have known better, I really should have known. Actually I'll let myself off the hook just a bit because I had not imagined how very crowded it would be at the carnival. For everything else-did I mention yet that I should have known better?
M and her friend had a good time. Two twelve year olds walking around a carnival with a pocket full of tickets--yep, that works for them! And D was so happy to be away from THE PUNISHER so he had a good time, too, once he found friends to walk around with.
And then there was Zachary. My little Zachary. It was all too much for him upon arrival, but like a trooper and the optimist he insists on being he wanted to go go go. Our first stop was the funhouse; as we started to walk in and he saw the mirrors and windows maze up close, he got scared and wanted to leave. I promised him nothing would jump out or fall or open up. Keeping him held tightly to me, we moved forward. It dawned on me quickly that this was screaming "ROTTEN MOTHER you-couldn't-have-chosen-a-more-antispectrum-thing-if-you-tried!!" but we were almost through the maze with people in front and people behind, so on we went. He became even more apprehensive when we approached the stairs, which appeared dark and ominous-until I realized we were actually seeing them in a darkened mirror; the actual stairs clearly led up to an open air view. I let the way at Z's insistence and, thankfully, all there was at the top was a spiral slide to go down and it was over. I was so disappointed there weren't all the other typical funhouse type things like the rickety bridge or turning hallway, but it was perfect for Z. He got to the bottom and was at once relieved it was over and proud that he did it. He grabbed my hand tightly and on we went; what broke my heart, just a little bit, was I could feel him trembling. I can't begin to describe the feelings that went through me as I felt him shake like that, I was so sad that something that should be fun for him was actually producing loads of anxiety and fear for him, and I was putting him through it.
Next was the food area where I was leading us to get our funnel cake! The game booths were all around the food booths and Z wanted to try any and all of them. I had tried to explain to him, before we left the house, that carnival games are not like those at Chuck E. Cheese's or any arcade and that they are very hard to win, but once there he just wanted to play. We tried the first game and predictably, we lost. It didn't make sense to him-in his mind we would play games and win stuffed animals just like he has seen on tv shows, and when it didn't work like that he got more agitated. This wasn't the case of a spoiled child and please try to keep that in mind the next time you might see a child like Z, especially an older child, upset about something like that-autism might very well be wreaking its havoc. The next game he tried was a basketball game. I explained to him that the balls were bigger than the nets and it was very hard, and I had him promise me he understood he was playing just for fun. We waited at the counter while the teenage boy ahead of him took his shots. The second ball bounced off the wall, hit the counter right in front of Z and slammed onto his mouth. Yes the worry of injury and pain he might feel upset me; however what broke my heart even more than earlier was the look of utter shock and sadness on his face. Thankfully no blood, no fat lip, and he fought back crying and walked right back up to the counter, with the corners of his mouth involuntarily turning down as his wounded soul kept trying to cry. The man behind the counter felt SO bad, he gave him 4 free shots and game him a little Sixer's basketball even with the missed shots; Zachary said thank you and we walked away. We took to steps, he said "Why did this have to happen? I just wanted this to be the best night of my life, why did this have to happen to me?" and began to sob. He stopped crying quickly and for the rest of the night went back and forth between sad and angry; and from that moment of emotional overload he just couldn't keep the optimism going. Everything became too much-the sounds, the shoving, the dodging; I imagine that for him it was like what you see in a film or tv sequence, when they flash at each thing coming at the character, flashing in rapid succession until the character finally runs screaming away. He wanted desparately to get away but, well, I didn't think it was a good idea to leave my other 2 kids there-not to mention my friend's daughter, too! lol.
I did the only thing I could think of, the one thing that I knew you just couldn't do without spirits being lifted--EAT COTTON CANDY. Believe it or not, it worked! A little bit anyway. I must digress just a little bit here by saying that whoever invented cotton candy was a genius. There is pure joy in that bag full of fluff, in that sticky cottony mess on your fingers you have to lick off, and in that hunk of fluffy sweetness that dissolves in your mouth.
Back to the story. By now the slight trembling I had felt in Zachary earlier had turned into shaking, and I held my arm around his shoulders tightly as we walked. He was so unhappy, and then something magical happened: the lights came on all the rides. Rather than being more jolting to him as you might think, the lights blinking to the music became his calming focal points; he found a rhythm to soothe him back to coping mode. That was when we went on the Ferris Wheel. I wasn't going to go on it because the story of the 11 year old falling was still very fresh in my mind, but I decided that-with Zachary asking to go on-if he was going to conquer his fears than I sure as heck better do the same! It really was a beautiful ride and when we stopped at the very top the first time we had a spectacular view of a glowing orange marble of a sun setting on the horizon, with Philadelphia's silhouette in the background.
Walking back to the van, Zachary worked on convincing himself it was a GREAT night. He repeated the good stories of the night, talking about the little basketball and how brave he was in the maze and the ferris wheel ride. He did a good job and did convince himself; I'll keep what I know as my little secret. Okay so writing it all here isn't exactly keeping my secret but well, you know what I mean. ;) I think that in spite of it being such a difficult night, he progressed-even though I know that he knows what a rough time he had, I also know that he knows he made it through and it turned out okay. Well that was confusing but hopefully you know what I mean there, too.