Dating Life Again

There comes a point when you’re coming through a tough, tough time, and even though things aren’t exactly easily manageable (forget great, or even really good) yet — you decide that it’s time. It’s time to start dating life again. Because if you don’t start trying, you’ll never get out of your pajamas, make yourself presentable, get out of the house and become social again.

As Ramadan came to a close last week and we neared the Eid-ul-fitr holiday, I made that decision. I chose to date life again. And not just for me. I chose for Lil D, too. He wasn’t ready to, but we all held his hand and eased him back into the dating pool.

And the waters have been choppy. Oh so choppy.

For anyone who’s followed this blog, you’ll know where this is all coming from. Lil D’s severe autism itself is a constant challenge for him and our family. On the best of days, we follow a “risk assessment” scenario in which we map out where we will go with all our kids – do the most important activity first, bring the appropriate gear (food, reinforcers, favorite toys), assign tasks (to husband if he is with me, or my nine-year-old daughter, who is my right-hand girl), prepare an exit strategy, and most importantly, be sure to quit while we’re ahead.

These are strategies I assume that most parents employ with their kids when they go out. But, it’s a thousand times more crucial and important for parents of ASD (autism spectrum disorder) and other special needs children to have their plan in place. They must take into account all the nuances of their child’s autistic challenges – are they a runner? What can their senses tolerate? What are their dietary and medical needs? Where are the toilets? What about behavior issues?

Our First Date – Eid Prayers

Lil D is a very, very square peg constantly trying to ease (or be hammered into) the round hole that is this world. And the past eight-plus months of severe behavior and medical issues has made his journey all the tougher. We pretty much retreated from the world as we sat in the trenches with him, trying to help him through one of the toughest times he’s endured with his autism.

And here we are now, slowly coming up on the other side – bruised, scratched, bloodied, worn — but moving forward with a plan in place, with changes in affect. Slowly, a step forward, two steps back. And so, I thought it was time. And what could be better than Eid-ul-Fitr prayers for Lil D to make his re-entrance?

God threw us a bone that day, because as thousands of Muslims converged at the Richmond Convention Center for Eid prayers at 9 a.m.; Lil D in his adult stroller, his Dadima (paternal grandmother) with her walker, Amal, Hamza, Dadaba (paternal grandfather), my husband and I joined the congregational prayer as well. It was loud. It was packed. It was overwhelming for Lil D, but he tolerated it.

When the prayers and khutbah (sermon) were done, we weaved our way out of the hall. The logistics were bad – thousands of Muslims streamed out through one set of double doors as other Muslims tried to come in for the second jamaat (second congregational prayers for those who missed the first). Husband pushed Lil D, and Amal and I stayed close behind him. My mom-in-law, father-in-law and Hamza got separated from us.

We pushed through the crowds and made it outside. My husband instructed me to take Lil D and Amal and walk to another awning (on top of it all, it was now raining) while he searched for his parents and Hamza. So we kept walking. And, as the rain picked up, I tried to take the kids back into the convention center.

Point of No Return

By this point, Lil D was done. DONE, I tell you. And I don’t blame him. For his first date with the world, he had been on his best behavior long enough.

It started with that familiar, dreaded hyperventilating. Then the cries. And then, the Flop. Out of the stroller, face first on the ground, hands in places they shouldn’t be. The Flop is hard to work through. He just refused to get up. You can try to lift him from his armpits, but he is strong. If he doesn’t want to get up, then that’s it. Game over.

He laid there for a good 15 minutes as people walked all around us. Of course, many people stared and whispered to each other. (You got a problem?) A few friends saw us and kindly asked if they could do anything to help. There’s nothing, I said. Really, we’re fine. If you could just find my husband … Another dear friend sat on the floor with us next to Lil D and rubbed his back, waiting as long as he could for my husband to come.

Finally, another friend located my husband, and by that point Lil D got up off the floor and back into the stroller. We high-tailed it back to our car, and then brought the car around to pick up my in-laws and Hamza from where they were waiting. And off we sped to home.

So what is a success? This first date with Eid prayers?

It’s all about perspective. It could’ve been so much worse. The self-injurious behavior remained at bay. Other than the Flop and some crying, Lil D did pretty well. And that was a heck of a first date to try.

This story doesn’t end. I mentioned choppy waters in the dating pool. After Eid prayers were done, a few hours later we got on the road and drove to my parents’ house in Maryland, where the kids and I spent the next four days hanging out with Nanijan and Nanajan and my brother and his family. (Husband came back home that same day because he had to work.)

That’s where things got really interesting. This dating thing, it takes real effort.

About Dilshad Ali

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