by Laura Sylvester
The title of this blog is a quote from a movie called Infinity. It is a favorite of both Rick and I. It also happens to be the single most important lesson Elliot has taught me. Whenever I see parents out in public with their autistic child(ren) and they look ashamed or embarrassed of their kids, it just breaks my heart. It hurts because that was me a few years ago. I can vividly remember the turning point when I decided that doing right by my son - being loving and present with him - was always more important than reacting to the judgments others might be placing on us. I had been struggling with this issue for most Elliot’s life not really aware that there was an alternative to feeling and being imprisoned by it. My hidden belief and behavior system was challenged when I read the book, Son-Rise a Miracle to Believe In. A shift in my thinking began and rock solid change would come when I replaced one way of thinking with another.
Many of you have heard the story below, but I believe it is worth repeating as an introduction to our day at the beach.
Elliot and I were at Disneyland riding It’s a Small World when our boat stopped near the end of the ride but definitely not where it is suppose to stop. Elliot screamed “WE’RE STUCK!” At that moment I believe every person on the boat turned around and shot a look at him. I rapid fired a look back at ALL of them and then I decided to join Elliot by yelling back with all the Dora the Explorer exuberance I could muster, “ YOU ARE RIGHT! WE ARE STUCK! WHAT ARE WE GONNA DO NOW?” Lo and behold everyone on the boat turned back around to face forward. Elliot and I continued our discussion in a way too loud to be appropriate volume and I didn’t feel the least bit self-conscious. I felt great! AND where before Elliot would have a negative emotional response to my un-ease, this time he was smoothly going with the flow. In that moment, Elliot seemed happy and I felt a connection with my son I will forever cherish. From that moment on, I vowed to never put strangers’ feelings, judgments or comments ahead of my son.
So - back to the beach - we took Orbit to the NO DOGS ALLOWED beach and my non-caring vow was put to the test. It started with a righteous 20 something screaming at us from the passenger seat of a truck passing by “HEY! NO DOGS ON THE BEACH! GET YOU’RE F-ING DOG OFF THE BEACH!” we tried to ignore her but she kept screaming, so Rick yelled back “HE’S A SERVICE DOG!” but she kept screaming. Then a group of lifeguards in training ran by and one of them yelled at her “HE’S A SERVICE DOG!” and that ended that.
I got the feeling that people did not like the fact that we could take our dog on the beach – Oceanside Beach has a strict NO DOGS rule. I should mention that some people were awesome; they smiled and seemed to accept the situation. Some even seemed joyful. But I also spotted several groups standing on the top of the rocks behind the beach glaring down at us while we played together as a family. Then a policeman strutted down the beach…he wanted to “speak with us.” I was sure one of the glarers had tattled. I have to admit none of us appears disabled from afar and we were playing fetch the stick at the water’s edge, so I totally get how we looked like a “normal” family breaking the rules - EXCEPT for the bright blue vest Orbit was wearing. I have heard the service dog gig gets abused, so I accept the responsibility to educate people when it is called for. But, for people to get angry over this? I wish they could spend their emotional energy on something more productive . The officer and I did a bit of a who’s on first dance as he stood in front of me repeating, “No dogs on the beach” , I kept saying “He’s a service dog.” So, finally I said “Do I need to call the City of Oceanside to discuss it with them?” and he said, “I AM the City of Oceanside.” So, I said, “Do you want to talk to my son so you can confirm he has autism?” He said “Oh, is that what the dog’s vest says he does?” I said, “That is the kind of service dog he is and one of his jobs is to go with my son everywhere.” Then Elliot, Rick and Orbit came over to where the officer and I were talking and I introduced Elliot to the police man. I was trying to make it exciting for Elliot so that he would actually give a flying fig about meeting a police man. Elliot repeated a “Hi officer” Then the officer asked Elliot, “Is the water cold?” Elliot said, “NO GREEN!” (a typical Elliot protest response, he's always had a dislike for that color). The officer stood there bewildered for a minute, then looked at me and said flatly, “If other officers inquire about the dog, just tell them what you told me, good day.” So, we continued to enjoy our day at the beach with the City of Oceanside Police Dept. blessing. That made it all the easier to ignore the judgers, glarers, and screamers.
“Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind.” - Dr. Suess