It’s Summertime. Blue skies, warm weather, and the Pacific Northwest….

The perfect day for a road trip. It was an easy choice for me and I knew exactly where we would go. I completed my morning chores, filled water bottles, and packed my camera…

“But what about my illustrations?”  

As much as John knows I’m all for exploring and adventure and often load everyone in the car and go, he usually has to discuss, question, dialogue and process what we are going to do.

“What about “Sandman of Seaside?”

The name of our new children’s book, John has transferred his rough draft drawings to the computer and is currently working on editing and completing final copies for the story. I explained to him that if he wished, he could easily work on his illustrations in the evening when we got home.

“But what about our deadline?”

Taking his illustrations seriously, John has organized his work into a series of deadlines. His latest goal is to have his final drawings for “Sandman of Seaside” completed by the first week of August, sometime between the first and the fourth. I asked him again what he thought of working on his illustrations after our road trip?

“I’ve got an idea.”

John gathered several pieces of drawing paper and a pencil, explaining that he would work on illustrations for a third book I am currently writing instead of “Sandman of Seaside.” He suggested stopping at Starbucks in Sandpoint, the Idaho town he knows that I was planning on road tripping to. As it is often hard for John to move past what he is planning on doing when there is a sudden change in schedule, I was pleased that he was strategizing on how to do so.

“I’ll work on “Chesty and His Boy.”

Surprisingly that is exactly what he did. During our road trip, he talked about his ideas for the first page. It was such a nice day, I asked him to consider drawing at the beach park so his younger brothers could swim.. He didn’t like it but agreed to compromise. We would stop first at Starbucks than find a place to write and illustrate down by the lake.

“Do you like what I’ve drawn?”

Though it took two trips back to the car to retrieve what he had forgotten, first his paper and pencil, next the wooden board he had brought with him, a smooth surface to place his paper and draw on, John sat down and began to draw. A breeze cooled the afternoon, relief from the hot summer day. The lake with the mountains all around and the sky above were many layers of sun shined shades of blue. For a short time, we sat side by side, illustrating and writing in the quiet calm that nature sometimes brings. I watched him for the seconds that he was relaxed enough to be free from the OCD tics that make it so hard for him to formulate his thoughts and speak. A beautiful thing to see. I smiled and said….

“I love it…”

-Chris….

For most people who do not happen to live in the *Land of A there may be a “Take for Granted” life style of seemingly easy to navigate days in which ordinary family events are enjoyed with little strife..

Take for example, a family hike planned on a weekend morning. All will cheerfully or not, wake up, take a shower, and brush their teeth. They will complete household chores such as making sure the dogs are fed, dishes done, and breakfast served. Any complaints, disagreements or mild temper tantrums may be normal but resolved sometime in the near future. Maybe they all will go about filling their water bottles instead of forgetting, than grab for their backpacks and shoes and head out to the family truckster, ready for the morning of adventure.

In the *Land of A, a vortex usually reigns supreme. Steps must be strictly adhered to in order not to slip right on over into the chaos of the abyss that unless one has mountain climbing skills, can barely manage the climb out of.

So it is that in this vortex leading to the abyss, maybe a hundred times or more one must verbally circle and do laps with one-of-my-own. Sort of like the trail race last weekend that had a mile or two, of six to twelve inches of heavy clay mud that one had to muck, not run through.

The first verbal laps may include the phrases, “Do you want me to take a shower?” and “Just say yes.” Shower and bathroom time will usually take three to ten times that of any sort of normal time and effort. One must also consider negotiating a daily peace treaty on the whole roll of toilet paper that will inevitably be used. Please don’t do it but if so, “I”m begging,”…. Please flush often as to not chronically clog the toilet or trigger that overflow that is destined to happen.

Everybody else is ready. But here’s the tricky part. One-of-my-own has not eaten. I’ve got it all figured out. Yes I do. Because I’ve lived a long time in the *Land of A and have plan A, plan B, and plan C always on my mind. Breakfast is going to be served “to go”, so we can get on our way. Right?…. hmmm..

Plan A today doesn’t really avoid the verbal circles and laps that must be completed before one-of-my-own can walk out the door. “What’s for breakfast?” “I SAID…. what’s for breakfast?” “MAN, I feel calm today!” “Can we have a good day?” “Let’s have a good day.” Add in a couple more similar phrases and we may spin in circles for another twenty minutes or more before one-of-my-own can jump off the verbal lap of loops and move on with his day.

Sprinting for the family truckster doesn’t work in the efforts to get on with the adventure. Defeated, one sinks into the seat, with head down on the wheel as another verbal loop erupts. “Can we have a good day guys?” “What’s for breakfast?” “Do you want me to take a shower?” This could potentially be the theme song of the ride up the mountain.

Maybe this wouldn’t be a bad thing. For sure, everyone wants to have a good day. But have I mentioned that in the *Land of A, one-of-my-own has a strong and vibrant voice with a volume only of extra loud? It may be that passing the family truckster in the *Land of A, one may think the whole family is rocking out, the volume is that loud. One might also wonder that sometimes a passenger or two may be wearing headphones to muffle the theme song. All I’ve got to say is, that unless one’s lived in the *Land of A, what looks strange may not be as strange as it seems.

The family hike happened. There is something to be said for finding perspective and peace on a mountain somewhere in the *Land of A. There was a cool breeze with the scent of fir trees and summer flowers. Blue skies framed the bright sun as it grew warmer. The trail was overgrown in spots, with trees to crawl underneath and the remnants of dying spring streams to hop over. All that and more with the sounds of birds flying overhead and the wind blowing in the trees, nature created opportunity for healing.

I found myself listening to one-of-my-own with an element of presence that eludes me in the everyday life in the *Land of A. As we hiked the trail uphill to the fire lookout tower, the verbal loops ceased to be an issue of stress even though one-of-my-own kept at it. “How long are we going to be gone?” “Where are we going?” “MAN, it’s hot out here…” “Can we have a good day?”

Somewhere in the chaos of the abyss I found myself climbing out. Looking into the clear blue eyes of one-of-my-own, I know to be true that in the vortex of it all, it is my level of presence, love and understanding with him that needs to be addressed.

Again…

 

 

 

And Again…

It is the toughest lesson I have ever had to learn and I flunk way more than I get it right.

The *Land of A will forever be the one of the hardest places I have ever lived in. I don’t think that can be changed. But if I could ever master that lesson of being present, it might get just a little bit easier.

I hear one-of-my-own say, “I love you Mom. Can we get chocolate chip cookies for Dad today. I want to do something for him…. I love him.”

“Can we have a good day?”

                   

     

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

-Chris                                                        

*A stands for Autism)

 

 

 

 

 

 “Are you sure you want to book those tickets…?”

The question caused me to pause as an internal debate stirred in myself on how to answer. So much of me wanted to say, “Hold off. Wait… At least a day or two, maybe a week. Come to think about it… how about forever?” I wanted to be absolutely sure I could pull it together, that I actually had a concrete travel plan, one that would be undeniably safe.

But that was the problem, and I knew it. If I hesitated, or decided to not go forward with what I wanted to do, my disappointment in myself would be endless. A lifetime of playing it safe, this trip back to China was complicated. So much more than the really big of why I was going, another huge piece was personal redemption for the years I basically had spent avoiding life because of fear of the unknown and risk of failure.

Inside of me was the Adventurer. I knew this was finally the time I needed to experience the possibility of being out of my comfort level. If the unexpected happened, this would be the opportunity to strategize on my own, how to overcome what it is was that made me afraid. Booking those tickets was the test to see if I was going to allow that to happen.

The travel agent asking me the question was patiently waiting for my answer. The places I was planning on going, the excitement of this once in a lifetime adventure contrasting with the thousand and one things that could go wrong were a constant thought pattern running through my brain, an internal picture-slide show that just wouldn’t shut off.

China was to be a backpack, hostel-staying adventure. Flights were to destinations that were off the beaten track and there would be no guide. I knew from my google research that plenty of adventurers had done this before. However, for the really big of why I was traveling, it was not the norm of travel that was expected and to be honest, several people advised me not to do so. I even had someone state that I wouldn’t be allowed to stay in a location that was on my itinerary. I really don’t like when someone tells me that I can’t. I wanted to be like the adventurers that could.

If only I had known that when we arrived in Beijing, the internet on my phone no longer felt the need to work, leaving me with no means of which to contact our driver who was to meet us that night. Ironically, or not, when he did finally find us, he somehow misplaced his car and we spent a good forty minutes touring the parking garage searching for it.

Several days after that, in the farm village of JiuXian, my son was hit by a moped, crashed into by his sister, and later, wiped out on his own as we were biking through the countryside. He was fine with all that but not so much when we ended up ironing our wet sheets that night in our hostel in an attempt to dry them before bed. I’m not sure what was up with those sheets because they were wet the next night too.

I didn’t have a clue that as a result of traveling during QingMing festival, China’s equivalent of Memorial Day, there would be no available seats left on the bullet train that I was planning on taking to Guangzhou. Luckily there were three tickets left on the Get Up at Four O’clock in the Morning Train. Unlucky that the lady ticket master had no interest in handing over our tickets even though they were paid for.

I think it would have been nice to know beforehand, how to handle the situation when a taxi driver drove us back to Guangzhou after an afternoon in Zhongshan. Halfway through the ride, he began driving in such a way, that I thought it most likely he had multiple health issues. With his left leg and arm jumping all around, resulting in a swerving, lurching, stop and go driving pattern, and his unresponsiveness to my asking him if he was ok, I thought it likely we all might die that night.

But I hadn’t known and even if I had, I realize that I still would have answered as I did. Because each and every day in China was exactly what I had hoped for in planning the trip in the first place. I had allowed myself to be the risk-taker. In facing the trip in all of it’s challenges, and rewards, the adventure unfolded with a richly layered experience and an opportunity for myself and my children who traveled with me to live it well….

Knowing the travel agent was still waiting for my answer, I replied without hesitation,

“Book the tickets…”