Today was our last day of beach vacation, and everything was going great. I had packed everything up, cleaned up our rented house, and we were moments away from heading back to the water for a final day in the sun and the waves.
David was especially excited. Just yesterday, he finally - finally! - pushed past the breakers by the shore, out to the deeper and somewhat calmer water and swam and swam and swam, riding the swells and diving under the occasional larger waves when they came. He was so proud of himself, and I was, too. We were high-fiving and he was jumping and diving like a fish. It was wonderful. He loves to swim, but he's always been to afraid of the waves to do much more than splash by the shore. It was a real milestone moment.
So today, he was saying over and over "I am going to go under! I am going to be in the waves! I am going to jump like a dolphin!" He was raring to go from the minute we got up.
I was just packing the towels into the beach back when a scream from the living room reached my ears. David had been laying on the back of the couch, and had either slipped or jumped and landed right on Anna's back. I have no doubt it hurt, but there was no bruising or swelling, and she appeared to be doing OK a few minutes later. I made David apologize and then put him into a time-out.
Ten minutes later, Anna told me she couldn't go to the beach. Her back hurt, and she just didn't want to go.
Oh, no. Please, no.
And once again, it sucked to be a single mother. I have a girl who's got a hurt back and I don't want to make that worse. But I also have a child with autism who really pushed his personal envelope yesterday and I want to cement that in and reinforce it. I asked Anna if she could come with us to the beach, but just sit in the beach chair for an hour so that David could get some swim time in. She refused, and then I got a lecture about how I was rewarding him for his bad behavior.
But I wasn't. He didn't jump on her with the intent to hurt her. He was only playing, and he was truly remorseful when he saw that she was hurt. And he was so looking forward to being back in the water, now that he wasn't afraid of it anymore.
I needed him to keep that feeling. Children with autism are all about routine and reinforcement. If I can get it to stick in his head that he's not afraid of waves and can swim safely as long as he doesn't go too far out, I need to do that. It's not just for him, too - Anna would only benefit from this. The first four days of our vacation, she had to play in the water by herself because I had to stay near the shore to keep an eye on David. If we can all be in the water together, she'd have a lot more fun.
And we were hours away from leaving - if I had to tell David there was no beach today, those hours would be spent dealing with a tantruming kid. Not an ideal scenario for any of us.
I finally had to make an executive decision. I pulled rank and told Anna her brother deserved some more time in the water, and she could go enjoy the beautiful sunshine and relax in the chair. I always try to make myself reverse the situation when something like this happens. Would I do the same to David, if she'd injured him by accident, and I could leave him at the shore in a chair (where I could see him easily)? Yes, I probably would. Even if I wouldn't, I had to look at the greater good. The bigger picture. The picture of David, playing with his sister in the ocean next year, long after she'll have forgotten this incident.
So we went, and it only took Anna about ten minutes to decide that the ocean was calm enough (and it really was) for her to join us. We laughed and swam and dove and splashed for a good hour or so before I called it quits and we headed back. It was wonderful, for all of us. A dose of children's ibuprophen and a relaxing rest of the afternoon did the trick, and by bedtime, Anna's back was doing good.
And I still felt guilty, even though it was clearly the right decision.