I have a vivid picture in my mind.
It is of a 2 year old blond boy, standing by the lake, throwing rocks in. Perfectly content. I am looking at him from the back and can't see his expression, but know it is neither smiling nor frowning. My husband is next to me, almost in tears. We are both watching this precious angel with a heavy heart.
This was the one and only time I went camping (in my adult life). TJ was two and Peter was not even one. We were with a whole group of friends on Burton Island. We had brought over all our camping, food, and baby supplies, and were at a beautiful little spot where we set up out tent next to a lean-to. Our friends were all spread out - at our little location were only 2 people we knew, and 4 or more friends of theirs.
We were hoping that this weekend getaway would help us forget that we were waiting on a diagnosis to tell us what was wrong with our boy.
The one night we spent on that island was awful. It was raining and both boys were crying hysterically all night. Peter only calmed down when placed between Sean and I, sleeping only out of sheer exhaustion. Then TJ joined us. The four of us huddled together and I don't think Sean or I slept a wink.
Little 2 year old TJ seemed out of sorts the entire time we were on that island. At the time, the words "sensory integration disorder" and "autism spectrum disorder" meant nothing to us. We just knew something was not quite right with our sweet boy who couldn't talk and got hysterically upset for no reason at all.
The next morning I exited our tent to find a hippie girl I didn't know complaining about our parenting to my friend behind the lean-to. I remember the surprised look on their faces as I turned away in tears, exhausted from no sleep and fed up with the lack of understanding for the incomprehensible position we were in. Immediately Sean and I seeked friendlier faces - one of our best friends (and TJ's Godmother) was in a different camping location with closer friends of ours and they knew what we were going through. They came back to our camping location and with their help we packed up all our belongings and got back to the ferry on time to head back to the mainland.
I know my friend at our camping location felt terrible that we left, but we were beyond reach at that point. The thought of spending any more time with people who weren't 100% on our side was unimaginable, and Sean and I were too hurt to continue with the weekend. We went home and cried - mostly out of fear of what lay ahead for us.
We knew what was coming.
That week, TJ was diagnosed with autism.
I look back at that image of our little two year old, happily throwing rocks into the lake, and yearn for that simplicity. That time before we were labelled "autism family". That time before 20 hours of therapy a week took over our two year old's life. Before Sean and I would fight like hell for our child to gain words when he had none. Before our one year old would be an "autism sibling", and he couldn't even walk. Before our entire family would fight for autism acceptance and understanding everywhere we went.
Today I cringe when I hear the words "Burton Island". I know that's silly, and I should not associate that beautiful place with such a negative experience, but I can't help it. My stomach drops when I hear those words, and I haven't been camping since.
It could also be the fact that I hate sleeping outside. And bugs. I hate bugs.
Let's face it, I hate camping.
Maybe one of these days I'll try it again. But don't hold your breath.