Raising an autistic child brings you to places that most parents never visit. The situations that arise, like when little Nate disappeared when we visited a house in Wilmette. When I found him, he was in the midst of a huge bubble bath. We had just met this family and it was our first time getting together. It was also our last.
But the most memorable “Oh my God!” moment came on a visit to the Shedd Aquarium. We always made sure the weekends were packed with activities that the kids enjoyed and living in the Chicago suburb of Lincolnshire made it easy to duck into the city.
Nate was 5 and Robbie 2 (no Joey yet) when we headed down to the Shedd. The Oceanarium was fairly new at the time (it opened in 1991) and it was our first time seeing it with Rob, who already had a strong interest in animals.
It was a typical field trip, fun and nerve-wracking. Keeping tabs on Nate was a full-time focus that took away from the fun of the trip. It wasn’t unenjoyable; just less so. Karen had marched up the amphitheater steps to a gift shop above. Had to hit the gift shop before the show started. There, she bought a heavy rubber starfish for each boy. They were substantial souvenirs, thick, lifelike, large.
The four of us sat to watch the Pacific White Sided dolphins do their thing. Robbie watched with glee, Nate’s attention was ping-ponging all around the place. The dolphins were incidental for him. When the show was over, we headed down to the railing to watch up close. In a flash, Nate whipped his starfish toy into the tank.
Holy crap! What do you do? Karen immediately ran to a diver and told them what happened. As quickly as possible, staffers were in the water, heading down to retrieve the foreign object. The fear was that a dolphin could choke.
That’s when my mind began racing. What if a dolphin DID die? How much could a dolphin cost? $100,000? There are lots of them out there; the ocean’s full of them! But the transportation costs, that’s got to be expensive.
By the time I ran through the possibilities, one of the divers had returned with the dripping toy. Karen put it in her bag for safekeeping, but Nate made a grab for it right away. He was going to toss it back in!
We stopped him before he had a chance. In Nate’s mind, starfish belonged in the water, with the dolphins. Makes sense, but that wasn’t exactly the situation. Hurriedly, we walked away to another, less open exhibit.
Now it’s your turn. Tell me your favorite offbeat moments.