Saturday night, we were getting ready to head out for what constitutes our big night on the town, when the sitter realized that Clay had managed to unlock the backyard gate and was standing in the driveway. Excited to go somewhere with somebody.
Thanks to a local nonprofit, we enjoy a couple of nights a month of respite care, so my wife and I can go out as a couple—be something besides the parents of a child with autism for an evening. Sometimes we get together with family. Sometimes with other couples. Mostly, it’s the two of us for dinner and a movie. We fantasize about just going somewhere and taking a nap, but haven’t figured out how to pull that off, yet.
This night, we were going out with our older son to a quick dinner, followed by a movie. Clay’s big brother is home from college for the summer, and we are acutely aware of how the challenge of life with Clay affected his world growing up. So we try to use our respite allowance occasionally for the three of us to spend time together.
When we found him, Clay was standing near my car, and seemed to think he was coming with us. That, of course, adds a little tweak to our guilt about not including him in the night out. It wasn’t until a few years ago that we even looked into respite. We certainly knew we needed down time, but always felt a bit uneasy about leaving the little guy behind. Exhaustion and a need for some social contact pushed us beyond that, but the acorn-size stomach knot remains when we go out, especially when he follows us to the car as we are leaving.
Earlier, my wife had explained that we were going out and the sitter was coming to spend the evening with him.
“What do you want to do tonight?” she asked on the keyboard Clay uses to communicate.
“Slacks (a favorite nearby hoagie place) and a walk,” he typed.
With the sitter’s help, we urged Clay back into the house, reminding him of what they were going to do. We went off to our dinner and a movie, hoping Clay would have fun as well.
Our respite sitter is terrific. She has almost as much energy as the little guy, and has worked with some serious cases in her career. We trust her completely. Still, we’re never quite sure what the report will be when we walk back in the door.
When we arrived home four hours later, Clay was happily ensconced on the living room sofa, wrapped in his comforter, talking noisily about “the old Once-ler” from The Lorax. How did the night go after we left?
The sitter said they went to the restaurant, where Clay had his usual baseball bat-sized hotdog and French fries while watching sports on the numerous big screen TVs, took a walk, went to the drug store to pick up some sale items, and then the supermarket, where Clay pushed the cart and had a grand time. They were out and about for a couple of hours.
Frankly, it was a lot more fun than the night he would have had with us, if we had all stayed home together. (Our typical Saturday night: takeout for dinner followed by a Netflix movie with Clay checking in on us every 15 or 20 minutes.)
Each time we go out, we relearn the lesson that it is OK for us to enjoy some time of our own. Each time, it gets a little easier.