Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Heroes, big and small

There are many aspects of motherhood that I enjoy, and many I don't. Thankfully the good far outweighs the bad. I do not regret becoming a mom, for parenting has enriched my life in ways I cannot describe with words.

I love saving the day. Most of the time it is a small event. I try to keep first aid cream and band-aids in my purse for the inevitable fall and skinned, tender knees. Or when my child's feelings have been hurt and I help him through the pain, then role-play with him for the next time it happens. Which it will.

At times, saving the day means studying about my children's special needs and making a connection that will smooth their path in the future. Or it could mean a trip to the ER when there's been a lot of blood. Being the hero has helped me to grow further than I ever thought possible. But there are times when I can't do enough.

My oldest has a penchant for map-making. He continually astounds us with his increasingly detailed maps, most especially of the Washington, D.C. Metro system. These maps include a key, color-coded routes, two major rivers, different colors of green for each county, even planned lines that haven't been built yet. He has memorized the names and locations of nearly all 94 stations. He peppers me with questions daily about the Metro system, and I simply don't know the answers. It makes me feel a bit inadequate.

Recently the cherry blossom trees were in full bloom in downtown Washington, D.C. We decided to visit on a chilly Saturday, and, of course, we were going to take the Metro. As we packed, I was in full-swing saving-the-day mode. Diapers? Wipes? Full lunch? Snacks? Water bottles? Sunscreen? Lip balm with sunscreen? Camera? Jackets? Cash? Extra clothes? Hand sanitizer? You name it, I was ready for anything. Our oldest asked to bring his most recent Metro map. It was enormous, four 8.5"x 11"sheets of paper taped together. I almost said no, but decided to humor him. He folded it carefully and stashed it in his backpack.

When we stepped out of the Metro and into the city, it was windy. Too cold for standing around and admiring the blossoms. We heard the cherry blossom parade winding along a few blocks away, and we figured that we could hit the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History before the parade crowd dispersed. It was a lovely visit full of exotic orchids, massive diamonds, and enormous bugs that we held in our hands. The highlight was the butterfly habitat. I could hardly contain myself when our autistic son, who never stops moving, stood stock-still in order to coax a butterfly into his palm. It was magical.

After lunch we decided to try to beat the crowds home. We headed toward the closest Metro stop, aptly named the Smithsonian stop. As we approached, I groaned. It was swamped with people. What we didn't know was that not only were the blooms at their peak and the festival in full swing, but the city's hockey, baseball, and basketball teams all had home games that day. It was ridiculous.

We waded through the seething mass of people to get to the entrance. But when we arrived, we found that the platform had been closed to incoming foot traffic. We turned and waded through, then walked another block to find the other entrance to the station. Once again, people were everywhere. There was such a huge crowd that everyone was at a standstill. People spilled out onto the nearby streets.

The idea of waiting in that line made my blood run cold. What would happen if our autistic son had a meltdown underground, in that crowd? We would have NOWHERE to go, and he would probably injure himself and innocent bystanders in the process. My family was tiring rapidly. We were out of options. I was not prepared for this, and I was not going to be saving the day. We weren't even close enough to the station to see the Metro map on the wall or grab a paper copy.

Suddenly I remembered our oldest son's map. I turned to him and asked him to pull it out. An enormous grin spread across his face as he unfolded it and held it up for us to see. He crowed,
"I knew this would come in handy!"

We held it tightly against the wind. As we searched the map, I knew that our second child had a finite number of steps left in him. Our decision was critical. There was no room for mistakes. All we really needed to know was which direction to head, and which street to look for. Our little map-maker pointed out the closest stop, and though the street name was not on the map, he knew it.

The station was exactly where he told us it would be. He was beside himself with glee. We were able to board the very next train and were on our way home in short order. I breathed a sigh of relief.

Our map-maker turned to me with an impish grin and asked, "Did I save the day, mommy?"

Did you ever.