Sunday, August 1, 2010

Community (not the TV show)...

Last night we had our eyes opened, and our lungs burned.

The lung burning was due to a piece of toxic masonite some bright spark added to a bonfire at our street party. And it wasn't really that bad. I think having pulled all the chemicals out of our house, our systems were a bit stunned by the smell of singed fake wood. It was a small price to pay for the other amazing things that happened last night.

We moved into this house five years ago. We'd spent three months renovating it, and renting in another suburb, so we felt pretty much at home by the time we moved in. This feeling was helped along when one of our neighbours appeared one day with a piece of paper. It was a contact list for the street - a cul de sac, where many of the residents were the first ones to live here. They had built their houses together 40 years ago, and in some cases, their grown up children had chosen to buy in the street as well. The list has everyone's phone numbers and notes on who the nurses are, who can babysit and who has handyperson skills. No-one's in anyone's face, but there's always someone to pick up your mail or feed your cat if you need.

Twice a year, we have a street party, up at our end of the street. When we first moved here, Billy was almost two, and he was deep in the dark days. He was frightened of everything and everyone. He refused, point blank, to leave the house during the street parties - even when Santa Claus arrived with a present just for him.

As the years went by, and the therapy took hold, he would watch the party from the living room window. Then he would sit in the front driveway watching, but not participating. Over the last 18 months or so, he's edged closer and closer to the party action. Last night, he took a deep breath (not a great idea given the bonfire situation) and jumped in with both feet.

By 5pm, the sun was setting, and children materialised from nowhere, complete with scooters and skateboards. I was a bit worried, because Billy had been excited about the idea of the fire and marshmallows and sparklers. From his position at the front window, Billy turned to us and said, 'Can I ride my scooter at the party?'

And that, as they say, was that.

While the adults watched things burn (why is a fire so darned interesting to look at??), the kids toasted marshmallows, rode scooters and fought good naturedly over the two very impressive skateboards. By some mysterious order of parent hoo-doo, one adult would stand up between the grown ups and the kids and supervise the whizzing about... (which got faster in direct proportion to the amount of marshmallows consumed). And in the middle of all that whizzing, was Billy.

Now, at the beginning of the evening, Billy's whizzing was kind of clunky. He couldn't quite work out which foot went where, or indeed, how to make the scooter move forward in anything resembling a scooting motion. But, and it's a but I love (unlike my butt which I would like very much to disappear), Billy watched the other kids like a hawk. He would periodically retreat to a neighbour's driveway, where he would practice his moves alone. That, and occasionally crash his scooter into a carefully pruned collection of lilly pillies. He would announce to the assembled crowd that there had been a terrible crash, and go into rescue mode.

After each rescue, he would join the crowd of sugared up scooterers, and each time he did, his scooter skills were improved. Seriously, by the end of the night, he was as good as the kid across the road. OK, that kid is three and a girl... but the improvement was spectacular.

Even more impressive than Scooter University, was the skateboard incident. Or incidents. First, after mastering sitting down skateboarding (and discovering that our end of the cul de sac is actually the peak of a decent hill), he befriended a younger boy. That's a miraculous sentence in itself. Two years ago, the sight of a younger child was enough to make Billy turn tail and run. And be-friending was something in sitcoms. But last night, Billy and this younger boy experimented with how far down the street an unaccompanied skateboard would get, if you sent it flying under parked cars. For ages... for so long that a couple of deputations had to be sent off down the street to collect the two boys and the skateboard.

Then there were the games of marble run, the watching boys play computer games, the requests to borrow toys from complete strangers, the full participation in a treasure hunt and the lovely moment when a bigger boy realised Billy hadn't shared in the chocolate (treasure) haul and offered him a MIlky Way.

As I watched these things unfold, I drank my beer like a grown up. I spoke to other adults... about community things like our brand new local shopping centre and how fast people drive up our street sometimes. Occasionally, someone would sidle up to me and tell me how proud they were of Billy. Many of these people, I thought didn't even know him, or us, or that he was autistic. But they did, and they felt really happy to talk about it.

They were proud because they had seen, in years gone by, that Billy didn't want to be anywhere near their kids. They were proud because their own kids finally had an 'in'. They were proud that their street had a good story.

And I was proud too.

Last night, I felt like a good parent, among good parents. Nice people, nice experience... our community.

Not so proud of our toxic smoke production, but hey...


Amy said...

Glorious, thank you :)

Fi said...

SO proud of Billy.
And it's wonderful that the neighbours were also so proud of his progress.
Warm fuzzy feelings over here :)

Jenni said...

YAY for signs of progress! I can imagine that must have been the BEST night ever for you. Good on you Billy!!!

Ro said...

What a wonderful party you'll all remember!
Yay Billy!