Sunday, October 31, 2010

The other day I met a man in the park…

And I promise this is not some dodgy George Michael style story. I am not in jail, haven't crashed the Subaru into a camera shop, promise.

I was doing the evening ritual with Billy and Scruffy (dog park, scooter, playground...) and when we got to the playground part of the adventure, there was a man and his two little boys on the equipment. I (very briefly) thought, 'Odd to see a man by himself with his kids. Good on him.' And went about the exciting process of trying to convince the dog that 10 metres away from the playground wasn't actually that far away.

Billy and the two boys started playing an autistic version of chase (they try and engage him, and he 'pretends' to run away), and the man and I got chatting.

He was a pilot. He flew in the Australian Air Force in the first Gulf War, and then became a commercial pilot. He's flown for all of his adult life. When he talked about flying, his eyes brightened and he got a bit taller. He clearly loved to fly. He shared a lot of flying stories, making me feel much more comfortable about long haul flights in the process. I heard about the training they do, the ease of navigation, the way they prepare for potential issues, the intense risk management... all good. 

Until he mentioned the fact that, not too long ago, in a routine check up, they found he has a heart condition. And that means he's grounded.  He can't fly, until the heart condition is resolved. His wings were taken away. And when they were, his heart was broken.

I should mention here, that I have one of 'those faces'. People talk to me. It may be because I talk to them, but seriously, I am constantly amazed at the stuff perfect strangers disclose to me. I have no idea why, but I take it as a compliment. The Silent Partner takes it as a curse. He hates it when I get chatting to strangers. He's not a stranger chatter. Unless he's drunk, then he's everyone's friend. But that's a whole other story.

Back to the playground. I'm listening to this man's story. And more than that, I'm seeing the effect of his story on his being. He's getting shorter by the second. He's slumping into himself. He can barely make eye contact (no, Valerie, not everyone with eye contact issues is an Aspie, OK??). 

His reaction got me thinking. 

The pilot without his wings, is similar to the way I was when we first heard the 'a' word. I felt like my life force had been sucked out. Autism sucked it out. The light of my life... this gorgeous, clever little boy was busted. I wasn't going to get to be the parent of the captain of the block building team. My kid wasn't going to be the dux of the school. No more 'mother of the prime minister' fantasies.  

For the first few doctor appointments (or 'the parade of paediatricians' as I like to call it) I refused to accept anything they were saying. They were all idiots, and no way were they going to take away any of the brilliance and excellentness of my little man. I regret that stance a bit because some of them were talking about kind of useful stuff like GF/CF and b12 shots, and it took me like four years to come back to it. 

But hey... I was devastated. I plead temporary insanity. I was getting shorter and losing the light behind my eyes. I didn't know what was going to happen in the future. I felt rudderless, having potentially lost the one thing I knew I was born to do.

Like park man. Mr 'Point-it-to-London-and-decide-what's-for-dinner' doesn't have a clue what comes next. He's lost, because the thing that makes his heart sing is potentially lost.

And so, a couple of days ago, as the afternoon turned into mosquito hour, I found myself reassuring the pilot that everything would be OK. How did I know that? I knew it because we thought our lives were over too. We thought this disorder was going to steal away our little boy, and our dreams of the future with him. We thought we were no good. That we had failed. That the destiny we had dreamed of was a mirage.

And we were wrong. 

We still have him, and he's awesome. He's living every moment like every other kid.  He's laughing and crying and trying his hardest. He's winning, all the time. He might not play rugby for Australia, but he'll find his place. It will be something he loves and is good at, because it is not in the nature of the beast for him to flog a dead horse just for the sake of it. 

I told Mr QANTAS that we, in the process of having our hearts ripped open, have become a slightly improved, definitely more honest (and more intense) version of who we thought we were. We have accepted the road less travelled, and we are really, truly, enjoying the journey.

I'm confident that my airbus flying friend can do the same.

And if I ever make enough cash to get myself on one of his flights, I hope he actually chooses the road more travelled (or the flight path more travelled), because I'm not really a very confident flyer.


Ro said...

You're a good gal, Valerie xxx.

Judye Nazareth said...


What a beautiful way to describe a parent's response to that diagnosis!

I hope that talking with you allowed him to heal too.


Jenni said...

As usual, Valerie, your post is gorgeous! Love ya!

Nicole English said...

Great post. I can think of a certain website where other people would benefit from these words :)

Rebekah said...

i'm loving you from clear across 2 oceans...can mr. pilot give you some skymiles in exchange for the park therapy? if so, come on over.

Anonymous said...

I loved this post Val :)

I even shed a little tear, a little happy tear.
You are such an inspiration to us all.
The skies the limit when it comes to our very special, "different, not less" children. Thank you for sharing this uplifting story :)