Growing Forward, Holding Back, Adjusting to the World

Years ago, when Robert was four years old, our family went to Newport, RI. It was a short trip.  We parked the car, bought ticket, and waited in a room stuffed with expensive objects for our guide. Jan tried to hold Robert’s hand.  I tried to hold Robert’s hand.  Jan tried to hold Robert in his arms.  I tried to hold Robert in my arms.  Amanda waited between us.  She was quiet and resigned.  Robert kept wiggling.  He kept  sliding between our arms as if he were covered with lubricant. He used all his limbs and head to pull himself out and throw us of balance.  We hoped that when the guide would start talking and moving us through the overloaded chambers, Robert would calm down.  Not exactly.

As soon as the guide opened his mouth, Robert followed with his commentary on the whole experience.

It was piercing.

We left.

I cried realizing how much of the world was closed to Robert and how big part of the world would remain closed to him forever.

I cried realizing that there would be experiences we would not be able to share. I cried for many other reasons, all important and valid  and none easy to articulate.

The only way of pulling myself out of that desperate realization was to become angry at someone or something.

So I became angry at those rich owners of that stuffy house. I became angry at all the owners of all the mansions.   I became angry at the Newport Preservation Society.  I became angry at the whole town of Newport.

For 16 years I could not understand people who not only paid money to visit  mansions but also found the experience  enriching, entertaining, or …educational.

Nonetheless, we, the parents,  learned our  lesson.  Jan, avoiding all buildings, continued to take Robert to parks for hiking, swimming, or bike lessons.  I planned our outings a little better.  In Medieval Salt Mine, near Krakow, I hired a private guide just for our family and two friends. This way we synchronized our visit to Robert’s internal clock. I don’t think we missed anything.  Mainly however, we only went to the places that allowed self guided tours.

When Robert threw a tantrum in Science Museum in Boston (Unknown cause), I did not stop taking him there, but to the contrary, I bought family membership and began visiting it more often for shorter periods of time.   We wandered through Museum of Science without any plan. I let Robert decide if he wanted to go left or right, up or down, to the Blue or Green Wing.

We also kept  membership to the Museum of Art.  Our visits there, however, although short were always  planned.  One day we went to see Egyptian section, another day  Chinese furniture, and so on.  On two visits Robert was supposed to find one (big) picture.  Much harder than it seems.

I have to say, that before going to any new place, I am a little tense.  The old places are much better, as Robert loves to visit them again and enjoys recognizing them as old friends.

Finally, this Saturday, we went back to Newport.  After sixteen or seventeen years. We stopped to see Green Animals Topiary in Portsmouth.  It was a good introduction.  The house was relatively small, the garden large.  It was a great place to breathe after the trip.

Although, I wanted to explore possibility of Robert following the tour guide, I was very relieved that in Breakers’ Mansion, they had self guided tours.  So we practiced setting the earphones to the numbers in front of artifacts and pretending to listen to the lecture.  Because, I did not listen.  I watched Robert, who might have or might have not listened, but was learning to keep the earphones on.  It went so well, that we followed with another self-guided tour of Rosecliff.  Only once in those three mansions (the first one), Robert tried to open the door that shouldn’t be open.  Told not to do that, he refrained from opening any other door, and there were many of them.

I don’t know what his experience taught him.   What sense did he make out of that trip? sadly, he won’t tell me.

I find it encouraging, however,  that he did not ask me for french fries while we were visiting those mansions, although he asked many times when we were outside.

Unfortunately, French Restaurant in Newport doesn’t serve fries or burgers, or chicken fingers or eggplant or poblano chilli.  So it still could not accommodate Robert, and thus was out of the question.

But, maybe next year?

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