75: Thank You, Las Vegas

75: Thank You, Las Vegas

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Raising Kids on the Spectrum

Thank You, Las Vegas

You can learn many things from children.

How much patience you have, for instance.

~Franklin P. Jones

We are late yet again and the pressure is building. The therapist has been here for two hours. I have no excuses. There has been enough time to clear breakfast, get myself dressed and prepare for another day. I have had a break from my shadow and her constant, repetitive questions. “What’s gonna happen? Can we play Batman? Who’s the bad guy? What’s gonna happen?” It’s not so bad for a few days or weeks or even months, but this has been years. Four years, going on five, with no end in sight. It is time for our next appointment and it’s time to hurry, but rushing only seems to make things worse.

“No, Daddy! No!” my daughter pleads. “No brush. Bad brush!” Her dark, Asian hair is so fine and so unlike my hair or my wife’s. It is easily tangled and difficult to brush, especially when we are in a hurry. I am doing my best but I can feel my anger rising. No one has to comb my hair — especially the hair I have left. I’m a man — damn it! What do I know about brushing hair? I’d be happy to stop if she could only do this for herself. I don’t like this any more than she does. In fact, I don’t like this any more than most aspects of my current life, like the cold or the snow or the chaos of a messy house. I want out — out of the God-forsaken winter in Wisconsin. I need a break — to a place that is warm and green, a place where I can shed my coat, bask in the sun, and feel the weight of a golf club in my hands.

That break will come soon, when I find a deal for a quick weekend getaway. As the plane makes its final approach and the lights of the Vegas Strip come into view, my wife checks Sophia to see that she is safely buckled into her seat. With exasperation in her voice, my wife says, “Now tell me, once again, why exactly are we in Las Vegas?” When I made the reservations, the trip had seemed like a good idea, but already I am having second thoughts.

When we wake up the next morning, the reality of our situation is starting to dawn on me. The February air is cool, much too cold to use the outdoor pool. With Sophia, going to shows is not an option. And we don’t like to gamble. There really isn’t much for us to do. By default we spend our time sightseeing, walking the many miles between and through the various hotels and casinos.

Moving about in a culture far removed from the rural Midwest, I am annoyed by the swarm of self-critical thoughts that keep buzzing around in my head. On the billboards and in the shops I see a glamorous life that is nothing like my small-town existence back home. I keep thinking, “I need some new clothes. I look like a slob. I look fat. I need to go on a diet.” The sights make me feel poor, boring, cautious, and slow. Insult is added to injury when I finally visit a golf driving range.

Even though I am an average golfer at best, golf remains my joy and my passion, a priority that ranks just behind my wife and my child. Taking some tentative swings for the first time in several months, I am asked by an older man in the neighboring stall if I have played much golf. He says, “You’ll never hit it straight if you keep sliding your front hip.” He then demonstrates how to fix this serious flaw. Once he has finished sharing, another golfer steps forward to ask if I am interested in learning how to hit with power. In just a few moments, I am reminded that I am neither long, nor straight, as a golfer. In a word: pathetic.

This is the final straw. The damage to my self-esteem is complete. It is time to go home. I find myself questioning the priorities and direction of my life.

Between hotel checkout and our flight home we have some time to kill. We find a cab and tell our driver to take us to the library, which is also near the driving range. Driving by the amazing sights of the Vegas Strip my daughter is bursting with a manic energy. Question follows question after question about the casinos, our schedule, the people she sees along the street, our flight, where we are going, why we have to leave, and so on. We eventually arrive at the library, where my wife and daughter will spend some time among the books. The taxi driver then takes me back to the driving range. On the short trip she asks me about my daughter.

“Is she adopted?”

“Yes,” I answer. “We adopted her from China.”

“Is she always so full of questions?”

“Yes,” I respond. “She has some learning delays related to autism. Her anxieties really take off in new surroundings.”

“I was adopted,” the taxi driver says as she makes eye contact through the rearview mirror. “You guys are so patient and so good with her. Trust me. No one was ever that patient with me. Sometimes I babysit for my nephew. One hour with him and I need a break. You guys are really good with her. She is very lucky.”

And with that we have arrived at the driving range. As the cabbie drives away I feel like I have arrived at a new destination. Of all the places in the world, Sin City has delivered a clear message of affirmation about my life and my priorities:

I am a stay-at-home father.

I provide care for an autistic child.

This is important work.

I do a good job.

Thank you, Las Vegas.

~Steve Spilde

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