He doesn’t know what mitochondria are or how they function, he doesn’t recognize the words sensory processing disorder, nervous system or adrenal fatigue. Only a few weeks ago did he ask for the first time, “do I have autism?” thanks in large part to watching the new tv show, The Good Doctor. He doesn’t remember that he couldn’t walk until he was almost 20 months old, wasn't talking at 2 and started occupational and speech therapy right then. I wonder how much he understands about what is harder for him than other kids. He wrote in his letter to Santa this year:
“ I have been good. I did all of my work in school and played with other kids.”
It struck me because to him, playing with other kids on the playground is literally a matter of following the rules, not because it actually sounds fun to him.
But there is another side, the part of him that I have always trusted. He’s a kid who can read a person in a matter of seconds, if he likes you, he will bare his soul and if not, you get none of him or his time. His eyes are as clear blue as the water that he has always loved. Thinking back, it started with a hose and uncontrollable laughter, and then the hundreds of hours he spent hanging around the koi pond in our old backyard in Fresno. At two and a half, the water almost took his life, and if not for a miracle he would not be here telling his story today. My faith has always been strong and amazed by His grace and Matthew has been living proof of that even on the hardest days. He personifies the principle that the harder you have to work for something the sweeter the victory when it is achieved.
Six months ago, he said he wanted to learn to surf. He has had more obsessive passing interests in his life than most people twice his age, so I easily could have chalked this up to something that would pass after he asked a few thousand questions about it and became frustrated with how hard it was to learn. I even remembered how my dear friend Chrissy had gotten him a spot in Surfers Healing 18 months ago and how he spent most of that surf experience trying not to be terrified despite the amazing professional surfers that were sharing their gift with him and hundreds of other kids on the spectrum. How can a kid who has trouble keeping his balance and walking a straight line learn how to balance on a surf board? Not to mention, he frustrates and loses focus easily. I knew I couldn’t teach him, I don’t surf. But what I do know is the peaceful feeling that the water has always brought me; the bliss of sensory deprivation when you dive in and hear…nothing. I’m not sure over my lifetime there has ever been a better sound and sight than what I take in under the water, staring up into the sky and wishing I had gills so that I could stay down a little longer. Genetically speaking, maybe he was on to something? I watched him gather his confidence and Costco surfboard we bought as well as the surfboards that neighbors began to donate to his cause. He was up and out every morning, always looking for an adult to take him to the water. Stumbling, falling, learning as his dad pushed him into a few waves and within a few weeks learning to stand and ride an occasional wave, but above all, trying and trying again and never getting frustrated. Youtube videos, Riding Giants, the stories of Bethany Hamilton, Jay Moriarty, Laird Hamilton, Kelly Slater, The Wedge, Mavericks or really any big wave spot in the world, he is happy to discuss, because he now knows all about them.
All of this culminated in today, as his older brother does what he loves, playing volleyball and his sisters drove home after hanging with us for a few days. Today it was just us, and honestly, he’s not a real conversationalist so I was eager as I call it to “soak his brain” or as he puts it “charge his battery”. On a good Instagram tip from a friend, we showed up at Tourmaline Surf Spot at 10am and with the exception of a short salmon lunch break, he surfed until the sun sank into the Pacific and his legs were so shaky getting out he looked like Bambi. He must have caught and stood up on 100 shallow, long rolling waves that let him ride white water all the way into shore as he balanced and turned and controlled his body in a way that I have never seen him be able to.
The joy that I experience watching my kids do something they love to do I have felt before with Lauren and Luke when they play volleyball and Kate in a great theatre production, but I always wondered if I would get that experience with Matthew. No need to wonder that anymore. He has figured out a passion and purpose. He calms, his questions slow down, his fear goes out the window and his mind is clear and focused. I’m pretty sure that is all any of us need to figure out each new day. He’s only 10 and he knows where to go to find this wisdom, and that is a blessing in itself.