My first walk alone with Zachary left me feeling like maybe I had overestimated my ability to deal with all of the complex emotions I experienced that day. Who am I to think I can just walk into this young man’s life? It’s not that I thought he needed help, or that he was missing something… our paths crossed thanks to Dennis, and I wanted to share my love of exercise with someone who might enjoy it in his own way.
Wow. Where do I begin?
I was really looking forward to my first walk with Zachary. I waited until about 11:00 AM Sunday when it was about 55 degrees because I was worried about him being too cold. I even had his caregiver Chance put a jacket on him. Really? Sandy wants him to live like a twenty year-old man would. I’m pretty sure most 20 year -olds would be annoyed by being told they need to wear a jacket! Sorry, buddy. I’ll have to learn to let go a little as I get to know you better.
Chance went over the use of the magnet in case of a seizure, since he had already had one that morning. I felt confident enough to handle it. So, we were ready to go and I wanted to see if I could connect with Zachary. I made eye contact with him and he lit up like you would not believe. Not necessarily because it was me – Chance told me Zachary likes girls. Hey, I’ll take that – it was still a connection! He also makes what I interpret to be happy sounds and responds well if you make similar sounds back. We were off to a good start, so out the door we went!
We were walking fast, and I was apparently making some loud breathing and sighing noises because I heard great sounds coming from my friend! We were soon giggling and carrying on together – I can’t even describe the feeling – oh, the joy! I could tell he liked going faster so I ran a little here and there (I’m paying for that today!) This lasted for about 20 minutes and then the responses seemed to diminish. Was he okay? I checked on him and he seemed relaxed.
After about 30 minutes Zachary seemed uncomfortable. Notice I say “seemed” a lot. I wish he could tell me what he wants because I want him to have choices. “Is the sun in your eyes? Do you want to take that jacket off? Do you want to go back home? Did you even want to go for a walk with me in the first place?” Sigh. I put the visor up on the stroller because the sun was in his face. His arm kept coming up and sort of knocking it down. Was he having a seizure? I checked again. And again. No seizure, thank goodness, but did I really know what to expect? It had seriously warmed up and now I was worried about him being too hot. Boy, maybe I’m not cut out for this! I decided to head back.
Well, we made it home after an hour without incident (if you don’t count his uncomfortable appearance and my worry-wart-hovering-mom stress)! I couldn’t keep up my normal fast walking pace, even with my occasional bouts of running. Pushing the stroller was a little harder than I expected! Overall we went a little over 4 miles. I guess that’s not bad, but if I am going to keep my promise to walk the half-marathon fast, then we have a lot more work ahead of us!
When we arrived, caregiver Joel was there to help us and I explained that I was worried about Zachary. He seemed unresponsive at this point, but Joel helped put me at ease. “Maybe he needs hydration, maybe he’s hungry, maybe he’s hot.” Sandy told me that this happens sometimes and that she tries not to take it personally. As I was leaving so Joel could tend to those needs he told me, “Don’t worry. Zachary loves everybody. He’s not picky. You are welcome here any time.” Thanks for that, Joel.
I know that in the short time I’ve spent with Zachary, I can only begin to fathom the wide range of emotions that a parent of a disabled child must experience. As Sandy explained it to me, it may take a lifetime for her family to learn how to effectively communicate with Zachary. I imagine it will also take a lifetime to understand those emotions! I can only strive to understand as I learn how to make connections in ways that make sense for both of us.