There's a fine line I regularly walk, and it's called figuring out how to safely give Max more independence when he's in a public space. I thought that our cruise on Royal Caribbean would be a good place to let Max bust out a bit. As usual, the only holdback was my own fears.
There were days when Max would wheel Ben in his stroller on the deck, out of my eyesight. That felt OK. There were times when I'd let Max amble around outside our cabins in the hallway (we had two across from each other), and that seemed fine too.
I wondered about leaving him alone in the teen club, except it wasn't an issue because Max only wanted to be in the kids' club.
I wondered, too, about whether it would be alright to let him take a walk by himself on the ship's promenade. Not that he asked too, but I could have offered and perhaps he would have said "Yes!"
Only I didn't offer. Cruise ships are like mini cities, even though they deceptively seem safer because they are in a relatively confined space. We were onboard with 4300 strangers. It didn't seem right to let him go by himself.
When I have those awful visions parents have of bad things happening to their children, I picture some stranger trying to abduct Sabrina. She's a strong, feisty girl. She kicks and flails and yells and runs away. Max is also strong, and knows about stranger danger, but when I imagine the same thing happening to Max, I freak out that he will somehow succumb. And then I have to stop thinking about it because I can't go there.
And then one night, Dave and I had reservations for dinner at Chops Grille, one of the cruise's restaurants. Autism on the Seas had respite care that evening; we could leave Sabrina and Max there, and put the baby in the tot club. Only Max kept saying he was tired.
Another line I regularly walk is trying to not make Sabrina feel like her brother's keeper. I asked her if she would be cool leaving the program early with Max and taking him back to the cabin. I told her he could just crash in his clothing. She said OK and Max agreed to it as well, even though he regularly likes to point out that Sabrina is "mean."
I liked the idea of the two of them doing this on their own. It wasn't full-fledged independence for Max—that would have been letting him go back to the cabin on his own. He would have navigated it just fine, but opening the heavy cabinet door would have proven tricky. And again, I had reservations about him walking around alone.
Max and Sabrina went to respite, Ben went to the nursery already asleep. Chris, the respite leader, looked a bit concerned when I said Sabrina and Max could walk back to the cabin together if he wanted to leave early. I reassured him that it was OK.
And then, I put my children out of my head and enjoyed dinner with Dave. I have a talent for compartmentalizing, sharpened over the years to avoid worrying myself sick about Max.
After dinner, we got Ben and went back to the cabin. Sabrina was in bed, reading a book. Max was sleeping peacefully, in his pajamas.
Sabrina told me that one of the respite staffers had walked them back to the cabin. I was a little disappointed.
"Did he help Max into his pajamas?" I asked.
"No, I did that!" Sabrina said, and my heart swelled.
Even though their bro/sis walk didn't turn out the way I planned, still, it was yet more steps forward for all of us.