This vacation we braved Great Wolf Lodge and its enormous indoor water park. Have you ever been there? Think airplane hangar filled with every variety of water play apparatus. Water slides, pools. Wave pools, water fountain pools, basketball hoop pools, pools for riding clear round tubes along circuitous currents. It's really a therapist's dream. I could see each and every one of you working your way through the park with your tiny charges. I can just imagine some of you working on forging the path for new language. "Water!" "Splash!" "I want." "Can I have a turn?" "What is your name? My name is..." And it's an occupational or physical therapist's dream really. A million opportunities for fine and gross motor work, and forget the obstacle course possibilities.
The last time we were here, we encouraged Declan to try out the medium-sized water slides, the kind you hop on without a tube and are short enough if you change your mind half way down. Tentative, he went for it anyway. He sat right down in the rushing water at the top of the slide and let 'er rip. Tova cheered him on at the bottom. I held my breath. Hope he likes it, because there's nothing I can do about it now. The smile at the end was all we needed to see to know that it would not be his last ride. "I want to go again!" "Okay!" I say, pointing him toward the stairs that lead back to the top. Flights of stairs are stacked on top of each other. They go in different directions and sport all kinds of water toys, squirt guns and buckets; but eventually, they lead back to the top of the slides. That is, if you don't go in the opposite direction across the one bridge that connects these stairs to another section of the park. Even so, getting to the slides seems intuitive. You can see where the slides are as you climb, so you can inch your way toward them despite the distractions on the way. But that time, years ago, Declan didn't and while I watched him the entire way from the bottom of the slide, the people crossing in front of him and the structure of the equipment eclipsed my view enough to lose sight of him. I started to chastise myself for letting this happen. How could I set him up like this? There's so much that is required to get to the slides. My mother's scan could not find him and I finally went to a lifeguard for help. Well equipped for this task, they put out an all-call for a little boy, six, in a blue and green bathing suit. Declan soon appeared with a lifeguard by his side, looking extra nervous. It was his first "Remember when I got lost?" scenario. I ached looking at his little face, brows working extra hard to hold back the tears. "It's okay boo-boo," I said hugging him, trying to convince myself too, "you were safe the whole time."
That was last time. This time, Declan was still very excited to return. The experience did not keep him from wanting more. In fact, we have come to refer to the place as GWL around him in order to avoid the rash of questions about the next time we could go. Pretty cool he still loved going there, right? In the past, when he was younger, it might have become another place we would have to avoid. Remember how tentative and reluctant he could be? Progress, people, progress! Well, this time, the first part of the park he approached was the lily pad pool. I watched as his friend Jasper crossed the series of leaf-shaped rafts toward the opposite side of the pool. A net made of rope hung above him, and he used it like a monkey bar as he hopped from one pad to the next. He had to work to keep his balance because the lilypads, each anchored to the bottom of the pool, were still very precarious and unpredictable. They tipped and turned each time his weight shifted. I worried how well Declan would be able to navigate this and whether he would become frustrated. Recently, when he struggled to climb a tree that his peer easily navigated, he got very angry and upset. I started to make a list in my head of the skills required: executive function (the ability to plan ahead and sequence the steps that need to be taken), motor planning (the brain's ability to tell the body what to do and with which parts), speech and language (the inner voice to coach oneself along), balance...then I just checked to make sure there was a soft cushion for any possible head injury. I know, have a little faith mom. But I am, after all, a mom. Jasper successfully made it to the other side and it was Declan's turn. He didn't hesitate at all and grabbed a piece of net. He took a step onto the first pad, and remained amazingly stable. Abs, I thought. Thank you physical therapists and hippotherapists! Then he grabbed the next piece of the net without hesitation. He knew what to do next, and the vestibular motions were tolerable. Thank you occupational and physical therapists! It was a long way to the other side, but he perservered, even enjoyed the new challenge. Thank you SEIT's! Finally, he made it all the way across without a fall. I waited for eye contact and threw my arms up in the air to congratulate him from afar. He came running around to where I was standing and said to me, partly astonished at his own accomplishment, "I'm so good at it!" Thank you speech therapists. Thank God for therapists.
Love and tremendous admiration,