Ingles Hall is a spacious, open room with sounds that bounce off walls and the cement floor. The ceiling is adorned with rustic cast-iron chandeliers of pine-cones, birds, and of course, warm yellow lights. A fireplace is framed by a hearth of bricks. The hall itself is surrounded by pine trees that smell like chocolate, rocks for collecting, little black creatures called Squabits, and whatever nature decides to offer you in that moment.
And this place holds memories of my friend’s wedding ceremony 15-years ago and the champagne-infused dancing that occurred with my 20-something boyfriend. Ingles Hall preserves the dancing extravaganza my daughter initiated with her lil’ girl pals, twirling and jumping and giggling on the small stage centered at the front of the room. This place holds the respite from the thunder storms and rain that held hostage to our squirt-gun fights in the forest – where we instead turned to sweet treats like licorice and gummy bears for comfort. This place is a lot of things to me.
And for my son, this was always too big and too loud and too much. The fits that incurred before going to any event at Ingles Hall while staying for our week-long visit to family camp were always followed by meltdowns and screaming and feelings of confusion. Ingles Hall wasn’t created to meet the growing needs of our sensory-sensitive community members. This place was built to host lots and lots of people. It was created for gatherings and laughter and prayers and songs.
For five years, my son has avoided the large events in Ingles Hall. The movie nights overwhelmed him. The arts and crafts sent him into a tail-spin. The game nights were too loud. I spent most of my time as a mother attending to the stress and anxiety of my son than I did to the joy of being with those I loved. I ducked out of most of the events because my son would rather be lost in nature, riding his bike and collecting big sticks. I accepted this. It was okay. In a way, it made me happy, because he was happy, too.
However, I missed out on the moments when my daughter giggled with glee because of her creation. I didn’t see her small impromptu dance rehearsals with her gal pals. I missed the rare opportunities that parents sometimes don’t get back.
And then, Aussie dog, came to camp with us. Side Note: Okay, I recognize this may seem so cliché. I also recognize that Aussie dog seems to have saved the day (in so few words). Yet, it is so true.
During our most recent trip to family camp we did have many journeys to Ingles Hall. Aussie’s role truly wasn’t too glamorous or big or long-winded. In fact, she walked into Ingles Hall by my side in her heel position. My son stood on her other side, clutching her harness and smiling with pride. In front of him stood a room filled with 150 human beings.
Lights. Sounds. Sounds. Sounds.
Tables and paint and paper.
And he asked me for Aussie’s leash. Without hesitation he fastened the handless-leash around his small body and took an eager first step into the neurotypical world. He approached a table with long, white paper draped across it. He watched as others – all 150 persons – made bear paw stamps on the paper (this was a symbolic opening night ritual for the week-long journey of camp). Dipping his bear-paw into his paint and then another paint and then another he finally stamped his paw print onto the paper, creating a color-infused masterpiece. Then he took a marker and he wrote the words,
“Peace within the paw.”
And under the table where his two feet stood firm sat his Aussie dog. She remained calm and reaffirming. She didn’t question him or judge him or make noises. She merely sat by his feet and waited.
And just when I thought the miracle came full circle, something else happened that I would have never imagined in my son’s lifetime: he spoke into the microphone in front of 150 friends, church members, and family. He raised his hand high when persons in the room where asked to read aloud the representation of their bear paw. He raised it with conviction. And then he read his words.
I don’t know if my son wrote those words because the forest and nature bring him peace. I don’t know if he even remembers why he wrote those words anymore. However, when I asked him later that evening about his bear paw print, he said to me,
“I feel peace, Mommy.”
These few seconds erased the mountains of worry and hurt and fear. These few seconds reminded me that anything, yes, anything in this world is possible. It is not about the obstacles that are put in front of you (or your child). Rather, it is about finding the possible and realizing the capacity for peace.