For years in my childhood, and early teen years, my family spent summers camping together. Frequently we camped along with extended family – my paternal grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins, plus all of our dogs. It was a wonderful time, and something I looked forward to year after year.
Although we started out with tents, but the time I was about twelve, we all had relatively new trailers. We often camped in well known parks. From the time I was born until I was about fifteen, we spent part of every summer at the KOA on Lundy’s Lane in Niagara Falls. It was only an hour’s drive from where I grew up, and at the time, wasn’t nearly as expensive as it is these days.
They had concrete trailer pads with full hook-ups, full, clean bathrooms, a large playground, even a wagon ride and movie night for the kids on weekends. Then of course, we always spent time at the falls as well – and the stores, museums and such that were a part of that tourist area.
I only had one female cousin on my father’s side during those years. While her family also spent much of their summers camping, her father was a fisherman, and kept a seasonal trailer and boat at a park on Lake Erie. They didn’t often come with us, though we did frequently visit them.
I did, however, have an aunt, who was only a few years older than me. I also had my older brother, and several male cousins to “hang around” with. For the most part, this was fine. I liked them very much, and was thrilled to be allowed to “tag along.”
To be sure, they all liked the video arcades, and I never saw the point. It was a waste of a quarter, as far as I was concerned. But I was a patient child, and would just wait for them to use up their quarters before we went back to the playground, or the creek, or wherever they wanted to go for fun.
For years this worked out. I hardly had any games of my own, but they didn’t seem to mind having me follow them around. And then there was that one time…
I think it may have been a joke, but jokes are not exactly something I understand. I may have been twelve or thirteen, and we were at “the falls” camping with the large group. I had spent quite a bit of time with my older brother, and one of my younger cousins. I am not sure where his older brother was at the time, as typically the four of us did most everything together.
Anyway, they went into the men’s washroom, and I waited for them outside. I guess they had planned it beforehand, but I didn’t know. They “escaped” through the other door, and went running away to hide from me. Perhaps I was supposed to find them. Perhaps they just wanted a few hours without me.
Whatever their reason, I was an exceptionally sensitive child – and the thought that they didn’t want me around was too much for me. Rather than make a game of it, and chase them – or even to wait a while, and try again – I decided in that moment that they didn’t like me.
Though I did follow them around at times after, and I did continue to “hang out” with them at times, I never again trusted that they wanted me there.
And that is the thing about Autism – at least for me. One idea. One thought. One hurt. One misunderstanding… it takes hold, and doesn’t let go. So what may have been a joke (and not an abnormal one for typical pre-teen/teen boys) can set the stage for all future relationships.
I still love camping. I still love my family. I would continue to spend my summers at the KOA in Niagara Falls if it were possible (if I were rich!) I still love campfires, and trailers, and wagon rides… I still very much think of those times in my life with gratefulness.
Yet never, since that day, have I trusted that I was wanted where I was. I am simply along for the ride.