I didn’t write anything this weekend, I had time, I just couldn’t write. Partly because I was tired from a work trip – an actual trip, away, on a plane… Very strange that this was strange. I went to Darwin for 4 days, and because it was warm up there, got to swim after work each day. The photo is sunset from the waterfront in Darwin.

On 2 of the 3 days, I met an autistic child in the swimming pool. One set of adults were completely disinterested for the longest time, but every now and then called out; “don’t bug the lady.” The other set of adults, were according the child, mum and step dad, and they were busy interacting with each other but highly worried about the child. They called out repeatedly, “shh, there’s someone else in the pool now, shh.”

And then whilst he was regaling me with details about the Transformers, lots and lots of details, each adult in turn came over to the side of the pool to tell him to leave me alone. Each time, I looked up, and said something. The first time, I said “no worries, it’s fine, really it’s all good.” The second, before the step dad could speak, as he was crouching down by the pool. I looked directly at him and said’ “Really, I’m enjoying talking about transformers, you can never talk too much about transformers.” I really am not in the least bit interested in transformers, but what I am interested in, in seeing kids validated for their interests and passions and seen and heard for who they are.

My second interaction worked and the adults went back to interacting with each other and the kid and I continued to talk about the various characters and their attributes. He was so happy, it was infectious. At least I caught his joy. The adults were wrapped up in their own joy. Strange to me that they couldn’t see that I was happily interacting with their boy.

How do I know these kids were autistic? It wasn’t because they wouldn’t leave me alone, interacting with an intensity that I have only ever experienced from autistics, and as an autistic demonstrated myself. It was because we connected, truly connected. It might have only been for half an hour, but each kid was sad to end our conversation. I left the first night and the kid implored me to stay, his adults telling him to say thank you and wave good-bye, despite me being happy to wave and say thank-you myself. The second night, the kid needed to go for dinner. He got out of the pool with some subtle prompting from me, and promises from his adults that he could come back after dinner. I called out to thank him for talking to me about transformers, hoping to reinforce to his adults, that he will be liked for who is, at least some of the time.

Strange times indeed. Once I got home, I got distracted. Chico had missed me, not used to me traveling for work. I was tired from, not so much the plane ride, as the covid paperwork line and process at the airport. All I will say about it is that the NT is doing it way more efficiently and effectively than SA. The trip was good, and less emotional than I had worried it would be. Darwin was one of the places Jane worked a lot and I would visit her up there and we would go traveling around. Those two kids really helped keep me positive, though my colleagues were also a good buffer against any sadness I may have felt.

I did come to a good conclusion at 2 am the night I couldn’t sleep though. I was sad at that point, and I realised that it was totally ok to be sad. Unpleasant but ok. And that, that sadness would pass and another emotion would arrive at some point. And that new emotion may or may not be pleasant, but that it is all ok. It is what it is. And that I can choose to be in an emotion or actively seek to move into another. Interacting with my colleagues could move me into a pleasant emotion, talking transformers moved me to joy, walking in the sunrise and the sunset brought me calm and peace.

I may not be able to avoid unpleasant emotions, but I can choose not to be afraid of them. I am very lucky to have friends and colleagues who are supportive and kind. Considerate and willing to spend time and energy to bring me laughter and joy. If you can do that for others, it may mean far more to them than you know.

Arohanui Jane, I will miss you desperately on Wednesday, when we should have been celebrating our second wedding anniversary. Instead, friends are taking shifts to keep me company, and make sure I reminisce with love and not just pain.