Oct 20, 2011
By now everyone knows that Nate (the Dog Walker) earned all 132 Merit Badges that were available to him. And we are so proud of him! But it hasn’t always been easy. There are some things about autistics that will drive you crazy. I’ve mentioned before that he was scared of fireworks and he doesn’t understand sarcasm or French…(check out those links for some fun stories). But one thing he does understand is camping. He loves to camp! He will even camp in the craziest of circumstances. Every year the scouts go on a Klondike which means they camp out in the dead of winter. They build snow caves and snowmen and sometimes they even ice fish.
So the Dog Walker went on his very first Klondike when he was 12. He still wasn’t very vocal or social with the other boys or the leaders. I was worried for him! I carefully helped him pack his bag with warm clothes and snacks and hand warmers. I wanted him to be comfortable without having to bother anyone else. I slipped some extra fleece blankets in with his sleeping bag and we packed his big poofy warm coat. We fondly call it the “marshmallow coat” because it looks like something the Pillsbury Doughboy might wear.
When I finally dropped him off at the church, I was hopeful that he had everything he needed to have a successful campout. Because of the extra blankets in the garbage bag with his sleeping bag, there wasn’t room for the coat, so I simply tossed it in the back of the pickup with all of his other stuff. After a quick hug and a few whispered words to his leaders, I drove back home, praying that he would be warm and safe during the two-day trip. I waited out the trip at home, just dreading that phone call from one of the leaders telling me that he had frozen to death or that he was lost in the blinding snow…none of those calls came.
So at the appointed time, I headed to the church to pick him up. I got there just as they were throwing the last of the equipment from the back of the trucks. The Dog Walker’s bag and garbage bag were sitting in a heap on the snow-covered sidewalk. He was standing beside it, shivering in a thin hoodie I had packed to go under his warm coat. “Why aren’t you wearing your coat?” I asked. He simply looked at me and then headed to the back of the truck. After stirring through what was left, he triumphantly held up the coat and then slipped it around his shoulders.
His scout leader looked up from where he was checking equipment. “Nate,” he called, “Is that your coat?” Nate nodded as he gathered his bags and headed for the van. Bruce, their fearless leader just shook his head. “What’s wrong?” I asked. “We’ve been trying all weekend to keep him warm,” he answered. “I even gave him my jacket at one point because he couldn’t remember bringing one.” By this point I was getting pretty excited. “Did you seriously think I would send my autistic son up the mountain for two days with just a hoodie?” I asked. He shrugged. “We’ve got to get better communication going,” I suggested. By then I was more than a little irritated. Thankfully, that was the first and last time we had issues. And now the Klondike and snow caves are one of his favorite camping memories.