Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Victorian Gardens Magic

NOTE: This post originally appeared on the sadly closed NYC Moms Blog.

This Saturday I ignored dire predictions of afternoon thunderstorms and took the boys off to that tiny jewel of an amusement park that wings in to perch in Central Park’s Wollman Rink for the summer  (Memorial Day through mid September): Victorian Gardens.  We’ve been taking the boys there a few times a summer since they were three, and though they are nearly too old, too big for the pint sized thrills therein to be found, we’re squeezing one, maybe two more summers out of the place, because there’s some sort of magic there for the boys and I’m not ready to let it go yet.

I remember the first time we went, it was the whole family, all four of us: me, my husband, and the boys.  They were still tiny, not yet quite three, and we rode all the rides with them, grown ups with our bent knees approaching our ears. They loved being on the really little kiddie rides, which were just right sized droplets of thrill for them.  By the next summer, at four, our services were only required for some, not all rides (just the "really scary" ones), and my husband and I stood by in trepidation as Ethan took charge of his twin brother Jacob, making sure he stayed safety belted and didn’t try to climb out mid-ride.  For you see, Jacob is on the Autism Spectrum, and at four was still very un-awake to the rules of the world, needed a minder at all times.

This was my husband’s last foray with us there, however, because while they may be named “Gardens”, it’s mostly a misnomer.  But really, who would come to “Victorian Hottest-shadeless-circular-patch-of-sun-blasted-cement-in-the-city”?  Oh, yeah, it’s surrounded by Central Park lush, but inside: bake-a-rama.  And my husband, well, he melts in the heat. Hates heat. His idea of perfect weather: Seattle. In winter.  So we no longer torture him by making him come drip with us. Because no matter what the forecast, and this Saturday it was “cloudy and cooler with a strong chance of thunderstorms”, it’s ALWAYS hot and humid when we go.  The kids don’t care and I just sweat and bear it because they always have such a wonderful time.  But the whirling fun, while terrific, isn’t the magic, it’s the co-operation. Because you see, my boys don’t always get along, and lately it’s been like oil and water.  And that’s on the calm days.  On the bloody ones, it’s more like oil and flame thrower.  The full history is too long and complicated to go into here, but let’s just say that having a twin on the autism spectrum is really hard.  And being the autistic twin of a brother you love, who currently wants very little to do with you is really hard, too.  Yet somehow, at Victorian Gardens magic things happen.  The boys don’t fight.  They ride rides together, laughing.  Every year Jacob needs less and less help, by now just little bits, here and there, and here, at Victorian Gardens, Ethan is willing to provide it, patiently.  It’s actually something approaching a miracle.  

Thinking about writing this post in praise of our little magic patch of amusement, I stumbled upon something I had written last summer about this very phenomenon. Here it is: 

I am absurdly happy watching my sons be happy today on the flying swings.  Ethan does not hate his brother today.  When I go in to help Jacob onto the apparatus, Ethan shoos me away saying “I can help him, I want to help him, I can do it” so I back off, let him be the big, helpful brother to his twin.  Something I never envisioned 7 years ago when, large as an overripe fruit, I lay about waiting to bust open and birth the twins.  An only child’s fervent fantasy: my children will never know loneliness, they will always have each other.  They will not spend countless childhood hours in front of the mirror practicing funny faces, creating a playmate, an other, out of the reflected self.  I never counted on Autism, on this: that Ethan and Jacob are and are not twins.  Womb shared, room sharing they are.  But partners and age mates not now, not yet, questionably ever, though I’ll never say never.

I still tell the story, though it would horrify him now, of Ethan and I in the car when he was 4.  We had dropped off Jake and I was driving the 10 blocks to Ethan’s pre-school.  He was in the back seat, when he said “Mom, I wish that Jake and I both had had Autism or we both didn’t have Autism.” Tears jump out of my eyes “Why honey?” “So we could be the same and go to the same school.”  Glad he’s facing the back of my head so he doesn’t catch the tears streaming down my face now.  So understanding and compassionate at 4.  Jump ahead 3 years to the fighting, hitting, screaming “I hate you” – where is that sweet boy?  Buried under years of longing and disappointment turned bitter and angry.  Bitter and angry at 7 – how did it come to this?  Too big a burden to be a twin but older brother, yet I ask him to shoulder that load every day.  

And so it continues this year: we have a day of (mostly) peace and fun, stay out till late, watch the first fireflies come out in Central Park as the boys scramble up and down rock "mountains" on the long walk home. And I quietly hold my breath, waiting for what tomorrow will bring.


  1. that was beautiful, Varda! the conversation in the car nearly ripped my heart out.

  2. well the car conversation is killer--and if that empathy was there at 4, then it's there for good, rough patches notwithstanding. But mostly I am responding to your Victorian Gardens suggestion which to me usually looks like the 10th ring of hell...but on the next cold wet day perhaps I will venture out with the boys and see if I can tilt-a-whirl them into being nice to each other!


I am so sorry to have to turn word verification back on, but the spam-bots have found me - yikes!