Hell Yes, Adventure Days!

In Leo's new post-school life, Thursdays are Adventure Days. It's just the two of us, Leo and me, on purpose. We have infinite excursion options where we live, but often end up wandering around San Francisco, enjoying marvels like the entirely free Presdio GO shuttle, views from Mt. Sutro, circumnavigating newly-renamed Heron Lake, and taking an occasional side trip to BreadBelly for kaya buns (me) and citrus lassis (Leo). 

Adventure Days are part of our ongoing pursuit of a Good Life for Leo, which looks very different now that he is an adult who has aged out of school and all the affiliated services and routines. I don't think he's unhappy, but I do think he would prefer to be in another structured program at a place that is not his house. 

Unfortunately his school's adult program was 1:3 student/support ratio and he remains solidly in the 1:1 camp, so he did not qualify to stay on site. And all the local programs I've found are either Behavior-based, sedentary ("potato farms," per a salty friend), or have rejected our hero due to his "behavioral support needs." Which, f— them. (Also I truly worry about the other Leos dealing with crappy or absent support options.)

No good day programs means Leo is at home full time, but I think his scenario is best case. He has a new set schedule and routine. I get paid to be his caregiver, via government-funded IHSS. California's regional center funding also helps him have three tremendously awesome aides, who take him out and about to movies, swimming, hiking, science museums, trampoline parks, and for the occasional lassi.

This new routine is not too bad, and I mean that. But often it is just him and me. Especially on Thursdays. And Leo needs to be busy, or he gets bored. Hence Adventure Days.

Adventure Days are mostly outdoor affairs. This is because Leo likes to keep moving, and also because he is loud and obviously disabled and we've found that being in close quarters with other humans sometimes results in us feeling unwelcome. Instead of internalizing that bullshit or being (perceived as) disruptive, instead of viewing his reality and presence as something to apologize for or hide, we simply don’t go to places that can't accommodate us, or where Leo might feel uncomfortable, or where he can’t leave if he needs to. 

The blue Pacific Ocean seen between cypresses and above orange California poppies and bright yellow oxalis flowers.
The Pacific Ocean as seen through wildflowers.

Also, people who are ready to be around us or who are worthy of Leo's wonderfulness, well, they tend to self-sort. As you shall see.

For a recent Adventure Day, our plan was to drive down the local coast, hit up a fave bakery, hike through redwoods, then get Leo a perfect gas station quesadilla. We initially stayed on course, enjoying our glorious California spring delights: blazing blue skies, gleaming turquoise waves, and hills of neon orange California poppies betwixt electric yellow fields of mustard.

And then, right before the bakery, we spotted two young European women on the side of the road, waving in hopes of a pickup. I have reasonable caution, but it was an Adventure Day after all, and they looked like they could be my kids’ friends. Plus two out of three of my kids are absent from my home, and my excess untapped motherly impulses are hard to suppress. We picked them up. 

They were friendly and chill, told us their names were K and C, and that they were exploring the area. We told them we were en route to a fab bakery and that it was very close. They were up for it. For my part, I figured the short drive was long enough for them to get a sense of who Leo is and what hanging with him might be like. 

And reader, after the bakery? They stuck with us. They didn’t have to; they were two pleasant-looking young European women who hadn’t had any trouble getting rides before they met us. Their easygoing acceptance instantly endeared them to us both, as Leo knows damn well when people aren't cool with or to him. I asked them what they wanted to do, and they said they just wanted to get farther south along the coast. We were north of Año Nuevo State Park, so I asked if they were interested in a beach hike and maybe seeing elephant seals. They were. 

Sadly, we arrived on one of the last days of elephant seal mating season, so they couldn't get to the main beach as they didn't have reservations. But we could still do the two-mile trek to the tour staging area and nature demonstration space. (BTW, I believe I deserve a gold star for managing to not bark out answers to the docent’s questions about identifying cetacean and pinniped skulls, so as to give the tourist children chances to answer queries clearly aimed at them and not me.) 

That demonstration site docent kept a low-key eye on Leo, who is neither a candidate for nor would enjoy the tour. She was professional and managed to avoid making us feel scrutinized, but I’m guessing she also agreed with me that Leo might not be a great candidate to walk between infamously grumpy, ferocious, easily startled, two-ton elephant seals. To her credit, she never said anything—we didn’t join the tour group, so she didn’t have to. I appreciate this. I wonder how many people drag kids like Leo onto these trips. I hope it’s not many, and that the docents are gracious about pointing out potential competing access issues.

I had to purge my pent up Big Nature Nerd impulses somehow, and thankfully K and C patiently listened while I talked at them about how Año Nuevo Island became colonized by sea lions and elephant seals, why California is the Golden State not just because of the gold rush but because of the California Poppies that used to overabundantly gild our hills, how our shores used to teem with grizzly bears before they were hunted to extinction, how an Alaskan origin makes our coastal waters so cold.

Photo of Leo from behind on a trail to the beach. He is wearing a blue tie-dyed shirt with yellow text that reads, "Bench hiking is beautiful. Catch up if you want"..
Photo of Leo from behind on a trail to the beach.
He is wearing a blue tie-dyed shirt with yellow text that reads,
"Bench hiking is beautiful. Catch up if you want".

Leo was wearing his “bench hiking is beautiful, catch up if you want” shirt (designed by a friend just for Leo), so our new friends knew what to expect when he sat at every bench along the trail. Leo is a snuggler, and K laughingly permitted Leo to hug her elbow. Our companions took in the skies, the waves, the wildflowers, the Monterey pines, the sadly scorched hills after the Big Basin fire four years ago. They agreed that California’s coast is a precious place indeed. 

As we kept driving, we discussed how pandemic approaches differed in our respective countries, including the severe restrictions of their cities compared to the U.S. I told them that during the early months of the COVID outbreak, we spent a lot of time driving up and down the very coastal road we were on, so that Leo could be outside—but that initially the shores were patrolled by police and we weren’t allowed to get out of the car. We exchanged tales of that Year of Hell 2020, like Leo, his dad, and I hiking Big Basin State Park the day before it all burned down. 

I asked them if they’d like to join us for lunch. Again, they were game. My heart pinged. Turns out neither of them had ever had Mexican food. I told them that if they really wanted a treat they should try Oaxacan food, and described the moles, the mezcal. They were once again game. C exclaimed over mole negro. K tucked into a manhole cover-sized tlayuda with delight, despite the waiter’s caution that it might not be the easiest introduction to Mexico’s cuisine. Leo got his Adventure Day quesadilla. 

They asked Leo and me what his life was like. Including him, I told about the things Leo does that makes him happy—swimming, hiking, movies, science centers, road trips to visit beloved family, watching TV. Sometimes with me or his dad, sometimes with his beloved trio of aides. I said that every Leo deserves to be living in peak contentment and accommodation, however that looks for them. I reiterated how great our life can be, which is not the same thing as it always being easy. But on a really great Adventure Day, ours is a wonderful life.

We took a group selfie outside the Oaxacan restaurant. I air dropped it to C’s phone. I took their names but not their numbers. I gave them my card and told them to call me if they got in a jam, well actually to text me because I don’t pick up numbers I don’t know. I figured they were living their lives in spontaneity and weren't necessarily looking for connections. If they want to get in touch, they can. If not, we had a lovely day and Leo and I have treasured memories. We dropped them at the side of the road near what they said was a known hitchhiking nexus, and we all waved goodbye.

Later that day I went out to dinner with a BFF, and we got to talking about our very different high support adult guys. She asked if I was happy with Adventure Days, if I liked them. And I honestly do. I don't want to do them all day every day, just like Leo doesn't want to hang out with his mom all day every day. But a good Adventure Day is a thing of delight for us both. 10/10, no notes.