I've mentioned our new back yard fence a couple of times now. That fence, installed on July 1, is in some senses the highlight of our summer so far. We have a long back yard, and only the back edge of the property had a fence when we moved in. The neighbors on one side installed a fence on their side about 7 years ago when they put in a little pond, but that left a huge expanse of potential escape routes (214 feet, to be exact).
We started out hoping that Joy would soon outgrow the dashing game, but as this spring arrived it became clear that back yard play without a fence was going to continue be an exercise in... well, exercise. Whoever took Joy out to play had to stay hyper-alert, and within 5 feet of her at all times. Her sprints happen with little to no warning, and she is ridiculously fast, and she will not stop for, say, traffic or the steep concrete downhill steps not far from our property...
But on July 1, it took a crew of 4 guys from 8:00am to 2:30pm to install a lovely 5-foot cedar picket fence, two gates, "nice" side in (so as to eliminate the crosspieces as footholds).
We didn't want a privacy fence, because we have a great relationship with the neighbor we were fencing off. That relationship continued during the fence-planning & installation process. Even though we discovered that a line of hostas she'd put in bowed too far into the property line and the fence would clip them, and that we'd have to hack back one of her honeysuckle bushes at the back corner of the yards, it didn't fuss her up at all.
And then yesterday, she brought a potato salad to our fence party.
Ever been to a fence party? Neither had we. But we really wanted to celebrate this big improvement in our lives. So we threw a big ol' back yard barbecue, and invited members of our various posses -- church, neighborhood, Joy's daycare & therapy folks, assorted friends from all over town. Summer weekends are full of travel and other commitments (especially since we only gave people 2 weeks' notice!) but we ended up with almost 30 guests, about a third of them kids.
Props to JoyDad for yeoman service at the grill, and getting all the food from fridge to buffet table pretty much single-handedly! I was able to mingle and attend to other details, and keep an occasional eye on the kids who were frolicking with wading pool and sprinkler and bubbles further down the yard.
So who was keeping an eagle-eye on Joy? Nobody, and everybody. Various parents took turns hovering to make sure the kids didn't create too much havoc. But Joy didn't really need a lot of extra supervision! The fence eliminated the urge to dash, and she happily hung out in the middle of the gaggle of other kids, only occasionally popping out to seek an adult to take by the hand and lead into the action.
One of our friends from church, who volunteered this past year as a one-on-one aide to enable Joy to participate in Sunday school, was watching the wading pool scene with great interest. She knows first-hand how hard it can be to keep that hyper-awareness when Joy is in escape mode, and what a departure last night's backyard vibe was from that, as Joy played contentedly in the midst of the kids.
"She's so FREE!" was her remark.
Yes, yes, yes! We'd been aware that the fence had already been mighty liberating to us as parents, but our friend's remark crystallized it for us: that fence is liberating to Joy as well.
Good fences, good (friends and) neighbors, and a mighty fine barbecue.
And tomorrow... we have the kickoff meeting with a new therapy team to begin intensive autism therapy for Joy. Stay tuned.