Laughing with Lizards (#91)
What's missing? (#93)

Made it (#92)

Two hour delay before our flight left from Philadelphia (which meant we waited for over three hours in the airport); five-plus hour flight (thanks to the wind); 11pm West Coast time arrival (= 2am in Jersey); excellent boy standing in lines for security and Burger King, sitting in the chaotic waiting room while saying "sit airpane! buckle up airpane!" and looking resigned when I said "we gotta wait like everybody else," and through the cross-country flight. It was only midway when there were some whines; we interpreted these to mean "shhh, he might go to sleep" and Charlie did once he lay his big head down in my lap.

And, four good days at school, even with his teacher absent and with a substitute. And even with the pre-trip anxiety and Charlie's often-stated wish to be in Californy right now. Four good days (smelly-soled and wet shoes notwithstanding) is gold to me. As we stood with my parents in the baggage claim area, I heard many exclamations of "that flight was long" and "Charlie looks like he just wants to go to bed," besides the baffled complaints about the two-hour take-off delay. The flight seemed short to me: I read some of a book (on autism and the "myth of aloneness"; more on this later); ran Charlie into the bathroom as the plane ascended; doled out "brown chips" and oranges; and "turned on" his favorite songs ("The Gingerbread Boy" and "Let's Get Together" from the original Parent Trap) through his headphones. He took my Mary Janes and slid his feet into them, saying "sneaker on." (He fit them fine.)

Charlie and I last flew out to California in June, just the two of us. I was giving a paper at the annual conference of the Society of Disability Studies on The Mind Tree by Tito Rajarshi Mukhopadhyay. We took the window seat and the middle; Charlie was fine except for one hour on the way to and back, in which his desire to be at our destination overrode his system. There was a lot of loudness and much gnashing of teeth and, as when Charlie was a baby and screamed for two hours on a flight due to ear trouble, I visualized the airline posting a picture of him and me in a big red circle with a big red line through the middle.

"You are courageous," a flight attendant said to me as Charlie and I deboarded on one of those flights. Charlie was hurrying down the gateway and I hazily thought, that's nice but it's just what you have to do. Airplane travel with an autistic child is inherently challenging; air travel with any child is tough as it is and, when I calculate the strange sensory experience of sitting in a closed capsule with recycled air in a stiff seat with one's personal body space extremely limited, all odds are against Charlie getting through it without a behavior or at least a peep.

When I suggested to a colleague this morning that it would be "fun" to compile a book of all the things people have said to me ("you are courageous," "God gives you what you can handle," "I couldn't do what you do," "I don't know how you do it") about Charlie that are well and kindly meant, but always leave me wanting to cry out: "I'm just a mom taking care of her kid," "you would do the same, you just know you have to," "I'm just being me, no great shakes," "who wouldn't not do everything to help one's child?". As I drove to Target this morning (to get Charlie the Wiggles "Yummy Yummy" CD--the fifth copy--as a treat for our trip), I thought I might at least collect those kindly but hard-for-an-autism-parent-to-hear sayings here, or on a separate webpage. I have no need to be a hero. I think of Charlie as one and, even if he is unable to rise to the occasion and the day's feats are small or nothing, he is still one, just by his willingness to hang in there and "try again."

Walking the autism tightrope--with the demands of teaching Charlie to do what is appropriate and the desire to let him be and express himself as he can--requires no tricks, no fancy dancing, special somersaults. If you can make it to the end, that is all in a good day's work, and worthy of much praise as--first off the plane in California--we gave to Charlie: "Good job guy, you made it!"


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