We get to the Philadelphia Airport in time to discover that the Economy Parking lot is filled and end up parking closer, for a price. "Wear your backpack?" I say to Charlie who responds "bakk-pakk" and pulls on the pack, and its load of coloring books, markers, Gumby, puzzles, travel Tic Tac Toe, extra clothes. He makes it to the moving walkway and takes it off, and as we are waiting in line to go thruogh security starts to cry softly.
"Big time transition time" Jim and I silently communicate to each other. I zip the backpack open and pull out the picture schedule Charlie's main ABA therapist has made: photos of the schoolbus, photos of Grandpa's house, photos of my parents' house in California, and a velcro-backed Charlie to put in the appropriate square. "See, we're going to see Gong Gong and Po Po for these days, and then we'll come back."
Sniffles and long face turn into animated running back and forth (French fries helped, as they tend to) in the pre-board area. We like to fly Southwest Airlines with Charlie, as the atmosphere is more casual, there tend to be lots of families and kids, and we get our choice of seats---and we now always ask to pre-board. Everyone else in line has an infant or toddlers; Charlie's pace-running and warbling do not escape notice. Jim quips, "Well, now they know why we're pre-boarding." Charlie tapped a girl who was lying on a seat on her stomach; Jim and I said "autism" and she said "autism" as she hurried over to her mother. (Better awareness at work.........)
Delay getting onto the plane. Delay (one hour) to leave. Six hour plus flight, Charlie awake for all of it.
We are in the second row, which is convenient as Charlie asks six times to use the bathroom---he loves to press the blue and red buttons on the sink and to stretch his legs, and there is just enough room for us two. Two new squishy balls appear from the backpack (one glows in the dark, which comes in handy when it gets dropped under the seat of the airplane). Goodnight Moon almost gets lost between the seat and the wall (it is a slender volume). Charlie is mostly interested in flicking the X's and O's of Travel Tic Tac Toe into patterns while making small noises and, since we are 10,000 feet or so up and in a rather tight space, everyone is very fine with this. "Puzzle": He reaches for a mini-puzzle of a kitten I have stowed in his blue backpack. Charlie peels his way through several clementines, munches a cherished box of Holgrain rice crackers, and shares a few crunchy snacks with me. "Diet Coke!" he proclaims when the flight attendant asks for his drink order. He fiddles with Gumby and watches photos on my laptop and on Jim's and looks out the window at the lights over the Contra Costa hills as we near the airport. He holds onto his picture schedule, now strewn with cracker crumbs.
Jim and I read, talk about the 1930s, Floortime, Charlie's school, our last trip out here last October for my grandmother Ngin Ngin's 100th birthday, and then how too much happened. Taking Charlie out of his public school placement because he was no longer safe there (forget about learning). How my mom came and lived with us for a month, and Charlie started in a private autism school last December, and my mom went back to California and we spent last Christmas in New Jersey, a first.
Charlie had his shoes, socks, coat and backpack on soon as the plane was at the gate and ran ahead of us.
Thanks, Charlie, for the best Christmas present ever.