Airports, autism, anarchy

How cool moms like Angelina, Heidi and Victoria do it. I look EXACTLY like this when I travel:



I once tried to pitch the good Lord an idea. It went like this:

Dear God, I was really impressed with the breastfeeding thing. Love the supply and demand idea – the more you nurse, the more milk you produce. And there’s the weaning process – during which the body actually secretes a hormone that sends a signal to the brain that the milk isn’t needed and milk production gradually shuts down. Genius! God, I propose that mothers of two or more young children and/or mothers of children with special needs grow an extra arm! With a hand attached.  It can grow right out of the elbow. When the kid(s) get older and the extra arm isn’t needed you can treat it much like the weaning process. The extra arm can just wither up and fall off the elbow. Amen.

Brilliant idea if I do say so myself. And Monday at the airport is my case in point.

I had a backpack, a carry-on suitcase and a booster seat. If I put the backpack on and balanced the booster seat on the suitcase that left me one free hand to hold on to Rhema. “It could work,” I said to my brother-in-law, Joel, as he dropped us off at the airport.

Rhema is not fearful of new situations like some kids on the spectrum. She doesn’t always know where she’s going or why she’s going, she just knows that she must. get. there. So it was at the airport.  Me, with the luggage in one hand while holding on to Rhema for dear life as she sprinted up and down the escalators. Escalators are on her obsession list and Logan Airport was paradise, she was bent on riding every single one.

Joel went with us as far as he could – to the security check point. The poor man (so dear to me) looked like he was dropping us off at the edge of Hades. I gave him a quick, brave smile and nodded goodbye. I had our boarding passes out, but my ID was in my wallet in my purse in a pouch in the backpack on my back. I could slide said backpack off my back onto the floor and even stoop down while holding the carry on suitcase and the carseat and Rhema-trying-to-escape all with my pinky finger. But to open said backpack and fish out my purse and then my wallet and then my ID… well, that would take two hands.

At which point Rhema broke free and took off running like she was late for a popsicle handout. She slammed into a metal signpost and cut her ear, but she barely slowed down. I had to leave all of our stuff in the line, run and catch her and bring her back. She got away from me twice.

Try as I might, I could not manage to get my shoes off, her shoes off, the laptop out of the backpack and into one of those trays, and the carseat and the carry-on luggage onto the belt and get us both through security. I’d told one of the security dudes that Rhema had autism, but no one was helping us.

Then Joel was at my side.

“I got a pass. I can go with you to the gate.” Oh thank you, BRO!

A woman in line who had witnessed the whole ordeal was very perturbed. She said to Rhema in a huff,

“You need to learn some discipline. You need to learn to listen to your parents!”

My nerves were already frayed.  “She has autism,” I informed her as Rhema yanked me away.

By the time we got to the gate I had to check the suitcase and the carseat. I had wanted to avoid going through baggage claim (for obvious reasons), but there was no way I could handle it all. I should have known, should have planned better. But I just thought/hoped that she would be calmer this time (she’s flown before).

On the plane our struggles continued. It was a ‘full flight’, and Rhema kicked the living daylights out of the seat in front of her. She slid the window shade up and down, up and down… and then the tray table in front of her, up and down, up and down. The entire flight. (When the flight attendant calmly explained to her that all tray tables and seatbacks had to be stowed in their upright and locked positions for takeoff and landing, Rhema was unmoved.)

For good measure, she dumped her apple juice in my lap.

As the plane descended I wondered which was a more frightening prospect: the plane blowing up or Rhema and I trying to get through baggage claim.

Of course we couldn’t stand there and wait for our luggage like “normal people.” Of course we had to run up and down escalators, during which Rhema scraped the back of her leg. Of course we were the last two souls at the baggage claim area late at night with no suitcase or carseat in sight. Rhema was at the end of her rope, and I could not make her be still or sit down. She fought me. She kicked me. She pushed me.

I had to go potty, I was famished, I was weary in body and spirit. And then she got up and ran toward a group of soldiers. She had been running all afternoon, not seeming to see anything or anyone around her. But she saw soldiers in desert fatigues and ran to them. Is she looking for her Daddy? Is that what she thinks this is all about? I will not cry, I will not cry.

After we finally found our luggage, we went to the restroom. Now normally I never go to the bathroom (myself) when Rhema’s with me. Too risky. But this time I couldn’t hold it. So while I sat on the germ-infested potty-chair, I held Rhema’s hand and begged her to ‘stay with me.’ But my darling child managed to undo the lock on the stall door. The door bust open, and she bolted… with me in mid-stream. Now, I ask you, what’s a girl to do? This girl kicked the door shut, finished her business and hoped for the best.

Thankfully, I found Rhema drinking soapy water out of the sink.

I won’t bother to mention all of the gory details. Like the fact that we had to wait 20 minutes for the shuttle bus for the rental car to come. (Rhema has a waiting ABA program at school – she’s up to a whopping 3 seconds. Do you know how many seconds are in 20 minutes?). Or that I tried to feed her some rice while we waited outside for the shuttle… and she spilled it… and tried to eat pieces of rice off the pavement like she was starving… and burst into tears when I stopped her. Or how one of the businessmen observed that she was ‘quite a handful.’ Or that she tried to climb into the shuttle bus driver’s lap while he was driving.

When we finally stumbled into our hotel room at 11 pm, I had a message from my husband that simply said Ps. 34: 17-18.

“The righteous cry out, and the LORD hears them;
       he delivers them from all their troubles.

 The LORD is close to the brokenhearted
       and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”

It was late, but I pulled up Kari Jobe’s My Beloved on the iPod, gathered my girl in my arms.

And we danced.

21 thoughts on “Airports, autism, anarchy

  1. I am exhausted just reading this! An extra arm sounds like a fabulous plan – or at least a good start.

    And that husband of yours? That my dear is one good man. I don’t know what I like better though – that he knew you needed those words, or that you took them to heart and found the energy to dance. I just love you all.

  2. Oh my. I’m weeping just reading this — I give you all the credit in the world for keeping it together. I’m sure this is similar to what air-travel with Joy would be like. (We haven’t been on a plane since, well, we were still nursing. Before my extra arm withered off and all.)

  3. Oh Jeneil! I hear you! Been there done that! Boy Wonder helped himself to his fellow passenger’s ice from his drink and stimmed on the man’s seat belt.

    It’s always an adventure. Glad you and Rhema are safe and sound.


  4. Pingback: Thank You, Massachusetts « For the Record

  5. Your blog was posted by a friend on Facebook. We both have autistic children. Your post seemed like a typical day to me. And I think TWO extra arms would be great! My son was diagnosed this year. He will be 4 yrs old in December. People laugh at me and say I stay in shape because I’m always chasing after him. I say, “I stay in shape just so I CAN chase after him.” I feel your exhaustion on a daily basis.

  6. Wow, what a day! Traveling alone with an ASD kid is not for the faint of heart. I can’t do it without help anymore. Logan airport, not my favorite place! Hope the return is easier.

  7. They need to develop a “special needs pass” for the airport like they do at Disney–no lines, no waiting, smiling friendly people to help.

    I feel your pain in this post–we’ve done 1-2 airplane trips a year with my son and every time I think it will be my last…

  8. zmom has the right idea. Can you call the airport and explain your situation to see if they can do anything for you for the flight home?

    Have not and will not be flying anytime soon with Wyatt. Our long term plan is to rent an RV to visit my sister in Virginia.
    Will be thinking of you and Rhema and sending you all my best for the flight home.


  9. Oh, I do not fondly remember those days! Although I don’t know which was worse – the bolting, or the comments from people about Nigel’s behavior. Seriously! It’s 10-12 years later, it’s all over the news and media, and people still don’t know autism when they see it?!

  10. I love that after all that,you found the strength to dance.I used to have a back pack for my son that looked like a monkey,it had a strap across his chest and the tail was in fact a strap for me to hold.I found it invaluable in similar situations although I know some kids on the spectrum would not cope with it.

  11. OH My GooODnesS, how did i miss this one. You poor dear and Rhema too. I must confess to laughing and head shaking in identification throughout…was any of it exaggerated? the apple juice, maybe….How did Brandon know what you needed. Thank God for your sense of humor, a blog to post it on, His Word, and music that makes it all better!!

    • A,
      ha! i wish i could say it was exaggerated. i actually left stuff out! the apple juice dumping occurred when rhema tried to go for the ice in the cup just as the flight attendant was handing it to me. (thankfully the man sitting next to us didn’t get bathed in juice as well).

      and you’re the one who got me into Kari Jobe’s music. thanks!

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