Airports, autism, anarchy (Redux)

This week we’re flying to the boondocks of Michigan. The whole family.

Lord, help us.

The last time Rhema flew it was just the two of us. Brandon was in Iraq, and Hope was staying with my mother. Thinking about that trip still gives me heart palpitations…

(Originally published in September 2010)

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


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.

My brother-in-law 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!

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 like a skittish pony… 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 her 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.


Now the time has come to do it all again.

And I say as so many before me have said: Cover me, people. I’m going in.

27 thoughts on “Airports, autism, anarchy (Redux)

  1. We have Amanda who is so like Rhema but about a year ahead of some of her We traveled by plane out of Logan to Disney Aug.2011. Because some one mentioned a program thru MassPort which helps families traveling with Autistic Children, we contacted them and they met us at the front entrance and guided us through check in and security where we were met by Jet Blue personal that brought us to the gate and arranged boarding for us. It made things easier by far but we still had our unexpected Amanda moments. Although we were given special plane pins w/the puzzle theme(a sign to personal that we were traveling with an autistic child) not all were familiar with how to “help” us . What they did do was to adapt whenever necessary to help us through the terminal and get us seated. e.g. Amanda commandered a wheel chair and refused to give it up. They said not to worry and brought another. They also took it in stride when she unexpectedly grabbed her younger brother with a wrestler’s hook arm around his neck and swooped him onto her lap and held him as a shield while we went thru Logan. People gave concerned looks but Justin just told them not to worry “he was her body guard” And that was how we learned to adapt for the Disney trip. We hired a wheelchair and whenever Amanda felt overwhelmed She would grab Justin and he would be her “shield” as we strolled through the family trip we so needed and were so worried it would be too much for Amanda. She taught us that given the chance ,Amanda will show us what she needs to get through things she wants to participate in ways we adults may not think of. Of course it helps to have an accomodation sibling. On another note this week we had affirmation that Amanda enjoyed and understood the Family Disney Vacation. We received an adverisement for Disney World in the mail. Amanda studied the offer in great detail, then went and got her beach towel, bathing suit, and her beach bag. When ready she walked over to me and slammed down the ad and went to stand by the door. Yes she knows what the trips was all about, unfortunately she couldn,t understand why we weren’t heading to Logan which resulted in a major meltdown. Lesson learned: Don’t let Amanda get the mail. LOL. I hope this helps with your traveling plans and also a reminder that although we may travel different paths, we are all in the same garden and so not alone. God Bless

    • Wow, I didn’t know about the MassPort program. Thanks so much for telling me about it! Your story about Amanda touches my heart – she does sound a lot like Rhema. She also does the wrestler hook arm thing with her little sister. Your stories kind of make me not dread this trip and instead look at it as another adventure. Thanks for the reminder that we are not alone.

  2. Praying for you as well! You’ll have more support with all the family with you. So hard when you are alone. You can focus on Rhema and Brandon and Hope can help with the rest. “My grace is sufficient for you”. Praying for that!

  3. Oh, honey. I’m sending HUGE prayers and fervent hopes that all goes so much more smoothly. But, wow, how much do I love your BIL for what he did to help you on that last trip!

  4. You are going in and we have got your back….you might not see us…..but we will be praying that the women who stands next to the sink reaches to hold your Rhema’s hand while you “go to the potty”….we pray that the man standing next to you in the security line helps you find your ID and gently lets you move ahead of him…..we pray that the seat that Rhema pushes on in the plane is occuplied by sensory seeking little child who is thrilled with the input of her kicks….we pray that you take those hands that reach out to you…..and we pray that if you don’t see the hands then you will be given the power and strength to ask for help…..your are going in…..and we have got your back…..sending love and prayers.

  5. Hey…we did Massport’s “Wings for Autism” program when we flew to Colorado a couple summers ago. Definitely worth a phone call, at least!!

  6. it really amazes me how so many of our children ON THE SPECTRUM are so similar with their obsessions…escalators, running away, clever beyond their years, and just down right exhausting! What amazes me even more, is US AS MOMS! we are an amazing species those of us with ASD children. i don’t believe “normal” parents realize that just taking our children to the bathroom, for a walk, or just having them SIT next to us is a very planned, very challenging event! I admire us moms!! I amaze myself more and more everyday how much i can TRULY go through without snapping and still look at my beautiful son like he hasn’t just knocked the life out of me,( biting me, kicking me,running away.. all that good stuff) but that he is just truly AMAZING!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s