A little bout of the common cold, and some progress on the band-aid front…

Welcome to Sumtumn…that time of year when it’s not longer feeling like Summer, and it’s not quite Autumn thus making our lives (and wardrobe choices) miserable.  It’s cold in the morning so we shield ourselves with sweaters only to sweat like my dad on Tax Day by the afternoon.  It may be an old wive’s tale, but we all get sick and we all spread it around.  Sure, germs and bacteria flourish and kids touch things and don’t wash their hands…I know the science of it all, but I still think Sumtumn is partly to blame.  The limited social contact we enjoyed during the summer months becomes the forced socialization of the start of school and…voila!!!!…there comes the cold we’ve all been dreading, and we’ll be passing around until Spring rolls in with her green robes and flowers in her hair.

Two days, I tell you, J spent at home blowing his nose (as good a job of it as he can do,) sneezing, taking medicine and wanting to be spoiled.  He recovered-ish…and back to square one yesterday.  Misery.  Agony.  Medicine.  Whining.  Insistence on still (altruistically, of course) going to school to share it all with his classmates and teachers and aides.  I am predicting an epidemic by the beginning of October.

On the plus side of this (yes, there IS a plus side,) J is now happily relinquishing all bandages and braces for hours on end.  He sometimes even forgets that the timer that goes off is for him to get more band-aids, and he doesn’t really ask for them until it’s time to shower before bed.  His skin is looking much better, and his nails don’t stick to everything he brushes against.  There was one time when, without anyone’s help, he re-bandaged his hand to perfection…sort of like Rambo…or The Terminator in the first movie when he fixes himself…

On Sunday morning I had to repair the thumb immobilizer.  My argument about “when it rips apart it has to go” didn’t really work.  J, who is a lot more observant and clever than many people would think, found needle, black thread and mother to put together for repairs.  I found arthritis, poor vision and “I haven’t finished my coffee yet!” as valid reasons to put forward in my defense, and J wouldn’t have any of them.  He found me a comfy spot on the couch, a lamp to shine on my workspace, and he left me to get things done while he changed sheets and gathered laundry.

While I don’t agree with the constant presence of the thumb immobilizer, I had to give kudos to my son for being so proactive.  I fixed the thing, and I reminded J that it won’t last forever and, at one point or another, an asteroid might hit it and boom it’ll be gone.  He smiled at me with that knowing look of his, and said BYE.  I don’t think I was convincing enough.  As I said, I’d not had enough coffee.

The fact that J is letting us remove the bandages and occasionally forgetting about them is a good sign.  He feels safe without them, and when he doesn’t (or he feels that he needs them,) he gets them and applies them himself.  That has to be good, right?  This is the way all decisions that hinge entirely on him begin…

I try to give J some leeway to decide things, but sometimes -obviously- it is necessary for me to step in and participate in the process.  There’s been a small uptick in J’s weight because of the sudden change in his gym schedule; TGG is in class during the hours they used to go exercising, and I cannot sustain the same pace of activity as a person 26 or 30 years younger than myself.  We’ve made adjustments, but we have to work a little harder at improving the efficiency of J’s new exercise schedule.  The “anxiety” this causes J (notice the quotation marks, please) has made him want a snack after dinner…and this is something his parents have had to interfere with…firmly.

We had slipped a little, I confess, in the veggie consumption, and I had started cutting corners because I had so many things to do.  The other day I recommitted to our nutritional plan (sounds so much better than “diet”) and we’re back on track.  When I say “we” I don’t mean that I’m losing any weight.  Middle-age has parked itself around my waist and, flexible though I still am, I won’t be winning any Olympic events any time soon.  As long as J is healthy and happy (which he is, thank goodness) and he is committed to eating right and exercising (which he will be once he gets past the eye-rolling stage of the recommitment to health,) we are happy.

So that’s where we are as we skid into the middle of September.  The leaves are turning very slowly; the air is starting to crisp just enough to remind us that our garden is almost done for the season; the jackets have come out of storage, and the blankets are being washed and made accessible to all…

Another year is rolling by faster than we’d like it to, but that’s the way it works…

The Second Week of School…and the weather starts to change…

This is no longer SUMMER!  We are now is the milder, declining days of the season.  There is, in spite of the weather forecast, a dulling of the green leaves, a ribbon of coolness in the air, a softening of the light that are harbingers of AUTUMN!  We are in Summer Light…sort of a gluten-free, fat-free, sodium-free, sugar-free version of the season.  It has been repackaged.  The look has changed, and so have the ingredients.

Our tomato plants are ignoring this new data.  They are producing more tomatoes than any human family can consume with ease.  Our chili peppers are still doing calisthenics.  The rest of the garden is looking more muted, more willing to relax in the coming weeks.

J has settled nicely into school.  All the reports I’m getting say that he takes his thumb immobilizer off to work and eat, and since he is continually occupied with something, the brace is off most of the day.  He seems ok with this arrangement, the teacher tells me.  I am happy to hear this.

J is also adjusting to the new schedule TGG has.  For the past two weeks TGG has been home all day, waited for J to get off the bus, and then left for class.  Since his class schedule doesn’t allow for weekday workouts, TGG has been taking J to the gym on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and the rest of the week, J is happily committed to the elliptical machine in our garage.  He watches movies while he exercises, and we do our best to keep up with his pace.  We are sorely out of shape.

Tomorrow comes yet another change in J’s environment.  TGG has a new job.  It’s a little outside of his field (ok, A LOT outside of his field,) but it does accommodate his school schedule and the pay isn’t bad and covers his main expenses.  This job will also elevate him to a near-deity status with J because TGG will be working at Target.

Yes, the home of Bullseye the Mascot.  J’s favorite store.  The place where we can easily be found on weekends walking the aisles in the same exact pattern as prescribed by our lovely youngest son.    We haven’t told J.  He doesn’t even know that TGG interviewed for this job.  He doesn’t know that TGG will be donning the red and khaki threads of a Target employee.  What J will do when he realizes is something we’re all on pins and needles about…

Our guess is that J will be more than happy to visit his brother at work, promptly plunking down money to make sure the company stays in business.  Our guess is that J will expect TGG to keep Bullseye under control.  Our guess is that the older brother that is already viewed as something of a superhero will be seen with something of a halo surrounding him.  I am hoping for an employee discount, but more than anything I’m happy that TGG has a job.

For the past two weeks, the same kid who flatly refuses to get up when asked has been getting up early and interrupting my brief restorative shut-eye from 8 to 9 a.m.  I’ve opened my eyes to be startled by his bright smile and a chirpy “what do you need me to do?????”  I’ve sent him to the gym.  I’ve sent him to vacuum the TV room.  I’ve sent him to check the mail and take the trash.  I’ve asked him to gather the laundry and start that chore for me.  The same 24 year-old who usually drags his feet when asked to hand me a spoon while I’m cooking has completed every task in record time.  Today I asked Dada if it would be unseemly for me to call Target and beg them to cut to the chase and give him a schedule.

I almost cried when he hung up after speaking to his manager and said “I have to be there at 8:30 tomorrow!”  By my calculations (which I made faster than any of my Math teachers ever thought possible) that means I have to wait until he calls to say he made it, and then I will have an uninterrupted hour to prepare myself for the daunting task of managing this household.  I looked at him and said: “oh, so soon?”  The look he gave me told me unequivocally that he knew I was putting on an act.  It was sort of worth the try…

So the kids are settling in, and they’re not kids anymore.  The nest is properly feathered, and it’s still full of birds, but I’m satisfied that we’re slowly getting into our respective grooves and we’ll soon figure the little bits and pieces of the whole new order out.  J is settling in nicely; J is happy; J has actually become more adept at negotiating and accepting things at school, and maybe it’s because he knows it’s the last year.  Maybe it’s because I look ragged and tired and middle-aged, and he wants me to know he cares, but…maybe it’s really because he wants to have a good year.

We’ll see.  It’s early days yet.  Twenty-seven days to AUTUMN! and the skinny, weak side of summer is slowly unraveling.  Yes, yes…temperatures in the 80s next week, but we had those last week and they lacked the usual bite.  Let’s face it…it’s almost over.  We’re about to go back to boots and sweaters and jackets and scarves and soups and stews and pumpkin and blankets and cocoa.

It’s ok.  It wasn’t The Most Fantastic Summer Ever, but we made it through and we learned a lot.  We picked up a new friend (the brace,) and lost a few others (patience comes to mind.)  We are here on the other side of the last ESY, and on the opening bars of the Last School Year Ever!  I’m sure we’ll slip and fall, and we’ll get overwhelmed before it’s all said and done, but so far we’re humming…

A trip to town…

With a great deal of equanimity, J accepted that we were going on an outing, and he trusted me when I said it was for fun.  What I mean by “for fun” is “no doctors.”  We ran errands.  We walked a lot.  We rode the bus and discovered that it isn’t just the potholes that cause problems; poor suspension in any vehicle will make for a bumpy ride even if the road is (more or less) in good repair.  By the time we reached High Street, J and I were more than ready to get off the bus; I’m sure the other passengers were ready for us to leave, too, because J said GOING TO TOWN a minimum of 200 times during the half-hour ride.

Our first stop was the courthouse.  Because the world we live in has become increasingly threatening and violent, we had to go through metal detectors and empty our pockets before going in to complete the errands we had for the morning.  J had been to this building before, and he was a little taken aback by the new contraptions standing between him and getting in and out of there quickly.  A brief moment of confusion, a relinquishing of his beloved Slinky and kind patience from the security team at the door, but we made it through without problems.

Of course, I had a minor glitch with the paperwork, and we had to do two of the things we had on our list, but leave and return for the third.  J was patient about this, too.  There were a lot of people waiting their turn, and he navigated this fairly well.  I say fairly well because J takes up a lot of space when he sits down, and I had to ask him to “gather his feet” so as not to create an unnecessary obstacle course for the other patrons.

I had promised J we’d go to his favorite store in town when we were done with our errands, but I had to dash to the library to try printing a piece of paper I needed for that pesky third errand.  When I realized the printers weren’t working, I let J walk the Children’s section and I texted back and forth with Dada trying to find a solution.  The proceedings reached a stalemate and, to recover from the stress of the moment, I told J we were going to the toy store.  THIS was the moment he’d been waiting for, and he was so happy that it was well worth having sat down and taken that deep breath.

We walked around the store, looking at dolls, games, plush toys, books, Playmobil sets.  I asked J if there was anything he wanted before we left.  Another turn around the store helped him make his choice: the biggest set he could possibly choose from among the Playmobils, and the little motor to power it!  I explained that, yes, he could buy it, but HE had to carry it around town.  As we were paying, the store owner (we have known her since we moved into town four years ago) helped me figure out how to complete my final errand.  Immense Playmobil set in hand, we went back to the courthouse (and through security, of course) and finalized our official business.

I asked J where he wanted to have lunch, and he stood looking around at the different store fronts.  In the end, he opted to go to a diner that he’s been to when he’s walked into town from school.  I had never been so he guided me to it, and when we were led to our table, he plopped down like a regular customer.  Since it was after eleven a.m. I ordered French Toast and J ordered a grilled cheese sandwich and some chicken strips.  He ordered his food with his Proloquo.

I can understand why J likes the place.  The booths are spacious, and the music was perfectly in tune with J’s tastes.  As we sat there waiting for our meal, J was happily moving around in his seat, following the songs they were playing.  He was so happy, in fact, that he didn’t hesitate to remove his brace to cut up the chicken strips, and didn’t complain when I reminded him that he has full use of his thumb and I expect him to move, curl, wriggle, and command it.

We counted the money to pay our bill, and made a pit stop before heading home.  Dada kindly drove into town and brought us home.  All in all, we were out and about since 9 in the morning, and didn’t walk into our townhouse until shortly after 1 P.M.  It was a very full and active morning, and J was stretching and yawning when we got back.

We spent the better part of the afternoon putting his toy together.  The nice thing about Playmobils is that they’re easy (for me) to figure out.  I’ve grown too old for Legos.  And before you argue that “you can never be too old for Legos” I will explain that I fully agree with the spirit of that, but my eyes aren’t what they used to be, and some of those tiny pieces are hard to handle with my arthritic fingers.  J was especially thrilled when he realized that one of the figures in his new Playmobil Ferris Wheel set looks a lot like him, down to the newsboy cap it’s wearing.

As you can tell, our trip to town was mostly successful.  The one glitch was the red-tape, but we figured out what to do to properly and promptly complete our errands.  I didn’t flat-out lie to J; I meant for him to have fun, but I also meant to get things done, and we managed both.  The rest of the weekend went well because we set the proper tone for errands and fun.

Today is the first day of the two school-less weeks in August.  We are doing a little work, and we are trying to do some fun activities.  The mood is light, and we are determined to sail through the next couple of weeks without too much drama.  And the brace?  It comes off for chores and meals, and I keep reminding J that his thumb works just fine.

Week Three of ESY…or, as we call it around these parts, the next to last week of ESY

So far it’s been smooth sailing at summer school.  Maybe it’s because J hasn’t fully understood that THIS is the last summer school EVER, but I’ll take it as it comes.  He is happy.  He accepts that Thursday means three solid days of not going to school, and that Sunday means four consecutive days of going.  In Morse code, my dad would say, that’s O-O-O-H-H-H-H…that it sounds like OOOHHHH is no coincidence.

The ball pit project is progressing slowly.  In the meantime we are doing other things to make J more comfortable.  These are things, by the way, that appeal to his aesthetic, make him happy, and go a long way to drain my wallet.  He found string lights at Target that are covered with star-shaped paper lanterns.  We’ve pinned three of them to the ceiling, and they create a trail of stars that he likes to look at when he’s relaxing.  We’ve found tissue paper tassel garlands in pastel colors, and he likes to watch them move with the breeze from the ceiling fan.  Katniss Everdeen stands guard on his craft closet door downstairs, and watches over his sleep at night in his bedroom.  His pinup girls are now surrounded by glow-in-the-dark stars, and he has a flashlight he can point at the stars or the girls.  I don’t ask questions…I simply listen to what J wants.

His weight is holding steady, and he still likes going to the gym.  We will have to make adjustments very soon, though.  TGG has registered for classes at the university, and he will have to work and go to school so his chances to work out with J are limited to Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays IF he can keep his current job.  It is quite possible that he will have to find another job that will accommodate his school schedule so all the exercising time will shift to us old folks…not that we don’t need it.

Of course, now I arrive at the sticky part of our summer: the thumb immobilizer.  Faster than you can say “comfort item” this little piece of hardware has become J’s best friend.  When separated from his new comfort item, J is a bit antsy.  When you make an assessment of movement for his fingers, thumb and wrist without the brace on, J will happily go ballistic on you.

I have figured out that this is J’s way of making sure that brace remains as a comfort item.  There are, and I’ve told him this, more convenient (and safer!) ways to get his point across.  The last time he threw a fit about this I took it off, replaced it with a significantly smaller, and not quite as comforting brace, and sent him to bed immediately.  The next morning, quiet and obedient as a little mouse, J did all his chores, and humbly asked for his bigger thumb immobilizer.  I took the time to have a chat with him, and -as much as he rolled his eyes- he got the notion that we’re just trying to help.

I know the absence of the brace upsets him.  I know that it, along with the many bandaids he wears on real and imaginary sore spots, reminds him of behavior that can cause harm.  My assumption, and I can only assume because of J’s difficulties in communicating more abstract feelings even with the Proloquo, is that he is using the brace as a shield against hitting his forehead.  TGG was never in the habit of grabbing J’s hand and making him slap himself (a game my older siblings called “why are you hitting yourself?????”,) but I think that J sort of envisions his hand as having a “mind of its own.”

Like other individuals in the Spectrum, J battles with OCD.  Things have to be just so, and it doesn’t always makes sense to the rest of us.  Maybe hitting his head is part of that.  Maybe J feels compelled to hit himself, and the brace plays the part of Jiminy Cricket.  Seeing those black straps encircling his thumb, wrist and forearm remind him that he hurt his hand hitting his head, and dissuade him from doing it again.  The problem is that I need to make sure that this is not a ‘forever’ comfort item…

And here come the timers, and the short pockets of time when J cannot have the brace.  He has become very dexterous at cutting meat, buttering bread, zipping up his pants, and so on with that thing on so I’ve had to go back to manners and socially-considerate behavior.  Mealtimes, bath-time, going to the bathroom…no brace.  Granted, he hems and haws, but…for the time being I have to deal with this part of the issue in the way that I’ve found most effective: timers.

So that’s where we are…

And with seven days of ESY left, we have another long spell of not having a school routine ahead of us.  When August arrives, and school begins, it is the beginning of the end…

But that’s a problem for another day…

The litmus test for summer…

J is off to school and, hopefully, he is as happy there as he was when he woke up this morning.  I sent him with a note that reads: SPRAINED THUMB; NOT SERIOUS; WILL FUSS OVER VELCRO…

J has been generally happy.  We haven’t really had a tantrum since we figured out that, yes, his thumb was bothering him, and the doctor addressed it with the wrist stabilizer.  He did get fussy a couple of days ago, but it was easily solved with additional cuddling and attention, and firmness of hand when he attempted to act like a survivor of the Blitz.

The doctor’s response to Dada’s e-mail basically told us what I have been thinking all along: yes, we can increase the med, but we need to seriously consider if we’re willing to go back and forth on this.  Perhaps, he mused, it’s not the right time for a reduced dose, but perhaps we just need to ride it out.  In the long term, J’s body will be affected in different ways by taking the med, just like he will be affected by NOT taking the med, and it’s just a question of which one we want to try first.

The psych expressed his confidence in us as caregivers, and that, my friends, made me realize that we don’t suck as much as I sometimes think we do.  There are times when I am pretty sure that I’ve botched the entire day, and Dada has admitted that he feels at a loss once in a while.  Caring for J is not easy.  Please don’t take this the wrong way, but there are days when I understand our cats better than I do our son…I’m not comparing him to an animal, but he IS inscrutable in ways that I’ve only been able to compare with our resident felines.

One of the most difficult things to get used to when you’re raising an individual in the Spectrum is the progression/regression dance.  You want to think that this next thing they’re learning is going to stick forever, and sometimes it doesn’t.  It’s hard not to take it, initially at least, as a personal failure.  We all want to believe that we will be the next great story on Autism, that we will raise a child who will rise above and move forward, and blaze a trail for everyone.  Even when we pretty much know -because we’ve been doing this for a very long time- that we’re just fighting the same exact battle as everyone else with the same mixed results that are par for the course, we feel deflated and less-than when we realize it…again.

I firmly believe that J just needs time and patience (as much from us as his own) to make it through this latest rough patch.  It’s got to be rough for him.  It’s got to be a constant wondering why he has to be the one who acquiesces and goes along with our attempts to make things better.  I’m sure somewhere in his head he hears his own voice saying “ah, more PECS!  Yes, let’s throw more PECS at this, woman!”  I don’t really want to go all Jerry Maguire on him, and I would hate if he turned around and earnestly said “you had me at PECS!”  I’d rather we do the back and forth thing, especially if we can forgo the SIB when it’s not going so well.

***

To quote Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky: O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!

The J that left for school happy returned from school happy, and did beautifully while there.  I was so happy about this piece of news that I may have whimpered with relief in front of the bus driver and aide.  I DID kiss J rather noisily and hugged him very tightly while he giggled.  He was very proud of himself for behaving, and I made sure he got all the kudos he deserved and then some.

Since he got home he’s been happy, and asking for his bus song.  I don’t mind repeating it because I can tell that not going to school was wearing on him these past few weeks.  I do this knowing that next year the bus song will be a thing of the past, and we’ll be back to dealing with an anxious person who doesn’t quite know what to do with himself.

And, therefore, I’ve made yet another decision that I dread.  I hate driving.  I don’t have a license.  I am the biggest scaredy-cat on the face of the roads of America.  I’m going to get my driver’s license.

Don’t worry…this is not happening today or tomorrow.  And I’m not driving just for the heck of it.  I’m driving so I can get J places, and with a purpose.  I was not one of those teenage girls who couldn’t wait to get a license, and I’m only getting a license because of J.  I seriously doubt that at the ripe old age of 50 my personal anthem will become The Beach Boys’ Fun, Fun, Fun or Little Old Lady from Pasadena.  I think it isn’t an exaggeration to predict that whatever car I am driving will have the CAREFUL NERVOUS MOTHER DRIVING sign from The Partridge Family fame.

A middle-aged mother’s gotta do…I am not thrilled, but I am bound and determined.  Dada is on board, and petrified.  It’s not that I haven’t driven before, or that I don’t have the skills for it, but I am not as brave as you might expect me to be.  In fact, I’m downright cowardly when it comes to manning a wheel and moving a vehicle.  We are hoping that, with a lot of practice, this will be a thing of the past…or, at least, a smaller issue.  Since I have absolutely no intention to drive on the freeway, drive during rush hour, drive in snow or ice, and very possibly skip the rainy days too, I will (hopefully) be ok.

So…there you have it.  Good day for J.  Good day for everyone.  Monday is in the books…on to Tuesday, then.

Don’t let the smell of regression intimidate you…

First it was “pull my sleeve down and cover my hand.”  I said NO and rearranged his shirt so it was resting properly and squarely on his shoulders.

A few hours later, a smiling, happy J came into the living room with a boxing glove in his hand.  He asked me to put it on him.  Same hand that he wanted covered with his sleeve.

I said NO in the same tone used when saying “silly rabbit, Trix are for kids!!!!”  He smiled and, slowly, made his way back to the third floor to put the glove in his room.

I decided the tack I will take is to keep his hands busy because idle hands and all that good stuff…

It’s still eleven days to ESY.  I think he’s bored.  I think he wants attention.  I am confused because he constantly kicks me out of his presence.  I am willing to try anything; whether it’s leaving him alone, checking on him every five minutes, taking walks when he least expects it, doing crafts, just sitting there…  I’ll try it.

I am aware that he is 20 years old.  I understand that he is not operating on the same system as I am.  I understand -especially after seeing Inside Out..go see it…it’s a must- that the little Mindy Kaling in him is probably taking over the control panel.  I’m even ok with his inner Lewis Black putting in an appearance.  I get the whole thing about a new improved, more complex control panel.  I understand that regression is normal.  I understand that unhappiness in small doses can be a good thing.  I understand that he cannot always do what I wish he would do.

Tomorrow we go to the psych for the first time in six months.  I was hoping to wave goodbye to the Risperdal, but now I’m not so sure…  To paraphrase Sheldon Cooper’s thoughts on gravity: Autism, thou art a heartless bitch!

Tomorrow is, as Scarlett O’Hara said, another day…

Live…travel…and learn…

We are back from our trip to D.C.  We are in one piece.  We are satisfied with the results of our journey.  This shouldn’t be construed as “it all went smoothly.”  First and foremost: J had fun. Second: we had fun.  Third: animals are not J’s thing.  I’ll get to the rest of that in a moment.  For our first family vacation in thirteen years, we did pretty darned well.

The kid who two years ago would eat only Ramen noodles and mac and cheese tried every single food item we ordered at restaurants.  He ate guacamole without picking out the “interesting” bits that he could see in it.  He ate his tacos as they were served: with lettuce and chopped up onions and chilies in them.  There was no turning down a meal, or a taste of someone else’s.  He tasted everything we offered him, and he ate all meals with gusto.

D.C. is a walking town.  None of us had ever been so we were going by the impression we got from maps.  Google Maps can be very alarming when you look at it…the distances, well, seem much longer than they really are.  Once I figured out that D.C. city blocks are not NY city blocks, all was well.  In no time we were navigating like pros…or as close to “like pros” as one can be on the first visit to anywhere.

Of course, quiet places to eat a meal (especially during tourist season) are few and far between.  We had two dinners that were overwhelmingly noisy, but J managed to focus on the purpose of our presence in the restaurants, and didn’t fret about the ridiculously loud noise levels.  Kudos to him.  We were pleasantly surprised!  The kid who wouldn’t sit through a meal in a restaurant a couple of years ago is now totally fine with having dinner at a crowded restaurant while Happy Hour is in full swing, or a loud group of diners is boisterously celebrating someone’s birthday nearby.

J loved the walking bits of our trip.  J loved the Metro.  Any hesitation we might have had about his willingness to descend into the subterranean landscape of a subway station were quickly assuaged.  In mere minutes we were surfacing at the Smithsonian station and trying to get our bearings.  First stop: Museum of Natural History.

And herein rears its ugly head the fly in our ointment…

The first look at the elephant in the Rotunda was enough to tell me we’d have to pick our battles in this particular location.  J was so impressed with the lifelike appearance of this particular pachyderm that he started backing away.  I took him aside and explained that the animals are not alive…  J’s shoulders relaxed slightly, and I started leading him towards the Mammals exhibit.

Out of the corner of my eye I saw the feline that looks ready to pounce from above, and that’s when I realized J was digging his heels into the ground.  Nothing doing.  It was over right then and there even though I explained (over and over) that the animals were not alive.  I motioned for Dada and TGG to go ahead and walk around at their leisure while J and I did the best we could to look at things from strategic spots that kept him away from the actual exhibit.  We saw a lot of animal butts, and that was perfectly fine with me.  I was unwilling to force the issue if it meant J would be upset.  Mentally I scratched the Zoo off our list because, well, if dead animals are a problem, what will live ones do????

A leisurely walk around the butterfly garden outside of the museum helped J’s mood, and once more we plunged into the heat of the day to cross over to the Air and Space Museum.  We fared a little better there because it was cool, and because nothing looked like it was about to kill any living creatures.  J walked around at his own pace, navigating through the crowds that were desperately trying to beat the heat in of doors.  Dada is an “anything that flies” aficionado so he and TGG walked around going ooooh and aaaah while J and I slowly moseyed around and took short sit-down breaks on any available benches.

And then it happened.  The thing that hadn’t happened in such a long time happened.  Gloriously, obviously, publicly, shockingly, stunningly, sadly happened.  Ferdinand the Bull sat on that bee…J had a meltdown.  The crowds and the temperature and humidity that soared finally got to him.  Not only did J hit his head with his fists…he ROARED!  Leaving TGG behind, Dada and I escorted him out of the premises and to a shady area outside of the museum.  We texted TGG our location, and we tried to reason with a very overwhelmed J.  I asked what was wrong.  He roared again.  I told him that was rude.  He squealed.  I checked to see if something was hurting.  Everything was fine.  TGG found us and we briskly walked to the Metro station (in the wrong direction for a good fifteen minutes) while J kept saying GOOD MORNING and ANGRY and I kept telling him “it’s afternoon, and it doesn’t feel so good right now,” and “yes, of course I’m angry.”

Suddenly, for the first time in a long time, we were “those people” who dash out of a place because their autistic son is going ballistic.  I was mortified.  Yes, this was my first thought: we were doing SO WELL.  And then we became “those people” who stop for a brief conversation in the shade of a tree, and I’m the only one who’s talking while everyone’s trying to interrupt me: a) TGG had to make it about him and how he had freaked out because he couldn’t find us, b) Dada was too flustered and holding the map wrong, and c) J needs to use his iPad to tell me what he wants, needs, feels, or I can’t help!

By the end of those three minutes when we looked like the The Three Stooges (with yours truly playing Mo to the hilt,) we knew where the Metro station was and we turned in its direction.  I was having a hot flash on top of the anxiety of seeing J THAT upset.  As Dada purchased tickets for our return trip, an arm snaked around my shoulder and pulled me.  J was hugging me…squeeze-release-squeeze hugging while stroking my hair and saying ANGRY.  Shit.  I couldn’t be angry anymore.  I told him, as he kept squeezing me, that he needs to say what he wants, and I will do what he needs.

And then I realized it: J was hungry and thirsty.  That’s what it boiled down to…we had lost track of time and he needed sustenance.  We were entirely to blame for the meltdown at the museum.  What morons!!!!!

The rest of the trip was uneventful.  We made adjustments to our sightseeing, our meals, and the way we handled J’s needs.  We learned a lot from this particular experience.  Remember, please, that we hadn’t traveled for leisure in thirteen years, and J was only seven when we last took a family vacation.  Things have changed a bit since then.

We hope to do it again next year.  We don’t know if we’re yet ready to fly anywhere, or how long we’d be able to stay if we go somewhere that requires a plane trip or two.  We’re learning again.  We’re opening a new book and seeing what’s in it, and we’re editing and correcting as we go along. We are willing to do this because we think it’s important that we keep learning.  J is obviously trying to figure things out…we’re doing this together.

Next time will be easier…

Lessons learned:

1)  There’s no such thing as packing too many snacks.  Hotel rooms have refrigerators…use them!

2)  If the only animals J feels comfortable with are the TOOB kind, stick to those.

3)  J will happily walk back from dinner with one of us while the other two go to do/see something that appeals to them.

4)  Two craft kits for four nights?  Are you nuts????  Next time take more books and more crafts.  If J wants to go back to the room, he will appreciate this.

5)  J doesn’t watch Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon OR Disney.  Use his Netflix or keep his favorite movies in his iCloud.

6)  U.S. History is too abstract for J so find other things to engage him.  Mix the familiar with the tourist-y and you’ll be fine.

7)  The Sofitel at Lafayette Square is an awesome hotel, and they will give you adjoining rooms if available.

8)  Oyamel, Mio, GCDC, Black Iron Pizza are great places for J to eat.  Service is great, food is delicious.

9)  Road trips are fine, but we really need to think long and hard about the possibility of air travel…hmmmmmmmmm