We flew home from Chicago last night. Martin was fantastic on the plane. His behavior trounced that of the other toddlers aboard.
When we got on Martin held my hand and marched down the narrow aisle. He kept his free hand almost completely to himself. He walked in a straight line. He climbed into his seat and occupied himself looking out the window.
Upon taxiing he allowed me to fasten his cookie belt. (That’s like a seatbelt in all respects, except that wearing it entitles one to treats, like almond-flour cookies or a pear.) He used to be terrified of take-off and need to climb on my lap and cling to me, with the windowshade lowered. We’ve slowly been easing out of that. This was the best yet; he clutched my arm and pulled it close to him but othewise remained upright in his seat and even commented on going up in the air and seeing clouds.
Around the time we were allowed to move about the cabin (thanking my lucky stars for that one) I could see that Martin was straining, so I took him to the miniscule airplane bathroom. I expected to find one of his usual horrid diapers—pardon the scatology on this one—and when I didn’t, I sat him down on the airplane potty, where he promptly deposited all poopies. He even flushed.
We returned to our seats, and I felt confident enough to leave Martin eating a pear while I chased down the drink cart and demanded a glass of wine. (You caught me! Mother’s little helper in action.) I enjoyed the wine. Martin finished his pear. It was late evening, and at some point Martin asked for John Paul—that’s his elephant-shaped clutch blanket; how it came to be called John Paul, I have forgot—and lay down with his head in my lap. He didn’t sleep but lounged prostrate, chatting about objects to be seen, or singing lightly to himself, until I sat him back up and buckled his cookie belt for landing. During the plane’s descent into Newark, Martin and I looked out the window and had this conversation:
Me: “I see a bridge.”
Martin: “It’s the Queensboro Bridge!”
Me: “Hmm. I don’t think so.”
Martin: “It’s the Triboro!”
Me: “I don’t know what it is, Martin. I think we’re somewhere over New Jersey.”
Martin, triumphantly: “It’s the New Jersey bridge!”
After landing we were stuck for some minutes on the tarmac. Although it was by then two-and-a-half hours past his bedtime, Martin waited patiently. We looked at FedEx planes and talked about Adrian and his brother meeting us in the airport. Finally, as the passengers streamed out, Martin tromped unassisted to the front of the plane, thanked the flight personnel (okay, that one required my prompting), and stepped carefully into the jetbridge. He topped off this performance by running, with my blessing and me right behind him, through the lonely airport and into his father’s arms. Heck, he even glanced behind him as he ran, to make sure I was still following. That’s a big deal. The biggest.
I know we’re not “there yet” in Martin’s recovery, or even close. For example, it’s after 10:00 p.m., and I’m writing this blog post on an iPad in Martin’s bedroom because he can’t settle enough to sleep. But episodes like yesterday’s flight feel like—borrowing from church terminology—a foretaste of the feast to come. They steel my resolve, these moments that transport me beyond the difficulties of these times, forward to a day when I will sit beside my child and observe and converse and enjoy this world as any two neurotypical persons might.
In fairness to Martin I will conclude this post by admitting that he was right. It was the Queensboro Bridge. We were flying SSE along the northern end of Manhatten into Newark, but the plane hadn’t turned enough for me to see the skyline and get my bearings. Score one for Martin.