We’re on an airplane. I’ve drafted blog posts on airplanes before. Since his autism diagnosis four years ago, I’ve traveled with Martin from New York to South America (usually to Adrian’s country of origin), California (where my brother lives), Texas (where my parents live), Illinois (often, for doctors). Now we’re on our way to Germany, where I have family, and starting with a side trip to Austria and Slovakia.
“That seems like more trouble than it’s worth,” said a German friend when I told her our plans. “You’ll have to haul his pills everywhere and spend your time finding his special food. Who knows how much he’ll even understand, or remember?”
My friend is right, partly. Everywhere we travel, I tote a massive shoulder bag of supplements, prescriptions, and homeopathic drops. I won’t let the bag be x-rayed, so crossing airport security can be an hour-long exercise. (This trip, it wasn’t. The TSA agent at JFK left all the bottles in the bag, ran a swab or two, asked a few questions, and let me through in less than five minutes. I suspected she must be a mom.) As soon as we arrive in Vienna I will search for organic groceries. We stay in hotels with kitchenettes so that I can cook Martin’s meals and broth. I have organic chicken sausages nestled with an ice block in a cooler-lunchbox that I’ve tucked into Martin’s pajama supply.
Despite my best efforts, Martin will go without some of what he gets in the States. Ashwaganda, for example. The new supply didn’t arrive in time. Or camel milk. I couldn’t find a reliable source for raw camel milk on the go. I didn’t even search that hard. It felt futile. Plus, Martin will have to deal with jet lag, uneven sleep times, unfamiliarity. No way he’s going to be at his best. We’ll lose some recovery ground.
So—why? Why drag Martin across Europe? Why not take an easier vacation, or do a staycation, where I can control Martin’s environment?
I guess it comes down to me and Adrian surviving this autism thing, however long it lasts.
To be sure, there are more kid-friendly vacations. We have lovely beaches and camping venues within driving distance. But I don’t like the beach, and neither does Adrian, although we enjoy hiking, neither of us knows how to camp. For better or worse, we travel more on the “seeing culture” model than on the “relaxing with nature” model. And for better or worse, Martin is our son. Until his independence, the family model is his model.
We could leave Martin home. We’ve done that. Adrian and I went to Israel without him, and to Montreal. On the other hand, we’re a family. I want to share with Martin what I love (hockey!), even if he doesn’t get it yet. Adrian wants to share with Martin what he loves (um… the Vienna Philharmonic, dead composers’ birthplaces, and tragic battlefields, I guess), even if Martin doesn’t get it yet.
We’re parents, after all, and as parents we want Martin to have the experiences that might stick with any kid. Some, he obviously enjoys. Rock climbing. Concerts. The Lion King. Disneyland. Others, we push the envelope more, like when Adrian and I wedged Martin between us on a jet-ski and gunned it to max speeds. Or roller skating. What a disaster! Martin looked like a Looney Tunes character running. Finding fun is trial-and-error for any family. Autism takes so much from us already. Why should we have to be the only family that doesn’t distress the kid once in a while?
Now we’re on a train, from Vienna to Munich. I wish I could write that Martin is observing the placid Austrian countryside, remarking on the farmhouses and windmills. Alas, he isn’t. He’s wearing earphones and playing Garage Band on his iPad. More honestly still, he’s stimming by playing single notes repeatedly. He had a rough few days in Vienna and Bratislava. He is tired, floppy, whiny, unfocussed, and doing his best to make our lives miserable.
Nice try, Martin! Our lives are not miserable. We had a lovely time sightseeing yesterday in Slovakia, where I learned, from T-shirts, that Slovaks are living under a delusion. Apparently they think Marián Gáborík (I just learned that his name has accents!) is “the King.” I always liked Gáborík, and to be sure, he is “a King,” in the sense that he plays now for the Kings. But he isn’t the King. That’s Henrik Lundqvist. Silly Slovaks. Then we returned to Vienna and had dinner at the Palmenhaus. Without us realizing it, Martin ate a sugary sauce on his fresh-fruit dessert. Ooops! Hyperactivity and stomach distress! Then dinner was so relaxed that Martin didn’t get to bed until 10:30 pm. No wonder he’s a mess today.
Adrian and I liked to travel before Martin was born, we liked to travel before Martin was diagnosed, and we like to travel now. Life goes on, even in autism recovery. ¡Vivan las vacaciones!
Postscript: When we return from Europe, Martin and I are ditching Adrian and heading to the Adirondacks for a week, to share a lake house with my sister and niece. “We’re taking two vacations!” Martin declares; I like him to have time with his cousin, and since he attends year-round school, we have to pack travel into the few weeks he has off. Martin is so much better, these days, at expressing preferences. “What was your favorite part of today?” Adrian asked him after we visited Vienna’s Schönbrunn Palace and its extensive gardens, including a playground. “My favorite part of today was when I played in the sand at the castle playground,” Martin answered. After we leave the Adirondacks, I’ll seek Martin’s opinion on which vacation was better, Europe or the lake. I’ll post the results here.
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