Martin and I have spent last week visiting Adrian’s country of origin and my in-laws there. (Adrian did not join us. Evidently “family duty” falls entirely on me these days.) Back in January, I used each of four New Year activities as a heading for a “Martin right now” mini-essay. Now, a week in South America gives me five vignettes for pondering autism recovery. Without further ado:
Del Sur I: This Completely Sucks—Wait! Did He Just…?
I wasn’t sure we’d make it to South America. Our flight was set for Friday afternoon, first to Miami and then, overnight, farther south. The Sunday previous, Martin asked to leave a class play date early, asserting that he didn’t feel well. Adrian and I weren’t sure whether Martin was ill, or just overwhelmed by the crowd; in any event we took him home, where he felt well enough to ride his bicycle. Monday he went to school and to personal training, where the instructor reported that he seemed tired and “out of it.” He coughed a lot during the night but recovered Tuesday morning and went to school.
Lunchtime Tuesday, the school nurse called me. Martin had a fever. I brought him home, tucked him onto the sofa with his stuffed animals and Disney Junior channel, and kept him hydrated. The special-education teacher who cares for Martin Tuesday evenings opted not to come, because she is pregnant and didn’t want risk illness. I cuddled Martin. I didn’t want to leave him. But Adrian was out of town and I had tickets to the Rangers–Penguins game.
“…And then I called Samara, his nanny, and asked her to come watch my sick kid. I’m the worst parent in the world,” I told my cousin over our pre-hockey beers at Stout.
“It’s the Stanley Cup playoffs. There are no bad parents,” he replied, sensibly.
Wednesday morning Samara stayed with Martin while I, hung-over and stung by the Rangers’ loss, headed to my office in Brooklyn. When Martin still had a fever Wednesday afternoon, I returned home and drove him to his pediatrician, who took a nasal swab and diagnosed influenza. I explained that we were supposed to board a plane 48 hours later. Give him Tamiflu, the pediatrician said. No, I responded, Tamiflu is too dangerous. Any other options? You can try Oscillococcinum, but it won’t work, she said. Can we fly to South America? You can fly to South America if the fever breaks by Friday morning.
That gave us 36 hours to eliminate the fever.
I started Martin immediately on Oscillococcinum, which probably I should have done at least a day earlier. Thursday he was still sick, alternating naps with playing, his temperature bobbing. Thursday night I was climbing into bed around 11:00 pm when Martin called, “Oh, no!” He had vomited in (more specifically, all over, and around) his bed. I scrubbed Martin and tucked him into my bed—Adrian was still out of town—, cleaned the mess, and was pleased when he subsequently slept through the night without incident.
Friday morning Martin woke without fever. He still wasn’t 100%. But he stated, adamantly, that he was prepared to get on the airplane and visit his abuelos y tíos y primos. Tentatively, I packed. Martin remained insistent, even as he fell asleep on the sofa. At lunchtime, I conjured a deal: We would go to BareBurger. If Martin felt well enough to eat a full meal, and hold it down, we would continue to JFK.
BareBurger has organic meat and gluten-free sweet potato fries cooked in non-GMO canola oil. Not perfect but, some days, a godsend.
Martin met my challenge, we boarded the flight to Miami, he slept eight hours on the overnight flight to South America, my mother-in-law retrieved us from the airport, and all this serves as backstory to Saturday, because Saturday sucked.
Last February, Martin did pretty well with his paternal cousins. He’s improved a lot since then, socially, so this year I expected instant interaction. I’m so foolish. Saturday, when three of his cousins arrived, including one close to his age, Martin responded by thrusting his face into my mother-in-law’s sofa and pointing his butt in the air toward the other kids. Okay. Haven’t seen that behavior in a while. I covered by saying something like, “Oh, Martin, have you decided to be shy?”
Next, Martin refused to speak to his cousins and directed all comments exclusively to me. I covered by claiming his Spanish was rusty.
Next, my father-in-law attempted to show Martin pictures of a recent family vacation. The cousins snuggled with their abuelo and admired the photographs. Martin stood behind them all and broke into a crying meltdown because he hadn’t gone on the vacation. I escorted Martin to his bedroom, calmed him, set him up for some solo time with his iPad, then returned to the living room and covered by claiming Martin’s fever had returned.
When I have a fever, I cry. Tears flow from my eyes, even if I feel well and am not upset about anything. That’s where I got the idea to say Martin had a fever that was making him cry.
By the afternoon meal, Martin had pulled himself together enough to join us at the table, but he ate in silence and refused to interact. I remarked continually on how unusual the withdrawal was, how really tired and still-kind-of-sick Martin must have been.
All the covering, of course, was designed not to let Martin’s cousins think he’s weird.
Toward evening Martin managed to join his cousins on the sofa. He didn’t talk to them, and they, engrossed in television, didn’t talk to him, either. My sister-in-law, mother of the cousins, deteriorated the situation further by commanding her 10-year-old son, “¡Habla con tu primo! Speak slowly! Stop watching television and speak to your cousin! More slowly! His Spanish is rusty!” The hapless 10-year-old said, “Um, ¿hola, Martín? Hooooooooooooooo-laaaaaaaaaaa, Maaaaaaaaaaaaartiiiiiin,” at which the other cousins laughed and Martin looked confused.
When his cousins finally prepared to leave, Martin re-commenced crying because, he claimed, he wanted them to stay.
My kid was exhausted, overwhelmed, out of his element, and probably still sick. His cousins, I am certain, thought he was weird.
A couple hours later, with Martin asleep for the night, I dialed Adrian on FaceTime. I decided to spare him the full report and give him instead this 100% accurate, albeit heavily edited, account of the day: “Guess what happened? Martin learned to blow his nose. He was crying and stuffy from his flu, and I gave him a tissue and told him to blow, and it finally clicked. I’ve been trying to teach him for years to blow his nose. This afternoon he managed. Hurray! Everything is great!”