Del Sur, Interrumpido: Siempre Alguien Hace Leña del Árbol Caido

Monday, last week, was abysmal. Something—a supplement, or an allergen, or another environmental factor, or . . . still trying to figure out—was causing Martin to be anxious and contrarian. He argued every statement, contradicted every request, had trouble holding himself together. Mondays I pick him up from school, we go to the natural-foods market, and I take him to personal training. Last Monday we had to break that routine and replace the natural-foods market with visiting the optician to fit Martin’s new glasses. That was bad enough. Then we spent too long at the optician and ended up late for personal training. Oh. My. Huge. Anxiety.

When we pulled into the gym parking lot, Martin was perseverating on our tardiness, demanding to go home, and trying not to cry. I knew I had work to do before we could enter the gym.

Monday also happened to be windy. Very windy. As I began to open my door, a gust blew it into the Volkswagen Beetle next to me. Just a tap—my door’s plastic rim hit the Beetle’s side panel. I withdrew the door and checked the other car for damage. The Beetle had enough nicks and scrapes that I needed a second to confirm where my door made contact. At that spot, I saw no damage.

Just my luck: A woman was sitting in the Beetle’s driver seat, texting or something. She thrust her head through her open sunroof and, glaring at me, contorted her face into a grimace.

I said, “Sorry The wind got hold of my door. Thank goodness it didn’t leave a mark.”

My mind, at that moment, was occupied about 2% with my car door, and about 98% with Martin’s potential meltdown, so I started to exit in order to deal with Martin.

The other woman’s mind, by contrast, seemed 100% occupied by the fact that my door had tapped her Volkswagen. She scowled, and yelled, “You’ve got to be more careful!”

“Yeah, sorry,” I repeated as I walked around my car to retrieve Martin. I helped him down from his seat and walked him to the back of my SUV, where I had enough space to kneel and take his hands in mine while reassuring him. This position, me kneeling in front of Martin, holding his hands and available for a hug if necessary, is our best defense to a meltdown. Martin was alternating among might-cry face, a few tears, and deep belly breaths to gather his composure. After 15 or 20 seconds, we were starting to get the potential meltdown under control. I was able to use one hand to wipe tears from Martin’s quivering cheek.

And then—VW Beetle chick decided she had found an appropriate time to address the non-existent injury to her jalopy. (Pardon my attitude. I believe it justifiable.) She exited the driver seat, walked around to the side panel my door had tapped, which was also close to me and Martin, and commenced a conspicuous inspection. The inspection involved leaning very close to her car, flashing me an angry expression, slurping diet soda, waiting for a response from me, and upon receiving no such response, repeating the entire process. At any other time, the situation would have been laughable. At this moment, as I sit here writing, the situation is laughable. Last Monday, on the other hand, in the midst of Martin’s anxiety, I felt my blood begin to rise. Seriously, lady? Seriously? I am—literally—on my knees in a gym parking lot, imploring my angst-ridden seven-year-old to hold his s*&t together, and you’ve found the perfect time to confront me for accidentally bumping the side panel of your car? I perceived a change inside me. Country-raised, uniformly polite suburban mom spirit was leaving my body. In her stead came chip-on-the-shoulder city girl. I started to stand. I was about to get up in this woman’s face, and not a little bit. I was about to be inches from VW chick’s nose.

And then—Martin’s chest heaved, and tears came. Instantly, I knew that Martin knew that I was on the verge of getting into it with another adult. I returned to my knees, reclaimed his trembling hands, and told him softly not to worry. I smiled. I reassured him that I had texted the personal trainer that we were coming late, so it was no big deal. I said how cool his new glasses looked, and that we were having his favorite lentils for dinner later, and that I might even make rice.

I would rather report that the VW driver realized her timing was off, that she said something like, “I can see you’re busy. Would you mind finding me in the gym after your son calms down?”, and then departed with only a glance at my license plate to ensure honesty.

She didn’t. She started the Beetle inspection routine anew. When she reached the part about slurping diet soda and waiting for a response from me, I raised my left hand to block her from my view. I actually gestured, “Tell it to the hand, because the mama ain’t listening,” and concentrated instead on Martin’s needs. I held my hand aloft, ignored the idiotic car inspection, and comforted my son.

Finally, VW chick aspirated a noise somewhere between grunt and sigh, as if she just couldn’t believe my nerve, and stormed into the gym. Our confrontation skipped climax and proceeded directly to denouement. Here’s the denouement: I was shaken. I was shaken because this woman had been so oblivious to Martin’s plight. I was shaken because I’d let her get to me. I was shaken because, if there is one thing I try to impart to Martin, it’s that his mom is in control, and he’d just witnessed me almost lose control.

When Martin and I were ready to head into the gym, I took another look at the Beatle and noticed fresh flowers in the dashboard vase.

That driver didn’t deserve fresh flowers.

There are two more posts coming in the Del Sur series. I interrupted, again, to report that someone will always kick you when you’re down.

Seven Things You Didn’t Know About Me. No, Wait. Most of Them You’ve Probably Guessed


I wish I could take more credit. Last week I enjoyed a drink with a former work colleague, a mother of three young boys, who does not know that Martin has autism. She and her husband are both lawyers, full-time. (I don’t know how they do it.) She was complaining that none of their kids can fall asleep alone; her husband stays with the older two, while she falls asleep, and usually spends the entire night, in the youngest’s bed. Does Martin fall asleep by himself? she asked. Yes, I responded. I can put him in bed and leave. “You are so lucky!” my former colleague said. She’s right: I am lucky. Still, I wanted to say, “Yes, he falls asleep by himself, but he also has autism, and curing his autism has taken over my life. Would you choose that deal?” I wanted to take credit for doing more than standard mom tasks, especially since my conversation partner works while I don’t, and has three kids to my one. Instead, I let her think I have it easy.


When I hear about other ASD kids making more progress, or faster progress, than Martin, it gives me hope. It also makes me angry and resentful. Why not our turn? Why not yet? What more do I have to do?


I suspect that some of the interventions we do are just so much hocus-pocus.


I am angry that we “did everything right” and Martin still has autism. While I was pregnant with Martin I avoided alcohol, watched my protein and nutrient intake, chose organic foods, refused to get my hair highlighted, had Adrian clean the cats’ litter boxes, exercised without jostling my belly, and got ample rest. (The good old days.) I breastfed Martin for six months exclusively, and 21 months total. We soothed him by the Happiest Baby method, ensured a proper sleep environment, read to him, played with him, coddled him. When I see a parent on the subway, at midnight, unjustifiably yelling at toddlers who are clutching Doritos and Mountain Dew, I think, “Really? You get the neurotypical kids, while mine has autism? That’s fair.” I try to redirect that ugly thought by remembering that, however unfair my lot feels, those sleep-deprived, junk-food-fueled kids have it worse. And thank goodness they don’t have autism added to their burdens. The redirection succeeds, but I can’t deny that the initial thought happens.


I become impatient with Martin over behaviors that I want him to control, even though I know they are symptoms of his ASD and not in any way his “fault.” Skipping. Chewing on a straw in the corner of his mouth. Letting himself fall slack. Taking 20 minutes to manage any task, even to pull up his pants after using the toilet. Worst, I get annoyed when he doesn’t pay attention to what I’m saying, or to what he’s doing, or to what’s going on around him. I know I shouldn’t. I try hard not to. Most of the time I can stop myself. When I can’t, I console myself by remembering that plenty parents of neurotypical four-year-olds lose patience because their children are acting like—four-year-olds.


I have doubts about whether we’ll get there. I have them often.


I love the BeeGees, the Doobie Brothers, Peter Gabriel, and Edith Piaf. That’s not related to Martin’s autism. It’s just kind of quirky.

Wandering? It’s the direction that counts.