Last Wednesday, my brother Rudy and I took Martin to Disney in Anaheim. Rudy and I talked the day up: the characters we would see, the rides we would ride. Because one of Martin’s current interests is marching bands, and Martin always has enjoyed live music, Rudy mentioned that we might see a marching band too.
When Martin woke on Wednesday morning, at my brother’s home in Laguna Beach, he seemed—okay. Not great. Not particularly enthusiastic about the daytrip to Disney. Just okay. I fed him Treeline cashew cheese on flax-seed crackers for breakfast, and then we stopped for second breakfast at the Penguin Cafe, where Martin ordered a hamburger patty, fruit, and “bubbly water.” He ate slowly and seemed distracted. His voice modulation was subpar. “Indoor voice, bunny rabbit!” I reminded as he shouted his order at the waitress. “Use your indoor voice!”
The real trouble started in the parking lot when we got to Anaheim. “I don’t want to go to Disney,” Martin said when we exited the car. “I just want to go back to Uncle Rudy’s.” I wasn’t sure how seriously to take his words; Martin often reverses what he wants to do and doesn’t want to do, and his hesitations can be fleeting. I persuaded him to get on the shuttle from the parking lot to the park. On the shuttle Rudy engaged some kids who presented themselves as experienced Disneygoers and gave advice on rides and performances. Martin sat silently. He opened his mouth only to answer, with additional prompting, when someone asked him how old he was.
On the plaza outside the park, Rudy picked up a schedule of events and, trying to rouse excitement, told Martin that he would be able see a marching band (parade) at 4:30. Martin completely freaked. He did not want to see a marching band. He did not want to go to a park with a marching band. I took him to the restroom, had him sit on the plaza with Rudy, and finally negotiated an agreement that we would enter California Adventure, Disneyland Park’s companion. We would not see a marching band, I said. We would not enter Disneyland.
We made it inside California Adventure. I headed straight to the “Chamber of Commerce” to request a special-needs speed pass. The agent who helped us with the pass also put us on a list for the Monsters, Inc. ride ten minutes later. We didn’t make it, because Martin panicked at the idea of attending any attraction. He was full of anxiety. He walked aimlessly, crying and not crying and crying again. He couldn’t stop asking about the marching band, whether we would hear the band, whether we would go to the other Disney park. He fixated on 4:30, the time when Rudy had said the marching band would play (in the other theme park). He didn’t want this. He didn’t want that.
“Hey, I’m happy just to be here, walking around with you guys,” said Rudy, who had taken the day off work to accompany us. “Let’s go with it. Maybe he’ll find something he wants to do.”
Alas, Martin didn’t find anything he wanted to do, at least not then. I bought him a black coffee, hoping that might help. Nope. I bought him a box of organic apple juice as a treat, hoping that might help. Nope. Martin couldn’t bear to be still, couldn’t be held. He moved, whined, and panicked. As the situation became ever more challenging—“Mommy, will we see the marching band? Mommy, what time is it? Mommy, I don’t want to go to the Disney park. Mommy, can we hear the marching band? Mommy, is it 4:30?”—I considered throwing in the towel. I wondered if I should return to the “Chamber of Commerce,” explain that my usually stable son was having anxiety meltdowns that precluded our enjoyment of the park, and ask to return and use our $300 tickets the next day. Finally, when I ran out of ideas, Rudy saw openings at a nice in-park restaurant, asked about special-diet options, and guided us inside.
Martin managed to listen to the food options and order, interspersed with getting up to run around. Then he sat long enough to eat an entire order of boiled calamari, followed by a plate of gluten-free pasta with clams. (It was barely noon. Remember, he’d had two full breakfasts before we left Laguna Beach.) Rudy and I drank wine with our lunches. By then, alcohol was necessary.
By the end of lunch, Martin seemed a little better. He still was having trouble sitting still, but the crying eased. He went to the men’s room by himself. He didn’t get upset when I couldn’t find a dessert that he could eat.
After lunch he asked to enter one of the eight million stores. Thinking that something to clutch would ease the anxiety, I told him he could pick out a stuffed animal, and he chose an eight-inch Donald Duck. When we exited the store, Martin seemed calmer. He looked at a ride, a kiddie attraction with jellyfish that rise into the air. I asked if he’d like to go on the ride, and to my surprise, he agreed.
From then on, the situation turned. The anxiety didn’t disappear completely, but Martin asked about the marching band only every 10 or 20 minutes. The restlessness decreased. He tried half a dozen rides, including the Goofy’s Sky School roller coaster, despite his professed dislike of roller coasters. He asked to enter a courtyard and listen to a Raggae-style band. Rudy and I exchanged what-on-earth-is-happening? glances, and when Martin was out of earshot, verbalized those glances. In the end, we stayed at California Adventure until nearly 7:00 pm, and finished off the day waiting patiently in a long line, at Martin’s request, to meet Minnie Mouse. Once we were headed back to Laguna Beach, Martin skillfully introduced Donald Duck to his friend Chicago Bear, who had spent the afternoon guarding Rudy’s car.
We had one kind of morning, and a different kind of afternoon.
I’ve asked myself repeatedly what could have caused Martin to have such a disastrous morning. The full moon? Traveling? Lack of sleep because of jet lag? A nasty insect bite on his foot that’s had me worried? A healing reaction?
I suppose I will never know, which is unnerving. I’m glad it didn’t last.
When Martin, feeling better, said he doesn’t want to go back to Disney anymore, I decided to honor his wishes.