Unexceptional

We’re vacationing in the paradisiacal Florida Keys, these land slivers with Atlantic to the east and Gulf to the west. I’m writing on our villa’s back deck, just before dawn. My feet are up, and just beyond my toes lie a narrow boardwalk and harbor access. I can barely discern the shadows of a dozen boats docked nearby, and only by the occasional honk of waterfowl breaks the crepuscular still.

Perfect, right?

No. So far, four days in, it hasn’t been much of a vacation for me or for Martin. Just like on Christmas day, he’s been sick, sick, sick. Last Friday, the day after Christmas, he remained sick but appeared to be on the mend. Friday night wasn’t great; the coughing and runny nose kept him up. Saturday morning, though, he sprang from bed and danced about, singing that we were going to Florida, and so we decided that he was well enough to get on the airplane. Indeed, Saturday ran smoothly. The biggest challenge came when we stopped at a friend’s house in Miami. Adrian’s father and niece and nephew, who are joining us on this trip, were already at the friend’s house, swimming. Martin had a monumental meltdown when Adrian said he couldn’t swim.

Saturday night Martin fell asleep with one of his cousins. Before midnight I carried him from that bed because his coughing and fretting were keeping her awake. Martin spent the rest of the night in my and Adrian’s bed, his coughing and fretting keeping us awake. Sunday, Martin participated in vacation activities listlessly until finally, before dinner, he fell asleep on the sofa and we moved him back to my and Adrian’s bed. Monday, Adrian took his father and niece and nephew to Key West. Although I love Key West, I stayed behind with Martin and spent the day coordinating. I spoke repeatedly with his pediatrician and his MAPS doctor back home, communicated on-line with his homeopath, did some research of my own, found a pediatrician here to visit, went to a pharmacy for prescription medication, went to a health-food store for holistic remedies, returned to the pharmacy for a different prescription, and all the while pampered Martin.

The verdict? Martin has a bad cold and middle-ear infections on both side. His chest, thank goodness, is clear.

Last night, Tuesday night, Martin slept through the night, albeit tossing about. I was not so lucky. In the course of nursing Martin, I picked up his bad cold, and despite multiple doses of “nighttime” cold syrup, I spent the night awake, clearing my nose. Around 5:30 am, worried that I would wake Adrian and Martin (who is still bedding with us), I gave up and came out here to write.

What this whole saga stirs in me is the thought of how non-traditional my parenting experience has been. Readers who’ve been with this blog a long time know that Martin didn’t used to get sick. From age one until age three-and-a-half, there was virtually no illness. No stuffy noses. No stomach bugs. No ear aches. No fevers. When he finally did get a fever, eight months or so after we started biomed, we weren’t even sure what to do.

Times are changing. If I’m remembering correctly, this is the fourth time Martin’s been sick, and the second ear infection he’s had, in 2014. The first time he had an ear infection—“Any idea why my son might be waking with his hand over his ear and howling?” I asked an on-line parenting forum (duh!)—Adrian said, “Poor little guy. I used to get ear infections all the time. They’re so painful.” That’s right. Young kids get ear infections. They get stuffy noses. They need fevers. Their illnesses are supposed to disrupt plans, even vacations, from time to time, right? That’s how an immune system develops. Martin’s inability, all that time, to mount an immune response, was atypical.

My only child has an autism spectrum disorder. So many facets of traditional American parenting don’t apply to me. Martin doesn’t attend the local school, or the local day camp. He doesn’t play on the soccer team, or beg to go to Chuck E. Cheese’s, or want a video-game console for Christmas. He doesn’t eat French fries or junk food. He doesn’t, or didn’t, even get sick. Sometimes I find few points of connection between me and parents of NT six-year-olds, and even as Martin becomes more typical, there are facets of childhood we have lost irretrievably.

Perhaps the flipside is joy in unexpected places. How many parents can be happy when a fever gets in the way of vacation? Or when their kids act naturally bratty? Our culture is built upon the drive for exceptionalism. I’ve spent my life trying to be exceptional. Having an exceptional parenting journey thrust upon me has done a lot to temper that drive. Today, in many ways, I’m fighting for an unexceptional life.

Strange, this path.