Time Zone Travel (#559)
“Turnahn musix!” Charlie called as soon as we got into the black car at the Philadelphia Airport. He had been singing a certain lilting fragment on and off in the last hour of our flight back from California: I flipped through the CD case but could not find Charlie’s request. I pulled out a purple paisley-decorated disc: “Jimi Hendrix?”
“Hendricks, yes,” said Charlie and he sat straight up on his knees, beaming. Suddenly lines of white light and sparkling circles burst out in front of us from Lincoln Financial Field, where the Philadelphia Eagles were about to play the Atlanta Falcons. Charlie’s head kept turning from side to side as we drove past Citizens Bank Park where we had seen the Phillies play back in July, past downtown Philadelphia, and, after a ways, past the Tacony-Palmyra Bridge, Palmyra being where Jim’s best friend Mike who died almost three years ago had last lived: Another sentimental journey.
It’s always a journey in Autismland, every day, is it not—-I turn around to glance at Charlie in the backseat and still see the big baby whose wet, black-eyed head I first beheld more than 9 1/2 years ago in a room at the Missouri Baptist Medical Center, and then see those same eyes narrowing as Charlie concentrates on “Little Wing.” And maybe because, as the parent of a disabled child, one tends to think about “big questions“—”what will happen when Charlie is retirement age?”—all the time, one often feels that one is traveling at least two different time zones, and when to sleep, or when to start brewing the morning coffee, is hard to tell.
Charlie’s sleep habits have been so erratic for the month of December—staying up regularly until 1 or 2 am, taking a several hours’ nap at school—that I figured going to the West Coast and being on Pacific Standard Time, three hours “behind” time in New Jersey, would wreak further havoc on his biological clock, and that is indeed the case. It is 2.30am here in New Jersey (11pm back in California) and Charlie is completely wide awake and speaking a steady stream of words or syllables. (Tuesday morning, when he goes back to school, is going to be interesting.) Charlie could not sleep at all yesterday; I know he knew it was his last night in California and he was awake till 1am.
This worked out to his advantage as far as air travel: Charlie, roused at 5.30am, went right back to sleep during our 7.15am flight and only awoke in the last hour and a half. I have accordingly become convinced that the best times to fly with an autistic child, or at least with my autistic child, are in the evening on a red-eye flight when one’s child has had a full day and is glad to sit, or at the crack of dawn, when one’s child can promptly go back to sleep. If there is one lesson I have learned from all these days and years with Charlie—-and as it is 2007 and Charlie was born in 1997, I can start speaking of a decade with Charlie—it is that you do what you gotta do to keep him happy, yourself more or less calm, and so be it.
On the plane, a 5-month-old cried and wailed; Jim and I thought: “We’ve heard louder.” Across the aisle, a black warm-up clad Asian mother passed a steady stream of bagels, muffins, cream cheese, and juice to her three children in the row before her (they also had DVDs, Bratz dolls, and a Game Boy), while attending to a preschool-age boy: When you’re traveling, it helps to keep everyone content with creature comforts.
That might not be bad advice when you’re getting ready for another year’s journey in Autismland.
Wishing all of our Autismland friends and family a New Year of peace and joy, learning and loving, and witness and hope.
(And, around here, not a lot of sleep: I, as you may have gathered, need only a few hours, and I think Charlie is following suit.)