Cindy, Nolan and I are content in the picture you see above, and we’re also a little on the tired side, even if you can’t see it.
You can’t see the beads of sweat on my bald head from hours of walking outside on a sweltering early July day. Look carefully, and you can see the nasty sunburn on Cindy, who’s still cursing the fact she forgot to apply sunscreen. You can’t see the layer of dirt and grime on Nolan’s Crocs and feet, and thankfully you weren’t around to catch a whiff of an odor I like to call “Eau de Teenage Boy” – heavy emphasis on “Eau” and a pronunciation of “ewww” – that got to be a bit pungent after he’d been moving almost nonstop for several hours.
But the fact we were well into our first mother/father/son outing this past Saturday to a large flea market in south central Minnesota after going 0-for-2020 in the travel department thanks to COVID-19 gave Cindy and me a sense of satisfaction. It was well past time for the three of us to reenter a world that goes way beyond our little corner of it, lovely as it may be. It was well past time for the two of us to travel again with Nolan, challenging as that may be with a teenager who has Autism and is nonverbal.
All told, we drove only about 300 miles round trip. We had our share of successes (Nolan used the porta potty multiple times on the flea market grounds). We had our share of setbacks (Bless Dollar General for having something like 135,243 stores nationwide, especially in a small Minnesota town off the interstate when Nolan has soaked his second pair of clothes after letting us know on his iPad a few seconds too late he has to pee and there isn’t another backup wardrobe in the car). Cindy has taken Nolan on some mini road trips over the last year, but we were out of practice as Team Mom and Dad.
Still, I’d have to say we went, we saw, and we conquered. The smell of B.O. and the orange drinks Nolan consumed that lingered in Cindy’s car? Smells like … victory.
Outside of driving to North Carolina to visit Cindy’s sister and brother-in-law the year before Nolan was born, we’ve never really had the desire to load up the ol’ family truckster and see the country (“Let’s see if the second largest ball of twine on the face of the earth really exists, dear!”). We’ve tried not to let Nolan’s diagnosis interfere with taking him places, but there’s always an element of unpredictability. He can absolutely kick butt, like when we took him to his first rock concert in 2019. He also can see a hand dryer in a convenience store restroom in rural Wisconsin and refuse to leave a stall for half an hour.
Traveling anywhere outside the area in which we live really sounded unappealing when the pandemic hit full force last year. Stress still gets the best of me far more often than it should, and collectively a lot of us had a fuse only a couple of millimeters long in 2020. Take a kid with Autism who might keep a mask over his mouth and nose for perhaps a minute and enter a strange environment yelling at the top of his lungs? Thank you, I’ll stay home and watch a 45-year-old episode of “Emergency!” that I’ve already seen 10 times.
Thankfully, the world is slowly starting to look a little more like it used to. And if ever there was a time to reintroduce family trips, even if they’re not long ones, it was now.
I typically enjoy going treasure hunting out of town by myself, but I asked Cindy if she wanted to try taking Nolan to the flea market as part of our trip. He’s gone with us to flea markets in other towns, and he loves lengthy car rides. But this one involved being in the car two-plus hours and going somewhere he’d never been before. I had a feeling there would be a lot of people there, and there were – Cindy had to park in a nearby field and we had a bit of a hike to enter the grounds. Nolan pulled the rear passenger door closed a few times when we tried to get him out of the car, which is his way of saying, “Why did we stop? The needle hasn’t hit ‘E’ yet – get this heap back on the road!”
But I’m happy to say that things improved considerably once we entered the flea market.
Nolan patiently waited while Cindy bought his lunch from a food vendor and ate every last bite.
He remained reasonably calm even though several people had brought their dogs, who are his mortal enemy.
The battery on his iPad died, and his backup iPad was in Cindy’s car for a few hours before she retrieved it. No problem – Cindy has Nolan’s communication program downloaded on her iPhone, and he used it with no issues.
He was overly affectionate while Cindy tried to shop, but he was patient long enough for her to buy a going-away present for one of her co-workers and a ceramic mallard duck that reminded her of her late stepfather. He got to choose two small toys off a vendor’s dollar table as a reward.
He gave a high five to an elderly gentleman who offered to buy him a treat.
He was getting antsy as the afternoon wore on and the temperature continued to rise, but he stayed patient just a little bit longer while I finished looking around. I’m grateful – it allowed me to buy a decent copy of Issue No. 27 of “The Amazing Spider-Man” (my oldest issue) and two Beatles 45s with somewhat difficult to find picture sleeves – yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah!
Overall, trips with Nolan seldom are easy, but it was nice to see how well Cindy and I transitioned back to taking a family trip and making it through this one without having – ahem – multiple spirited conversations because we’re stressed out and perhaps wanting to scuttle future sojourns. In fact, Cindy suggested after we got home that maybe we should visit another nearby flea market on Sunday that’s about an hour away from where we live. Nolan had been to this one a couple times. It might be fun to get out of the house two days in a row.
Baby steps, dear, baby steps. Happy as I might be about how well Nolan did – heck, how well we did as a family – I’m still recovering from Saturday’s trip. But I’m eager to give it another shot very soon.