I hope this finds you all back in the swing of things after gobbling until you wobbled on Thanksgiving, an event, if you remember, that we very much needed to prepare Nate to experience. We spent the holiday with Chad’s (very) large family in (very) upstate Maine and, to prevent the negative consequences of Thanksgiving 2010, Nate’s therapist, Miss Lisa, created a social story to help Nate know what to expect. (You can read about all of that here.)
Despite best laid plans, Nate lasted a total of ten minutes at the dinner. And, dear friends, the event, and the weekend, is a saga. A saga of sensory overload and bodily functions gone wrong peppered with some awesome moments with family. I will tell you here and now: if you don’t want to hear about poop, stop reading. Because this story deals with poop. And vomiting. Oh. It’s so bad.
On Monday, Nate was diagnosed with a raging ear infection and put on amoxicillin. (We were thrilled because the diagnosis explained the sudden onset of headbanging — glad it was brought on by physical and not behavioral reasons.) On Tuesday night, we started the packing process: our clothes, Nate’s toys, Nate’s books, Nate’s PECS, Nate’s snacks, Nate’s soy milk, Nate’s dishes, Nate’s cups, and Hobbes. Don’t forget Hobbes. Nate was not keen on the packing thing. He’s cat-like that way; Nate knew something was up. I read his, “The changes start at home. Mom and Dad pack my things and favorite toys” page in Tater’s social story at least three times. It sort of helped but not really. Something was afoot.
By Wednesday, it had become clear that Nate was not going to take amoxicillin. He could smell it in food (we tried yogurt, pudding, milk, and ice cream — all of it refused) and spit it in our faces when we wrestled him to the ground. Nate’s nurse ordered a new antibiotic (something that has a “z” sound in it) that required a lower dosage (no more two times a day!) and a shorter length of time. I picked the medicine up after I got Nate from school and, once Chad got home, we left Connecticut around six. We made it to Portland (Maine) around 11 where we got a hotel room. Nate was asleep when we got to the hotel. He woke up in the middle of the night, disoriented, so Chad crawled into the full-sized bed with Tater until he awoke–at 5 in the morning. (Blissfully, Nate rolled over in bed, saw Chad, and verbally said, “Hi, Dad!,.” a phrase we had not heard before.) Chad got Nate to snooze until a more decent hour and we headed downstairs for a spectacular breakfast buffet. Nate ate food, but not a lot. We didn’t think anything of it.
We hopped in the car for the final three-hour leg of the trip (it’s eight hours each way). Chad and I recited the lines of Curious George as Nate watched in on the DVD player. We got to my mother-in-law’s house, where she was cooking a turkey and sides to take to the dinner that day. At our therapists’ suggestion, we quickly assembled Nate’s cardboard house so he had a place to take a time out and a familiar item that he enjoyed. And then we started to unpack. Mam made Nate lunch, which he did not eat; we attributed his lack of appetite to a long drive, new surroundings, and change.
To put Nate down for a nap, we drove around town. Nate quickly passed out and we were met with a dilemma. Nate is used to a three-hour nap. He went down at 1:30. Thanksgiving dinner started at 4 and the plan was to have Nate arrive early to greet each guest. If we woke him up in time to be the greeter, he’d be a grump. So we scrapped that plan to let Nate be rested for the event.
We woke Nate up at four, gave him a snack, and got in the car. I sat in the backseat and read the Thanksgiving social story to him one last time. As we pulled up to my brother-in-law’s house, there were at least 20 cars there. A half-hour in and Thanksgiving was in full swing.
In my arms, Nate and I approached the glass door that leads into the garage. It was full of family. We peeked in and I said, “Remember the picture about it being crowded and hot? See? It’s right there!” And that’s when Nate started to whimper. This was not something he was ready to do.
We opened the door. We were greeted with…nothing. As we don’t see Chad’s family that often, when we arrive, you’d think we were Norm from Cheers. Instead, everyone kept eating and deliberately did not look our way. Mam had spread the word: you’re going to freak Nate’s freak if you rush him when he arrives. Leave him alone. Let him warm up. He’s going to like you at some point. Eventually. He will.
Well, the lack of acknowledgment was weird, too, so Nate was a bit off kilter (Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.) We quickly said hi to a few people, careful to not hug them with Nate in our arms to give him space. As we did this, Nate was crawling up our bodies. (He kept shifting between me and Chad.) Chad and I kept looking at each other, wordlessly trying to figure out what to do. But Nate took care of that. He made it pretty clear that he wanted to go back to Mam’s house. How? He kept pointing at the door with a textbook-perfect distal point.
I wanted dinner (Chad just wanted to go) so I made a plate as fast as I could and we got in the car without saying goodbye to anyone. We went to back to Mam’s house (not even a five minute drive), which was only filled with my nieces’ cats who had begun to occupy the cardboard house. Now Nate’s regular dinner time, he refused this meal, too. Again, we figured this was stress from change. No big deal.
Around 8:30, Nate began sobbing hysterically. Hysterically. He was trying to poop and he could not. And it hurt. Remember, my kid’s got sensory issues and he doesn’t feel pain like we do. So if Nate felt the pain, it had to have been off the charts. He kept trying to poop, each time sobbing worse than before. No one knew what to do so I did what any slightly neurotic mother would do: I paged our pediatrician during Thanksgiving dinner.
Our usual pediatrician wasn’t on call that night but I spoke to a very lovely woman who did not say what I expected her to say, which was, “You paged me on Thanksgiving because your kid is backed up?” Instead, she had me repeat the symptoms (as Nate’s hysterically sobbing next to me) to ensure this wasn’t appendicitis. After ruling that out, she suggested we give him Miralax, a tasteless powder that dissolves in any liquid that softens stool.
That suggestion was all fine and dandy except she forgot that we were in really rural Maine on Thanksgiving: nothing was open. Chad had already checked out Lenny’s Superette–a “full service” grocery story that also sells live bait, hunting licenses, and makes pizzas to order. Surprisingly, they didn’t have any laxatives for children. I suddenly had a vision of Chad battling Black Friday shoppers at the Walmart thirty minutes away when they opened at midnight. As people pushed and shoved for televisions and electronic goodies, Chad would knock people to the ground for a laxative.
After scouring the house, we found a bottle of Miralax, albeit expired. We did not care. At our pediatrician’s advice, we plunked two scoopfuls into Nate’s soy milk, which he downed, and waited. The exhausting day made Nate pass out without melatonin. He went to sleep without pooping. We continued to wait. To accommodate our family of three, we all slept in Mam’s king sized bed. At 11:30, Nate sat up suddenly and grabbed my hand. He looked deep into my eyes, pooped, and passed out on my arm. Miralax. It works.
Friday and Saturday were much better. Nate spent some one-on-one time with his Mam and parallel played (for two minutes!!! — LOOK AT THE PHOTO!!!) with his cousins and second cousins, taking time outs in Mam’s bedroom when things got overwhelming. I think Friday and Saturday were easier days because Nate was spending time with family members who he had reviewed in picture identification during the weeks prior, which made them feel familiar. Saturday night, we had dinner at my other brother-in-law’s house and Nate actually played with his cousins Cameron and Dylan.
On Sunday, the drama and trauma returned. We woke up early on Sunday, ready to hit the road. Nate’s cousin Mac, who is amazing with Nate, came over to have breakfast with our boy. (Barely awake, Nate went right to Mac and sat in his lap as we finished packing.) We made Nate an awesome plate of pumpkin pancakes and fruit, a favorite meal, which he ate on the couch with Mam and Mac.
Chad moved Nate from the couch to his wee table (thanks for sharing, Cameron!) and that’s when it happened: Nate threw up. (Sorry about that, Cameron!) Aside from spitting up as a baby, it was the first time Nate ever tossed his cookies…or pancakes, as the case may be. I will never forget the look on his face. Nate was incredibly confused and bewildered. And betrayed. His body had betrayed him! I’m pretty sure he was thinking, “Belly! Why hast thou forsaken me? I love pumpkin pancakes and I put them in my belly and now you’re making them crawl out! And this is gross! REALLY REALLY GROSS!”
But, again, Chad and I didn’t think anything of it. Maybe he barfed because Chad moved him in a weird way (even though he didn’t). Maybe something went down the wrong pipe (even though nothing did). Nate’s fine. Clean him up, put him in the car. We’ve got to go fight eight hours of traffic to get home.
While driving, Nate fell asleep well before his nap time. When Nate woke up around 1, we pulled over to get some lunch at Chili’s. Nate ate his grilled cheese, sort of. Again, we didn’t think anything about the fact that my child, who is a champion eater, wasn’t eating. As we were chatting and waiting for our food, Nate leaned over on Chad and rested his head in Chad’s armpit. And there, dear friends, is where Nate threw up. He threw up on Chad, on Hobbes, on himself, and into his plate, which I shoved in front of him. Then Chad ran outside with Nate. Thankfully, it was sixty degrees so we stripped Nate down in the parking lot, put him in some dirty clothes (we could only access our laundry bag in the tightly packed car), and tucked him into his car seat. Chad changed into dirty clothes, got our meals to go, settled the bill (and left a very generous tip), and we got on the road. Nate passed out immediately and didn’t wake up until we were almost home.
By Monday, Nate was fine. We took him to the pediatrician’s for good measure to make sure his ear infection was gone (it is even though he perpetually spit antibiotics in our face) and Nate resumed therapy as usual that afternoon.
Here’s the lesson: sometimes the experience is more important than the event. Thanksgiving, it seems, is not Nate’s thing–at least for the time being. He’d probably enjoy a non-holiday visit filled with fun things like picking blueberries or frolicking in the pond at camp. Nate does better at small gatherings where he’s familiar with the people. Fifty+ relatives eating turkey doesn’t seem right to my boy–and that’s ok. I know plenty of adults who don’t like them either; Nate’s just at an age where it’s ok to tell it how he sees it.
Despite the trials and tribulations, we were very grateful to get to visit with family. We met our beautiful new grand-niece Addison, got to see our grand-nephew Jaxson walk, and discovered how tall our nephews have become. (Mac is now taller than Chad.) By the end of our visit, Nate was happily sitting in Mam’s lap and he had made friends with a cat named Gregory. With prompting, Nate appropriately waved hello and goodbye to all of his aunts and uncles and got to spend some time with his Dad’s pretty awesome family.
We are grateful for many things this year: our health, our home, our happiness. And we are grateful to have family that endeavors to understand our boy’s special needs and accommodate him in every way possible. We are also very grateful to be home.