Dear friends of Nater Tater — we have been quiet on the blog front because we have been away on an adventure. After nearly four years’ time, we returned to my home island of Kauai for a long overdue visit with Nate’s Super Grandpa.
This was Nate on his first trip to Kauai. He was fifteen months old and had yet to be diagnosed with autism.
And this is Nate on our trip this month at age five.
He’s grown up a bit.
In addition, my dad’s getting old, to put it mildly. He and my mother were 25 years apart in age. Everyone told my mother that it wasn’t wise to marry my dad as she would be widowed at a young age. Turned out, my mom died at 45 and left my dad a widow (which goes to show you — one never knows). In June, my dad turned 93; though it has only been two months since his birthday, my dad now refers to himself as “almost 94.” I suppose once you turn ninety, you can refer to your age any way you wish. So we wanted to get out there and give Nate as much opportunity as possible to get to know his Super Grandpa, which is the title my dad chose when Nate was born.
The flight to Kaua’i is brutal. We left our home at 7AM Connecticut time and got into our hotel room at 5AM Connecticut time the following day. The flight was my biggest concern but it turned out that it should have been the least of my worries. Nate was a super traveler. The worst mishap on the flight to Kaua’i was that his beloved baseball hat fell in the toilet (and thankfully he didn’t notice).
Nate happily drew and wrote numbers on the first flight from JFK to Los Angeles; by the end of this trip, Nate had filled this notebook with drawings and writing. From LA to Kaua’i, Nate slept, which made sense on Connecticut time but not on Kaua’i time. We landed on Kaua’i at 8PM and Nate awoke, refreshed. By the time we got our rental car and figured out how to get into our heavily gated condo, it was around 10PM.
Nate asked to take a bath (and he bathed in this glorious tub one to two times a day, by request) and, with the help of melatonin, Nate was asleep by midnight Kaua’i time.
At age 93, my father is extremely active and quite set in his ways. In addition to his work as an artist, he breeds and raises hunting dogs. While we were on island, the dog count was 26 — though he certainly has had more dogs than that. Every day around 2PM, he starts “cooking” for the dogs. They don’t get kibble. They get homemade stews. It takes him about four hours a day to cook and feed all of his dogs; I’m convinced that this is what makes him wake up every day. It also keeps him active and healthy; for a 93 year old man, he has the health of someone who is in his or her 70s…with the exception of his hearing, which is pretty much gone.
So as not to disrupt Dad’s schedule too much, we made it our mission to have breakfast with him every day, a goal that we accomplished. Nate and my dad existed in parallel; Nate had a hard time interacting with people he wasn’t familiar with and my dad had a hard time understanding why Nate couldn’t talk. But it was okay. Nate got used to the route to Super Grandpa’s house and my dad adjusted to just being with Nate and watched him from afar as he wrote numbers, talked on his iPad, and nibbled at local foods.
Our visit was fortuitously timed as the historic potential double-whammy of Hurricane Iselle and Hurricane Julio threatened to barrel down on the entire Hawaiian island chain. On the day Iselle was scheduled to hit Kaua’i as a tropical storm, Chad went to my dad’s house and helped him stake the garage roof to the ground. Chad ably climbed the ladder to do the netting of the roof though Chad was certain that, if he wasn’t there, my dad planned to do it all on his own…and would have done it quite well, too.
Iselle thankfully was nothing more than brief power outage and a few blown down trees on the South Shore of Kaua’i. As we were on the East Shore, we just stayed in our condo and played basketball with Nate. She did hit the Big Island (also known as Hawaii — I know…it’s confusing) but Julio went out to sea and missed all of the islands.
We stayed at a condominium resort that had a spectacular pool. It included a lazy river with waterfall caves, two waterslides, and a 1.5 foot keiki (kids) pool with a sandy bottom. The keiki pool was Nate’s favorite. He could crawl on its bottom, pushing himself forward in the water and he could sit up and fill his bucket with sand. It also, apparently, is the place to meet ladies. Nate garnered two girlfriends during his brief stay on Kaua’i — Lila from Boston, age six, who followed Nate around like a lovesick puppy dog and tried to literally pick Nate up (that didn’t go so well), and Mikayla from Toronto, age five-and-a-half. Chad is convinced that the older ladies are drawn to Nate because a) he’s ridiculously cute and b) he ignores the girls completely. Those two elements are the secret to being a chick magnet.
On the trip, Nate also enjoyed Hawaiian sweets. This is shave ice–not shaved ice but shave ice. It’s a huge block of ice that’s cut with a blade to make the best snow cone you’ve ever had. We learned that Nate’s favorite flavor is root beer but, by the end of the trip, he was willing to have vanilla, too. We tried to get Nate (and ourselves) a shave ice every day but the storm got in the way of that.
Nate also loved Duke’s Hula Pie, which is made with an Oreo cookie crust, macadamia nut ice cream, hot fudge, and whipped cream. During our stay, Nate had two pieces.
Whenever we take a break from our normal routine, we tend to score a new major milestone for Nate. The milestone we got is that Nate is completely potty trained. We kept him in diapers, just in case, throughout the entire trip. He didn’t have a single accident, even on the plane. Nate independently used the toilets in our condo, which were pretty high off the ground. He didn’t let us know he needed to use it; he just went. One moment he was next to you and, in the next moment, you heard a flush. Nate also learned that one can wear a towel like this after a bath. Nate now insists on this towel wear after every bath.
Unfortunately, we had some regressions, too. Nate really fell behind on using his iPad to speak, reverting to single word sentences instead of his four to five word statements. His diet also worsened; he barely ate anything except for sweets. By the end of the trip, we found mozzarella sticks, which he ate, but we never found the brand of hot dogs (Applegate Natural) that have the texture and flavor he would accept. Nate basically subsisted off of apples, pancakes, shave ice, Hula Pie, and crackers. Now that we’re back on the mainland, I’m hoping we can get his diet into shape.
We planned to visit with four families and only managed to see two. Despite creating a social story that introduced Nate to everyone we planned to see on Kaua’i, Nate had a really hard time with these new interactions, much more difficult than we ever anticipated. We visited with a few hanai (adopted) family members — Tutu Kathy; Papa Bob; Auntie Aimee, my matron-of-honor who was visiting with her husband, Chad, and boys Blakey and Thatcher; and Auntie Jenny and her sweet one-year-old Landon. We also saw Tutu Sharron and Auntie Cheryll and I happened to meet Cheryll’s husband, Jack, as we left the airport. With Aimee’s family, Nate was really overwhelmed at the wind from the open air restaurant, the ceiling fans, the music, and the new people. But Nate settled down when we went back to Tutu’s house. There, he got to pet a chicken, ride bikes, go on a golf cart ride, soak in a kiddie pool, and run in a yard. With Sharron and Cheryll, he did better. We went to Duke’s (where they serve the Hula Pie) and sat by a big waterfall and koi pond, which held Nate’s attention. In either case, though, it was stressful for Nate. There were many people we wanted to visit but we really had to limit our interaction with people new to Nate in order for him to have a well-deserved break.
By the time our trip was up, we were ready to go home. Nate craves and needs routine and familiarity. We missed Pete. I missed my pillow. Nate was a trouper on the eleven-hour flight home. He slept on the first leg from Kaua’i to Phoenix. He was awake from Phoenix to JFK and made it with the help of seven lollis. (The picture above is his first lolli, which allowed us to convince him to wear a seatbelt.)
Nate and I fell asleep on the car ride home from JFK. When we got home, Nate ran around the house gathering up all the friends that couldn’t fit in our suitcase. He hugged Hobbes and pals close and introduced them to Hoku, Nate’s new stuffed Hawaiian Monk Seal toy. Then we got some melatonin ice cream in him, and Nate (and I) slept until 9:30 this morning. Chad, regrettably, had to be at work early for an 8AM training….
Every time I leave Kaua’i, I always wonder if it’s the last time I’ll see my dad. This time, however, neither Chad nor I had that feeling. We could be wrong, of course, but we know that Super Grandpa is in good physical and mental health and my dad has declared that he plans to live well into his hundreds. We hope to get back there in a few years; taking an annual trip of this magnitude would be very difficult on Nate (and on our budget). In the meantime, we’ll continue hollering at Super Grandpa on the phone and search for authentic shave ice at festivals here in Connecticut….