La Paz

By about 10:30 p.m, Aodhan was beginning to get too antsy to stay at the hostel. I went downstairs to call a cab. Earlier in the day they had said it would take them about five minutes to get a cab, but they had them lined up outside waiting for people from the hostel. They rushed us out and into the cab and we sped off into the night. They said 70Bs, but of course the guy changed the price on the way. I had a bit of an argument with him, not because I cared about the extra 10Bs (which is about $1, but because I didn’t want him to raise it again). We got to the toll booth, and to the airport entrance. I realized he would have added 10 more for each of these too if I hadn’t argued. Anyway, he got his tip his own way.

We sat back in the taxi, and watched the lights of La Paz as it twinkled like a giant Christmas tree. 

We of course, were six hours early for our flight, in a very small airport. I was so pleasantly relieved to find that they had wifi. I realized I still had the hostel room key. I had forgotten to give it back because the taxi had come immediately, and of course the Aodhan factor. I was able to e-mail the hostel and text one of the people there. They said not to worry about it. I told them I would leave the key with the reception desk at the departures in case they wanted to pick it up. I wasn’t able to check our bags until the counter opened at 2:30 am, for our 4:40 am flight. Finally at 2am a giant line up formed, and eventually we were checked in and had our $25US each airport tax paid with the last of our Bolivianos, and were seated in a small lounge upstairs. Aodhan was anxious, but still reasonable. I sent him to the bathroom and he went. 

I was quite worried about Miami. The cases would be transferred automatically in Bogota and in Panama. But, because Miami is the USA, we would have to get off the plane, find the baggage claim centre, wait for the carousel to dispense all our luggage, find the Customs area and go through US Customs, find the desk and check in for our flight to Toronto, get our boarding passes, recheck our luggage, find our gate and board the plane. We had less than two hours in Miami to do this... with Aodhan.

It was finally time to board the plane, and as it turned out, the tickets we had did not correspond to a window seat for Aodhan. I asked the third gentleman in our row, and he was willing to trade seats, so all was ok. The flight was relatively uneventful. Aodhan agreed to go to the bathroom just before we landed.


Bogota was a bigger airport. We found the gate that it said on the screen. After an hour or so, I checked the screen again, and it said a different gate. We moved down there, which of course upset Aodhan, because now he was sure we were going to miss our flight. The people at the new gate said the flight was leaving at another gate, so we went there. The people at the new gate said the flight wasn’t from there, but they had no idea where it would go from. We decided to stay there, because it was kind of in the middle. I got Aodhan some pizza and me some spaghetti carbonara. There wasn’t a lot of choice, it was that, or Burger King, or another Fast food hamburger place. 

Aodhan wanted to sit far away from me and draw. I spread out across three seats, and slept for an hour. When I woke, it was only an hour before our flight. I looked at the board again and it still said the other gate number. I told Aodhan to come down to the other gate. As we approached the other gate, I could see that Aodhan was not wanting to approach me. I managed to get close enough to him to smell that he had had an accident. I had thought that because he had had a problem with his bowels two days before, he was going to be alright for the flight, since he usually only has a problem like this every four or five days. He was not alright. I texted Greg in a bit of a panic. Aodhan was smelling worse, and he would not come near me. I had no idea what the airline was going to do. I went to talk to the desk, to explain that he was autistic. They had not approached me, and I’m glad I approached them when I did. They said he could not fly in that condition, and said he needed to change his clothes. They were willing to get my luggage brought up for me. I was so glad. I got clean clothes out, and approached Aodhan. He ran from me, bumping into people in the crowd. I asked him calmly to stop, I just wanted to talk to him, and asked if he wanted me to yell across the crowd, if he wanted to be embarrassed, or if he would like to have some privacy. He chose embarrassment. I called across the eight feet to him. “You have dirty boxer shorts, You smell like shit. You need to change or they won’t let you on the plane.” ASK THEM. I pointed at the desk. Aodhan looked at them and they nodded. He looked at me and I pointed at them. “It’s their plane Aodhan. It’s your call, you want to get on it, you need to put on clean clothes.” He looked back and forth. He bolted across the room. I said “I am getting on.” He said he would change. He went in the bathroom and changed his boxers. I threw the old boxers out. I went out and reminded him that he had to change the pants as well, and he reluctantly went in and did it. 

They let us board the plane. We sat in row 20 where we were assigned. It was not on the side he wanted to sit on, but I reminded him that we were lucky they were letting us fly at all, and he acquiesced without too much argument. We got strapped in and we sat quietly. The clock kept ticking and I kept looking at my phone, wondering when the frick they were going to close the door so I could stop holding my breath. We were about six minutes past take off time. 

Finally a couple of flight attendants stopped at my seat. “I’m sorry”, they said. We have to ask you to get off the plane. “Why”, I asked, looking at Aodhan who was sitting quietly, strapped in, waiting to go, and smelling, not perfect, but a lot better than he had been. The people beside me asked why too. They told me there was another plane in four hours. I told her that we had been in that airport for six hours already, and what was going to be the point of making him stay there another four? I said that he had already complied with what they had asked. They said it wasn’t just one person complaining, but lots of people. I have found that “lots” often refers to one or two that have been particularly verbal and riled up others around them. 

I talked to them for about ten minutes. I asked them to consider the fact that I had already been in the airport for six hours, and that I was traveling for more than 24 hours.  I was pretty upset and could not imagine what I would do for four extra hours and then further delays as I waited for new planes. I had visions of this 24 hour journey becoming three or four days long. My voice cracked. “If he was in a wheelchair, or looked downs syndrome or something noticeable, people would be trying to help me. But because he doesn’t look different, people just think he is badly behaved”. I looked over at Aodhan, who was huddled against the wall of the plane, looking out the window so that he didn’t have to look at anyone else. I asked the flight attendants to have some compassion. I said he had complied with what they had asked. The woman beside me spoke rapidly in Spanish to them and the man beside me nodded and added a few words. They were arguing for me. “Let the poor woman fly” the lady across the aisle said. 

One of the  flight attendants walked away. She returned and said they could move me to the back seats of the plane. I was concerned. I mean, if anything was going to get passengers anxious or annoyed, it was going to be parading the smelly confusing out of control kid down past everyone. He was not going to want to move, and I knew he would not cooperate. He would not make this easy, and that was not going to go well for me. I looked at her. I asked her what the sense was in moving us. The people beside us were ok, but we had no idea about the people at the back. Why did she think it was a good idea, when no one around me was complaining. There had to be these “lots of people that were upset” somewhere on the plane because they weren’t sitting around me right now... The flight attendants looked at me. They looked at the sympathetic faces of the people around me, and they looked at each other. They nodded, and walked away. I stared at Aodhan and willed him to sit quietly. He did.

I heard them closing the doors. I sighed. The plane finally started to roll away from the gate and I felt my stiff shoulders drop and my breath release just a little. A passenger jogged up the aisle, maybe we had waited so long that someone had used the bathroom at the back and had to return to their seat. A surreal event to add to a surreal day. We rolled down the tarmac and I felt my body sag into my seat. I felt the post traumatic shock starting to invade my mind. I brushed away my tears with my sleeve, not sure if they were joy or stress. 

Aodhan looked at me. “We’re headed back to another gate” he said. I smiled, “no hunny, we’re going to the runway to take off”. But my mind was whirling with Aodhan’s airport knowledge. I pushed him back against his seat and stared out his window. The plane was indeed, headed back into another gate. I gasped. I held my breath. I looked up at the front where the passenger that had run past was having an animated conversation with the flight attendants. There were arms in the air, there were mouths moving. A very rapid announcement was made in Spanish. I couldn’t grasp much of it, but the nice guy in front of me confirmed that it didn’t say much, just said they were having a delay. I asked him if it was about me, he just brushed off the question with a “they aren’t saying” comment, and then said “maybe 50%”, what did that mean. I was panicked. My heart was racing, Aodhan was glued to the window acting very good and quiet again, or, maybe he was just interested in the mechanical operation of the gate. At this point I didn’t care, I just wanted him to be as invisible as possible, and me too. I scrunched down in my seat, peeking out and thinking that if I closed my eyes tight enough, I could will us into the air. Another rapid announcement in Spanish. I was probably the only English speaker on the plane, but before this, all announcements had been made in Spanish and then in English. Suddenly these two were in Spanish only? It did not bode well. I sunk lower into my seat and practiced some of the patterned breathing techniques I had learned in the delivery room 14 years ago. Suddenly I felt the plane move. We were rolling backwards. The guy was coming back down the aisle. He was young, maybe only in his mid twenties, and he did not look happy. I kept my eye on him without looking directly at him. I was pretty sure it had been an “if you let him fly, I want off the plane” scenario. They had chosen me. The young man, who had come from the back of the plane walked right up to me and stopped. I was of course adjusting my backpack under the seat in front of me. I could not see him, I would not see him, I could not see him, he was invisible, he would disappear, he would have to go sit down, we were taxiing. I continued to adjust my backpack, glancing furtively at Aodhan to make sure he was consumed by the scene outside the window; he was. He flopped down in the empty aisle seat beside us. I froze. He humphed. Aodhan stared. He humphed louder. I froze more stiffly. Aodhan stared more intently. Where were the flight attendants. I knew, they were strapped safely in their little seats where they couldn’t see us, or they were running at breakneck speed down the aisle. I could not see with my head between my knees, staring through blurry tear stained eyes into the depths of my knapsack. The roar of the planes taxi engines sounded like the roar of a tsunami headed towards me, ready to engulf me. I fought for breath and refused the tears. I braced myself, waiting for the wave to hit. The plane reached the runway turnoff. I had not heard the click of the stranger’s seatbelt. I could not look at him. Aodhan stared out the window, unaware of the world around him. And then, as I braced for the guy to scream at me or shake me, or start pounding on the seats, the guy stood up. As quickly as he came, he left. He walked back to his seat ten rows back, and sat down. The plane turned onto the runway, sped up and took off, and I sat back semi-comatose and let the rigor mortis settle through my body.

Maybe it was something else the guy was upset about. Maybe it had nothing to do with me. I will never know.


The plane ride was short, an hour and a half. They didn’t even serve drinks. I was glad about that – I really didn’t want to talk to the flight attendants or anyone. I just wanted to land on the other side of the Columbia, Panama rift between South America and North America. From Panama, I could get a bus, for god sakes, I could walk home if I needed to. There is no land route from Columbia to Panama, you have to fly or take a boat.

The flight attendant came back just before we landed and asked if we could wait and let the other passengers off first. I was on the same page. No problem. We landed and everyone got off. I hustled Aodhan off as soon as the big rush was done even though there was still a lot of stragglers. 

As we got closer to the front, Aodhan started to say how much he wanted to say hi to the pilots. He wanted to see the cockpit. He wanted to see how the plane flew. I said that I wasn’t sure the pilots wanted to see him. His behaviour had not endeared him to the crew of the much delayed plane. I wished we could sneak out the emergency exit in the middle of the plane. “Can I see the cockpit?” Aodhan queried as I raced him by. The pilots, flight attendants and ground crew all pointed at the door, directing him to walk the  gangplank off the plane... now. He looked at all their concrete stares, and smiled. “We better get to our next plane” he said, “no time to look at this one now, we don’t want to be late.” 
We only had an hour and a half to get to our next flight. Much of that had been spent with the delay taking off. By the time we got into the airport, there was less than an hour left. We had not eaten since that morning, but there was no time to get food here. They would serve something on the next plane, it was a three and a half hour flight to Miami. I asked Aodhan to use the washroom, and he went without complaining.

We got to the gate and they made us go through an extra US check. We had to put all our backpacks and shoes and everything through a scanner, even though we had already done all of that to get into the secure part of the airport. Aodhan balked a little, but finally emptied his pockets full of napkins, soda cans and crumpled, soggy advertising flyers into the plastic bin to put through the scanner. They looked oddly at him, but, really, none of the things he had broke any rules. They did make him throw out the empty water bottle, but he didn’t complain too much about it. We sat in the waiting area, and, within minutes, they began loading the plane. 

Good, I thought, not so much time for anyone to complain about anything. I asked at the desk, because I thought somehow we had gotten seats that were not window seats. Greg had booked all our seats months ago, but somehow when I checked in, not all of them translated to the window seats Greg had originally booked. Sure enough, ours were not window seats. I asked if there were any left, and the only one was at the very back, but it was on the left side and that was a good thing, because he, with his OCD, has taken a dislike to the side of a vehicle that has the door on it. He also does not like to sit at the back, but, I figured this was better. 

We got on and sat down, and Aodhan flipped out. He wanted to sit in the seats in the middle of the plane. “I don’t want to go to Miami. I want to go to Huston. We are going to Huston. I am NOT going to Miami. I don’t like Miami. I don’t like the Miami airport.” He tried to climb over the seats, he tried to climb over me. he sat for a minute and then tried again. I told him to sit. I told him we had already been kicked off a flight twice, and only got to stay because I managed to talk my way onto the flight. I said that we probably wouldn’t be so lucky if he got us kicked off this flight. All his actions and movements were also exacerbating his smell. It was beginning to get more fragrant in the area and I just wanted him to sit down and stop waving himself around like a demonic air freshener. He finally sat down. Luckily, everyone on the plane, including the flight attendants had been so busy loading and putting things in overhead bins, that they had not noticed Aodhan’s antics in the back corner. There were no people beside us, and only one person in the row of four seats in front of us. Good, I thought, no one around to complain. They could even move the guy in front of us if he or they wanted. 

The flight attendants came back to the back... “Hmmh, they said in Spanish of course, “the bathroom smells a bit, maybe someone didn’t flush.” I sank down low in my seat, and looked at Aodhan who was now happily peering out the window at the big A380 and the 777 that were parked near us. It was true, after all the activity, there was a bit of a smell. They wiped down the bathroom behind us, and sprayed some air freshener around. They were ok and ready to go, they commented that the bathroom still smelled, and seemed a bit concerned, but, there was two bathrooms and they would get it checked and cleaned properly in Miami. 

I think they must have gotten a phone call from the last plane sometime after that. They had been at the front of the plane readying for take off, and none of the passengers around me had so much as spoken to a flight attendant. Fairly suddenly, several flight attendants were at my side. “Can you get all your bags, and come with us”. I looked at them. “I will come and talk to you but my son is settled, I don’t want to disrupt him, and I will leave my heavy, awkward backpack here”. We went up front. There were four or five of them standing there, and only two had ever been to the back of the plane to comment on the “bathroom”. They stood in a row outside the plane door. I looked at them. They looked at me. I looked at them. They looked at me. The clock ticked. The were all so young. I am quite sure none of them had ever had a child, maybe babysat, maybe a couple of years ago when they were in high school. It was like having four of Ciaran’s little friends lined up in front of me. You could see these faces had never dealt with anything difficult in their little privileged lives. They shuffled uneasily, still so much like school girls. We had probably stood there in this silent face off for over a minute now. Finally the bravest of them looked at me with a rock hard defiant stare, her tiny pink lips pursed. “Don’t you have something you would like to tell us?” she blurted out. The other three practically jumped up and down and applauded like contestants on a talk show host who’s team mates had just given a great answer. The four of them stared at me, fidgeting with their perfectly manicured nails, nodding at one another. “What did you want me to tell you?” I asked, thinking that maybe they would like Snow White or Cinderella for a bedtime story, but of course, the Disney version. Could we get any more unprofessional, I thought? Just talk straight with a person. At least the flight attendants on the last plane had been a little older, or at least a little more mature, and had at least given me the dignity of an intelligent conversation. They looked wildly at one another, their best shot had just been waived away. Time ticked. “You have to leave the plane”.  “There’s another plane in four hours you can try“ “There’s another flight tomorrow you can fly on.” You should have told us he had problems”. “We have to leave.” I spoke clearly and slowly to them. “Passengers are not complaining, I am simply trying to get him home, I have doctor’s appointment, he is sitting quietly”. They stared in wild un-coping panic, I hoped we didn’t crash with these four. There is no way they would be able to handle panicked passengers. I couldn’t for the life of me determine even which one was supposed to be the in-charge flight attendant. 

Finally a new woman came down the hallway behind them. She looked at me. I looked at her. We summed each other up. She looked me dead in the eye when she spoke, and she didn’t mince words. I liked her at once. We each cocked our pistols for the stand off. “There’s another flight in four hours to Miami. Let’s bring him off the plane, and you can get him to change his clothes, and we will re-book you on that one. Or maybe, you can take the flight tomorrow when things have settled down”. “He has changed all his clothes, the last airplane asked him to do that, and he complied. He is being quiet and well behaved. I agree, he needs a shower, but unless you have one around, what do you expect me to do. I also have a connection in Miami to get to Toronto, so, what would we do about that?” She paused, and looked me up and down, and did a quick reassessment. I was not turning out to be what had been described to her. Her face softened. “I don’t think you really want to go through this all again in Miami”. She said. “We have a direct flight to Toronto leaving in two hours. Let’s get you on that.” I gave her a brief deer in the headlights stare while I processed her words. “Thank you”, I said. “Let me grab my stuff”. The four little stewardesses looked at each other trying to figure out what was going on. They knew something had happened, but you could see they weren’t quite sure what. 

I turned and power-walked back to my Aodhan, who sat quietly at the back of the plane, staring out the window, hiding like an ostrich with it’s head in the sand. “Come on Aodhan!” I said enthusiastically, “Come on! They got us a flight right to Toronto, we don’t have to go to Miami, I know you didn’t want to go there”. He looked up, relieved, but as always, ready to be contrary to anything. “But I want to go to Miami. I am staying here and going to Miami. I want to go to the USA. I want to go to Huston.” “Maybe Huston, I said, maybe this new flight goes over Huston, we’ll ask.” Aodhan looked at me. The one thing about Aodhan that may save him in the end, is the fact that he lives only in the moment, and can dismiss the past and rewrite the future in a nanosecond. I saw the old script erasing from his mind, and the new one filter in. “Ok, lets go get on the other plane, that’s the one we want to get”. He grabbed his stuff. I had already removed all the magazines out of the seat pockets, like I do now on every flight we take before, or while he sits down, so he has started to forget about collecting those.  I grabbed my backpack and stood back to follow him up the aisle. People around us looked with curiosity, but, mostly just tried to text their last messages before they had to turn their devices off. Aodhan looked under the seats in case he forgot something. “Come on hun, we gotta go, we’re going to miss the other plane”. He did a last check of the area to make sure he had every empty candy wrapper and coffee stir stick dropped three flights ago, and shuffled out and broke into a jaunty walk up the aisle. The four little flight attendants had ducked away into various corners, busying themselves with important tasks like straightening the soda cans so they all faced the same direction. 

No one said goodbye, except for one little boy as I walked up the aisle. He was nine years old, and was traveling alone from Bogota to Miami to see his father. He had been sitting near us on the last flight and had said hello and chatted a little when we were both waiting to get off. He was very excited that we were coming on the same flight again. He had talked to me when I got on the plane. He looked lonely and disappointed that we were getting off. He could have used a hug, and so could I have. “You have a great time in Miami with your dad” I said instead. He’s going to be so excited to see such a great kid”. The boy looked a little sad, and I could see in his eyes that my words were perhaps not accurate. His silence and his earlier words indicated that it was perhaps not his father’s idea to have this little son, no matter how handsome and intelligent, visit. 

In the airport, I asked Aodhan to go over and watch the airplanes, far away from all of us. He didn’t smell all that much, but there was just too many variables to having Aodhan there with us. They showed me the flight to Toronto, and we picked out some seats near the back on the left hand side, with a window. 

“Maybe he can wash in a sink in the bathroom”, the woman suggested. “He tried that” I said. “Have you ever tried to wash in a sink. It is easy to wash your face and hands, and even your upper body, and maybe even your feet if you are flexible enough to put them up there. But that is not what smells, and that is not easy to wash well in a sink.” Is there a shower anywhere in the airport. That is really the only way he is going to get a lot better.” “We can get people to help you if you need help cleaning him”. Great, I thought, envisioning six people holding him down while someone poured a bucket of water over his screaming writhing body, trying to keep their ankles away from him so they didn’t get bitten. “Not really what I need”. “Maybe we can book you on a flight tomorrow and you can go into Panama and get a hotel for the night, where they have showers, we don’t have a shower anywhere in the airport”. “Fuck”. I thought. That’s all I need. Just take him to a hotel. I need this over, not the extended three day version of this trip. A night in a hotel? I had no more clean clothes after the one set still in the luggage, and even those pants weren’t spotless. I also only had one or two of his pills left. What if there were further delays and that ran out. Did I think I could spend the night washing laundry with little hotel soaps? Panama is Pacific coastal. Things don’t usually dry overnight in pacific tropical jungle areas. And then what, come back tomorrow, and try to convince a new set of people, with an energized and extremely anxious Aodhan, both of us having had very little sleep? I would also then miss Forge’s Christmas party that I had been looking forward to. And who knows what this delay and huge change would evoke from Aodhan. “No!” I ejaculated at her. “I have to get him home. It is his new medication that is causing this. I have an appointment to see the doctor tomorrow with him, I have to be there for that.” “We could book you to see a doctor here” she suggested helpfully. “No,” I replied calmly, “It has to be his doctor. I think it is his new medication, and I have an appointment and I need to get back to see him so that we can sort out this problem we are having. Another doctor won’t know his history and his meds, there is not a simple solution.”

I watched the plane pull away, leaving my small suitcases on the tarmac. I wondered if the whole flight to Toronto thing had been a ruse to get me off the plane. I felt the panic well up, and I pushed it down hard, and resisted the urge to run through the gate and down the hallway, push open the airplane door and climb inside screaming “I need to go on this flight, you can’t stop me!” 

The other ground crew was talking to the luggage handlers, asking them to bring the suitcases up, which apparently was way, way too difficult for them. We would have to wait until these minions with a little power, had time to take the cases to the other end of the airport and put them into the luggage arrival area to be processed. We could come down there and get them then. We had two hours before the next flight left the ground. Why had I not pulled out more clothes the last time. I kicked myself hard.

I said that even if I had a bucket or something, it would be easier. The woman grabbed one of the plastic bins for putting your personal items through the scanner. “Would this work” she asked? “Yes, I said, I think this could work. The woman said we could go get the luggage, and asked if Aodhan was ok to stay alone. I asked if I could leave my heavy backpack and big plastic bin there at the counter, but, of course, that was not an option. The other ground crew woman walked with me, and I dragged everything with me as we walked briskly from one end of the airport, to the other, down flights of stairs with no escalators, until my knee throbbed. We got to immigration, and she explained why we were there. The officer looked at my passport, and said I could go through, as long as I left my passport with him, and the ground crew stayed with me. We went in and grabbed my suitcases off the conveyer. I pulled the necessary items out, and put them in my backpack. I realized that I still had Aodhan’s original trousers in there, and I realized just how much they smelled. I also realized that they could be adding to the aroma. I stuffed them in one of the suitcases. We left the luggage at a desk to be reloaded on the new plane, and started back up the long staircase. Despite my limp, I beat the crew to the top, and led her back through the airport. We had less than an hour until the next flight left. 

We got back to Aodhan and they thought he was gone. He was just looking out another window, and appeared as soon as I called his name. He was still being very good, but of course, I knew that his disposition could change rapidly if he didn’t like what was going on. The original woman took our passports and went to confirm our booking on the new flight. “Come on Aodhan, you have to change again before we get on the other plane.” He walked with me towards the bathroom. We got to the bathroom they had chosen and I realized there was no separate family bathroom for him to go in alone. “There’s a small room in this bathroom” she said, pointing at the men’s side. Aodhan had started to notice the growing group of crew and cleaners gathered around. “These guys are ready to help you” she added helpfully. That was it. Aodhan saw it as a trap. He ran screaming “you can’t make me go in there, you can’t make me do it, I’m not changing all  those clothes. Down through the airport he ran. I ran after him, plastic bucket waving, backpack slung over one arm slid down and banging against my sore knee. “Stop Aodhan, Stop! Please, listen to me. You go in alone, you don’t have to change everything, God, please stop and listen.” “We can stay in Panama” he shot back. Panama is nice. We can get an hotel in Panama. We can get an apartment in Panama and stay for a while. Panama is nice. We can live in Panama.” “No!” I cried, “No!” We cannot live in Panama. “You, you can go in Panama. I have to get on this flight. You will have to stay here alone and figure this out.” Aodhan stopped. “You will stay with me” he said. “No Aodhan, no.” “You have our passports, we can stay.” he said matter-of-factly. We were closer now. “No Aodhan,” I said. “I can’t. She took our passports.” I opened my purse and security pouch and showed him they were gone. He stared at me. I looked ashen. 40 minutes left. He let me come closer. I was shaking, and ready to burst into tears. “If you stay here, it will be in an orphanage, or hospital, or jail. You know kids down here have to leave orphanages at 14, so they will not allow you in. They might put you in a jail, but it is more likely they will put you in a hospital. They have already said they could call doctors.” I was shaking harder now. Aodhan had sat on one of the rows of airport chairs, and he didn’t move when I sat down beside him. “I don’t want to stay in Panama Aodhan,” I sobbed. I put my face in my hands and could feel my body shake. I don’t want to miss this plane.” You only have to change your boxers and pants. I brought the pants you love, the grey ones. No one is coming in the room with you, it is a private room. You just have to change and we can get on this plane. Please Aodhan, please.” He looked suspiciously at me, and then his look softened as he realized just how upset I was. “Ok” he said in a small voice. The word drifted around me like a hug. I wanted to kiss him. I told him I was going to hug him and kiss him and call him George. He smiled and said “no! grinning and jumping up. It is a game we have been playing, where I grab him and hug him and kiss him until he gives me a hug. It is helping him to accept physical attention, and affection. “We have to go to that room so you can change”. He looked suspiciously at me again. “I don’t want anyone in there with me.” He had overheard their suggestions. “You are changing alone, it is a private room. I won’t let anyone in, I promise,” I said, “and you know I keep my promises”. He nodded, but more importantly, he walked back towards the bathroom. They showed me the janitorial closet inside the men’s bathroom. It had a low, bricked off area with a waterspout in it, like a tiny square bathtub. “That’s perfect, I exclaimed. I was so excited. I brought Aodhan in. He entered suspiciously. “See,” I said, now blocking his exit in case something spooked him. “You just have to change your boxers and your pants to these.” I pulled out clean boxers and his favorite grey pants. They were a bit grubby, but did not smell bad. “If you take off the pants you are wearing, you can use this tap to clean up a bit, kind of have a little bath. Don’t take your top off, just your pants. Your sweater is fine.” He took the new pants and boxers. That was a great sign. “Ok, he said” I went out of the closet. I walked to the bathroom door to see if I could find out if we were confirmed on the flight and what gate it left at. Two ground crew staff and a cleaning lady were standing right outside. The original woman gave me our passports and boarding passes and told me the plane left from the furthest gate at the other end of the airport. They were so concerned looking, and I felt that they really did want to help me, and almost like they wanted to give me a hug. I thanked them all, especially the first woman. I told her that she had no idea how much this meant to me, and that I really appreciated what she had done. She said she didn’t have my luggage tickets, but that the other desk would have them for me when I got there. Quite frankly, I couldn’t have cared less about my luggage at that point, I just wanted to get my son back home.

I went back inside and stood with my backpack at my feet in the men’s bathroom. Men came in to use the urinals. I was a bit disconcerted. I thought they were keeping people out of that bathroom. I stood against the wall. The guys seemed to not care. I checked the time. 25 minutes left. I knocked on Aodhan’s door. “You almost done in there” I asked? “I don’t want any time limit” he replied. “I don’t care how long you take” I replied, “but the plane is leaving in about 20 minutes, and I have to be on it, I have no choice. You have the choice, you can stay here, but I will be in Toronto, and you will have to figure it out. They will put you somewhere, probably a hospital, but this is Central America, and I’m not sure what they do to you in hospitals down here. They only speak Spanish, so you will have to learn that if you want to talk to anyone.” “Wait,” he said. I could hear the tinge of panic in his voice. “I’m almost done.” I heard him test the door to make sure it was locked and then begin to shuffle around changing his clothes. I could have placed a fairly safe bet that he wouldn’t touch the water in the little bathtub area, but I could also place a fairly safe bet that it wasn’t his skin that smelled, it was the stuff that had rubbed off it and been absorbed by his boxers. He burst out. “Let’s go, we’re going to miss our plane” he exploded at me. I had grabbed a clean plastic garbage bucket liner out of one of the stalls, and I stuffed his pants and boxers in it. they did smell, and he, miraculously, did not. 

We raced out of the bathroom and I said thank you  again to the woman as I raced by. I had to remind Aodhan that he did not know where the gate was as he dashed madly along. I checked the boarding passes, and told him the gate number. He had changed noticeably now that the ordeal of changing was done. I could tell that he felt better. We got to the gate and the plane was just beginning to load. I sat down for a moment, much to Aodhan’s angst, and tried to connect to the internet to let Greg know we were on a different flight so that there would be someone there to pick us up. It was a complicated connection process and I had to pull out my actual computer. Aodhan was standing begging me to get in line and get on the plane. I was in no hurry to be first on. That had not gone well on the last flight. I could not reach Greg, but finally noticed that someone that we knew was on Skype. I asked them to call Greg and let him know and Greg logged on and connected. We talked briefly. I gave him the new flight information and a few details. The new flight would get there just before midnight, pretty much at the same time as the old one. 

We boarded, and went to the back seats. Aodhan balked and tried to insist that he was moving to a seat further forward. I held him down and reminded him about the orphanage if he got himself kicked off this flight. This time, they sprayed some air freshener, but Aodhan really didn’t smell. I guess they just did it because of the communication with the other crews. I told Aodhan that if he sat still, I would ask if there was any seats further up we could move to. He agreed that acting crazy was not the way to get things. He sat quietly. But as soon as I turned my attention away from him, and loosened my grip, he jumped on the seat and tried climbing out again to go further forward. I pulled him down and asked if he thought his behaviour would make me and the flight attendants like him and want to let him have another seat, or if it would make them want him off the plane, like the last two planes. He decided it would make people unhappy, and sat quietly looking out the window. Every few minutes, he lunged forward in an attempt to climb over me or the seat, and I restrained him and talked to him. I promised him that as soon as the plane was in the air, I would ask the flight attendants if there were any seats further up that he could change to. I knew there were not. There were only a few middle seats left. 

A young couple came back and said that we were in their seats. I asked if it would be alright if they sat across the aisle in our seats. They were very concerned that the flight attendants would be annoyed about that. They were concerned that maybe there was a person that would sit between them, because on their side, there was an empty middle seat. I assured them that I would take the extra person and that he would be thrilled because he would get an aisle seat instead of a middle seat. They were concerned because they had ordered vegetarian meals and they wanted to make sure that we didn’t get them and eat them. I closed my eyes and bit my lip, and bit back the words I wanted to shout at them, that if you had ever flown in their life before, the world and certainly not the flight attendants do not revolve around you, and that if the airline even remembered to pack any requested alternative food, they would get it, or at least be offered a kosher meal as a substitution. Instead, while restraining Aodhan behind my back with one arm, calmly assured them that the flight attendants will ask what everyone wants to eat, we will make sure you get your vegetarian meal and that we did not want the vegetarian meal. They were very big about it and graciously offered to sit on the other side as long as the flight attendants did not get angry. They sat. Aodhan sat. I sat. 

Another young guy came down the aisle, and wasn’t sure which side his seat was on. I assured him it was on our side, and he plopped down in his seat, stowed his little bag under the seat, put on his headphones, and closed his eyes. Fantastic, I thought. the most oblivious guy in the world, won’t even notice Aodhan. Yea one break! 

The plane filled. The flight attendants buzzed around. The couple across the aisle stopped one of the busy flight attendants on her way by to let her know they were seated on the wrong side of the plane. The flight attendants were obviously very familiar with our history. She just smiled a big pasted on smile and said that it was so great everyone was getting settled, absolutely not caring one bit. The couple was pleased with her smile, they had been praised for good behaviour and their years of childhood conditioning told them they had just gotten a gold star. They settled down. Aodhan’s anxious attempts at re-seating himself by crawling across the tops of the airplane seats settled into a predictable routine that I could control. The guy beside me tapped his fingers and toes and played with his little audio control panel. The flight attendant asked if we needed anything, and I asked if Aodhan could have his meal right away when they started to serve meals, as we were at the back of the plane and would otherwise be served last. I said that we had not eaten for many hours, and food would settle him down. She looked at me aghast, “I cannot serve him food right now”. “No” I replied, and I repeated the part about “when you start to serve meals, not right now”. She still wasn’t getting it. Yes, her first language was Spanish, but her second language was obviously “incorrect assumptions”. I dropped it, and thanked her, and said we were ok. I thought maybe I would try again when they started serving food. 

The plane doors shut, and we backed up and turned and drove along the tarmac to the runway. Aodhan still said he was moving. He didn’t want to put his tray away because we were not actually taking off yet, and the tray only had to be away for take off, not before. We turned onto the runway and speed up to take off. Aodhan finally decided it would be good to put his table up. I think I had held my breath the entire time until we were in the air. I closed my eyes and felt the tears squeeze out the sides, and felt my lungs collapse with a huge relieved exhale. I told Aodhan that I had asked the attendant, and the only seats further forward were in the middle. I knew that this was actually true. I asked him if he wanted to move further forward, or if he wanted a window. It was his choice. He actually thought about it, and looked up at me and said that the window was more important to him. He said he would stay where he had a window. I exhaled again. 

The movie came on, and I plugged in my headphones. It was a great choice of movie for Aodhan - the new cartoon Airplanes. He was ecstatic about it. I could hear music on channels one, two and three. It took me until channel 16 and 17 to hear the story, and then I could hear both the English and Spanish versions in unison on both channels. I called one of the flight attendants over and he said I had it on the wrong channel. He said in his best primary school teacher voice that I needed to be on “one for English, or two for Spanish”. He enunciated the numbers well, so that I could understand. He held up his fingers to make it very clear. “One for English, two for Spanish.” He smiled proudly. “Yes,” I said, I tried that, but one has classical music and two has show tunes on it. The soundtrack is definitely coming through on 16 and 17, but you can hear both languages. He smiled. He got headphones and plugged into the empty aisle seat in front of us. “Nope,” he said, “that isn’t classical music, that is the soundtrack.” I listened to my headphones again. “Nope,” I said, “not here”. I let him listen on mine. He turned the dial up and down and then set it to two. “This is the movie soundtrack” he said valiantly. “No” I said, “it is the soundtrack for Fantasia, I think.” “No, see he said, the movie is a musical.” “See their little airplane mouths moving?” I asked, there are no words coming out. There is dialogue going on. He asked the quiet guy beside me. He agreed that I was right, one and two were music. He couldn’t find the soundtrack, but it wasn’t on one or two. The flight attendant believed him right away and apologized to him and said he would try to reset our seats, there was obviously something going on. He did something and it did nothing. He then apologized to the guy again and asked him if he would like to move up to another aisle seat where the sound was working. As he walked back from reseating the young man, I asked what we could do, because my son would really like to watch the movie. He looked at me aghast. “I reset it for you, you can hear it now, what else would you like me to do?” The ‘I can’t believe you are still complaining, look’ came through loud and clear. He shook his head in disbelief and walked away rolling his eyes. I had noticed that the people in front of us had opted for an i-pad movie instead. I asked them if I could move their arm rests up and plug our headphones in there because ours were broken. They were happy to let us. I told them that they could have them back if they needed them, but they said they wouldn’t, and they did not for the whole flight. I plugged Aodhan’s in and he grinned - “oh thanks!” he exclaimed loudly, “it’s in English now so I can tell what’s going on.” 

The flight attendants had readied the food cart, and stopped on their way up the aisle. The request had finally percolated through. Does he want chicken and rice or pasta? She asked. Aodhan took a few minutes weighing the choices and asking about the options. “You need to pick right away Aodhan” I said, “she has other people to serve meals to.” “Chicken and rice” Aodhan finally exclaimed. And Sprite, can I have Sprite! She gave him the drink, and he gulped it in one sip. He held it up for a refill before she had even put the bottle down. She filled it again. She had put the bottle down and was giving him his meal before he asked for the third refill. I said he was ok, but she waved me away and said that it was ok and smiled at him and filled his cup again. I asked if I could also have my supper since it was right there, and she looked at me with contempt, like as if I had asked for special treatment above and beyond those people who had managed to get seats closer to the front. “I don’t have time to be stopping here while you decide what you want and ask for refills too, I think you can wait your proper turn.” She turned away. I wanted to reach out and grab one of the little prepared food trays that stuck out as she sat the Sprite bottle down, but resisted the urge despite my grumbling stomach. It was now almost 7pm and I had not eaten since around 9am. 

They gave Aodhan a second serving of rice and chicken when he asked on their way, by while they were still half a dozen rows from us, and more water and juice. I did finally get my chicken and rice dinner which I inhaled in 23 seconds because I was so hungry. I gave all my cookies and bread etc to Aodhan because he really wanted them, and he was probably still a bit hungry. I asked if there was any more left, if I could have a second one too since they were done serving all the passengers. Two flight attendants looked at me incredulously. “I think you’ve had enough” one said as she ran a second dinner up to another passenger rolling her eyes at the other flight attendant. 

Overall, the flight staff was really nice. I just find that when you have a special needs person with you, that everything they do for that person counts as something they are doing for you. Even sometimes when I am with Greg it happens. Greg asks for lots of changes and special treatment, which people could easily refuse, but instead, most people bend over backwards trying to give him everything he wants and then take it out on me. 

I remembered several years ago on one flight, the woman in front of Greg was grumpy and snippy with the flight attendants while they helped her get seated and put her bag in the overhead compartment. She leaned her seat back as far as it could go. Greg decided to get his laptop out and move around and bump his head into her seat and cross his legs and bump his feet and knees into her seat. I just decided to stay out of it and let them deal with it. The grumpy lady finally did deal with it. She stood up, turned around, stared directly at me, quietly reading my book, and yelled at me for Greg kicking her seat and called me names and told me I was being rude. I looked at her and pointed out that I was not behind her, and she continued, not looking once at Greg, who was obliviously looking at his computer. She told me to stop being rude. I told her that I didn’t even know the guy beside me and was traveling on a business trip alone and that she would have to take it up with him. She glanced at him, glared back at me, and threatened to talk to the flight attendants about my behaviour, turned, sat down and put her seat up. This is a common occurrence for me. I am often ignored unless people need to get angry at someone, and then I seem to have a “kick me” sign on my forehead. I cannot even recount to you the number of times a restaurant will give everyone else at the table water except me. If I do point it out that I would also like water, I have had several things happen. Occasionally I will get water with an accusatory look like as if I have just drank all the water they gave me. Sometimes the waiter will say, “oh, my jug is empty”, and never return. But most often, everyone at the table will start thrusting their water glasses at me saying that I can have theirs, and the waiter will walk away. This is often where I either give up and drink nothing, or get ornery and call the waiter back to fill my glass, which I usually have to do loudly over the din of the people offering me water. Its my water glass, I am drinking it, I want it filled. It is not too much to ask. This is also a common thread in my life that I struggle with. I get ignored or overlooked. If I finally decide that my opinion will be heard, I get called aggressive and difficult to please. There is a video about this. It is the same with many labels for women. A guy is labelled as “knows what he wants”, or “determined”. A woman is labelled as demanding or petulant. It is the same in the special needs world. A man is seen as going out of his way to care for and help their special needs person whether it be his child or mother, but a woman is often seen as not doing enough to take care of the person and letting them disrupt others. 


As we came into our final descent, I could not recognize anything, and could feel a slight panic that maybe we were on the wrong plane and not landing in Toronto after all. But it was Toronto, and we were home. I gave Greg a call on my cell phone, and it worked! I had service! Greg had phoned and gotten it going for me. Sometimes I really love that guy! He was on his way there with Ciaran and Samantha. He said not to hurry, they were still ripping out the basement kitchen. We waited for most people to exit the plane, and they let Aodhan have a look at the cockpit. “See” I said after, you get to do things like that when you are well behaved. Aodhan agreed, and said that he was going to try good behaviour to get things that he wanted. Baby-steps, I thought. Anything to get him to understand co-operation. 

One of our suitcases was missing. Five other people had cases missing too. Of course it was the one with all my souvenirs in it. I got the one with Aodhan’s dirty clothes. We filled out a form, and walked out into the cold Canadian air, and I felt tears of joy freeze to my cheeks. I have never been so glad to be home in my life. 

We went to Zets, which is a 24 hour Greek steak fastfood restaurant across from the airport. Aodhan and I were both still quite hungry. We headed home, not knowing what kind of a reaction we were going to get from Aodhan. I had told him dad had painted and changed a few things. He knew it would be different. Ciaran and Sam wanted to catch his reaction on video, and they ran inside quickly. Aodhan and I walked in the front door, and Aodhan looked around. He shrugged, said there was some changes, and asked if his room was the same. We said it was, and he decided to go to bed. In the morning he came down with his eyes closed and refused to look at the changes. It took him a few days of doing this, but finally he decided he liked the tools all around and the stuff piled in the middle of the living room. He loves the cardboard on the floor and the tape on stuff, and wants to keep it all decorated in mid-renovation modern style. 

Aodhan still has his ups and downs, but seems to be handling things so much better now, especially considering that this was the couple of weeks before one of the most important holidays of the year. He handled the disappointment of not having a Christmas tree, not having stockings, presents or Christmas morning at our house. He handled having no sofa and no access to the downstairs TV. He loves the new fridge though. He loves the ice maker and water dispenser. He is in heaven with that. 

Aodhan is not putting on extra layers of clothing past the single toque or hat of his choice, and two thick sweaters and a t-shirt, that we have approved. He is not carrying around extra bags. He occasionally forgets and puts his books or other items down and forgets about them for a while. He takes his coat and gloves off, although he has tried to keep on a tube scarf. He removes his boots. He takes off his backpack and puts on pajamas to sleep. And of course, most important of all, he does not want to be violent. 

Coming in to Panama

Christmas dinner with a relatively happy Aodhan


iain said…
Wow.. Amazing that you made it home at all.. Airports and airplanes can be stressful at the best of times..
I can't even begin to imagine how hard it was for you.
You deserve a holiday on your own now!!! Big Time!