“Go on airplane?” Emma said yesterday morning.

“Yes, but first we’ll have breakfast, then study room, then brush teeth and then go on the airplane,” I told her.

After listening to me, Emma nodded her head and said, “Go on airplane.”

All that other stuff was filler, it was the airplane part Emma cared about.  “Right,” I said.

At the Aspen airport there was the usual congestion, lines, children running around, harried people, stern looking airport security.  When flying with Emma I used to bring along a letter from her school saying she was autistic etc.  But it never seemed to make a difference, so I stopped.  Despite the fact Emma is the world’s greatest traveler there are problems which inevitably arise when flying with her.  Little misunderstandings, which I’ve described in previous posts, not important enough to spend time going into again.

Emma, as I’ve written before, will not eat anything served on the airplane.  She will not drink any of the liquids they serve, the apple juice on the Denver to New York flight is out of the question as it is served from a can, something she won’t tolerate, she will only drink water from a water fountain, impossible when in Aspen, difficult even in New York City during the winter months and unavailable on airplanes.  So we brought two of her last, appropriately packaged vanilla milks and pirate booty, some grapes – they must be seedless red grapes, a banana and some fruit leathers.  All of which is fine, except the vanilla milks cause us problems every single time.  Curiously in New York I will tell security she’s autistic and we are almost always cheerfully waved through, but never in Aspen.  The Aspen airport is a stickler for going through the correct protocol, no matter how tedious.  I know to take the vanilla milk out, show it to airport security and wait for the predictable grumblings from the people behind us as the entire line is put to a stand still.  I hate the “pat downs” where you are taken aside and searched, so this time Joe volunteered to be the one to endure it, while I watched Emma.

Traveling alone with Emma is particularly daunting as she might run off and no one appears to have the slightest understanding of autism and the difficulties this presents to the lone parent who is being pulled aside, frisked, trying to keep an eye on the carry on as well as calling to Emma who often disappears into the crowds.  To say this is a tense and upsetting time would be putting it mildly.  It is nerve wracking and often frightening as one never knows if Emma will run off – to the bathroom, try to exit the area, run outside to an awaiting aircraft headed to – who knows where – suffice it to say, it’s not fun.

But yesterday morning Joe, being the trooper that he is, volunteered and so they went through his and Emma’s carry on, with all their various swabs and strange looking equipment, it took about ten minutes all told, and I kept reminding myself, as we waited, that this was, though annoying, nothing more than an inconvenience in this post 9/11 age, which we all find ourselves in.

Once we made it through security all went fairly well, the weather was perfect, the passengers were all boarded when I became aware of two little girls sitting in the row behind, their parents, directly behind me and Emma.  The little girls couldn’t have been older then 3, their voices still had that high pitched squeaky sound only heard in a toddler.  The father helped get them settled, made sure they each had their stuffed animal, there was some fighting between the girls about who’s special toy was whose, but other than that it was what any parent of two toddlers would expect. (Not that I would know, but I’m guessing here.)  Some bickering, lots of talk from the parents about the importance of sharing, requests from the girls for candy, cheerios, something to drink.  It became comical when the father, having spent at least 10 minutes procuring various sweets and snacks, muttered to his wife, “Can I just sit for two seconds without feeding someone?”

Meanwhile there Emma was, content to stare silently out the window, happy to be on an airplane and going home.

Inspired by the family behind me, I asked, “Hey Em.  Do you want a snack?”

“No,” she said and continued to stare out the window.

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