Last week, a co-worker questioned me about my favorite part of our recent trip to Arizona. We had just attended a Cubs spring training game, took a drive to experience the town of Sedona, had taken an afternoon hike at Camelback Mountain, and spent many relaxing days by the pool. We had even gotten to see the sun for 7 whole days in a row. If you’re from Chicago, this is a really big deal after surviving our winters. It was a very fun week. Without hesitation, though, I immediately answered:
Going to dinner
My answer was not the result of me needing a break from cooking. In all honesty, I like the process of cooking, especially when I have more time. When vacationing, we almost always look for accommodations that offer a full kitchen so that we can take our time, try new recipes, and relax as a family; without all of the other distractions that come with being at home. Once again, we rented a condo with a kitchen, but this vacation was different.
Almost two years ago, my middle son, Alex had a late afternoon baseball game on a Sunday. We decided to stop for dinner on the way home. It was a pretty typical way to end a day after baseball. Adam had always loved the ‘going to dinner part’ of watching his brother’s baseball games.
Until that day in June 2014.
He had been acting a bit unusual; not his typical happy self. We chalked it up to being tired, hot and hungry. But with Adam, I have been conditioned to always be on alert. My gut was telling me that something more was going on. We sat down to eat and he started to gag. I gasped. It was the reason he was “off”. He was getting sick.
I have wished so many times over the past two years that I could take that ‘gasp’ back.
There was a time that Adam LOVED going to dinner. He would ask daily if we were going to dinner. He even made up a little song about going to dinner. A song that he would sing so much that there were many times I wished that he would stop.
For two years, I have longed to hear that song again.
I’ll admit, I am a self proclaimed vomit phobic. Vomiting is beyond my biggest fear. I hate it. I worry about it. I think about it….as much as I hate to admit; almost daily.
That gasp was my anxiety and fear of puke. And this gasp has caused so much anxiety in Adam over the past two years. Unfortunately, he associated getting sick with eating in a restaurant. Honestly, he has associated this ‘gasp’ with just eating in general…..but only in my presence.
For the past two years, he has taken his food to the dining room and sat by himself. He has pulled his signature black engineer hat far down over his eyes so that he does not have to look at me while he is eating. It has killed me to see how anxious that I have made him about eating. There have been times, many times that I would make him something and then leave the room entirely while he was eating. He has refused repeatedly to go to restaurants. There has been only one restaurant that, according to Adam, has been acceptable; and even then, he has requested that we go through the drive through and come home. My anxiety has just continued to build on his anxiety. It has been a vicious cycle. I have sought advice from professionals, friends, and even his doctors who have strongly advised me to continue to try and ‘plow through’ and act ‘normal’. Adam’s neurologist has been very reluctant to begin treatment for he strongly felt that we could possibly make his anxiety about eating worse. He told me to be patient. So for two years, we have largely avoided each other at meals. It’s been so frustratingly difficult, for all of us. However, Lacey and Alex, have amazed me with their patience. They’ve never complained when we have ordered from Adam’s favorite restaurant; but I have felt their unspoken frustration. This is just one of the countless times that they have been expected to compromise, for they are siblings of a brother with special needs. I have been patient. We ALL have been patient. There have been a handful of times that we have tried going to a restaurant with Adam, but his anxiety and my anxiety fed off of each other to such a degree that we were both so relieved that it was over. Until our trip to Arizona last week.
We found ourselves sitting in a restaurant in the Dallas/Ft. Worth airport on a layover on the front end of our trip. As we followed the hostess to sit down, I felt my fierce tension, that has been so familiar to me, spread throughout my body. I glanced out of the corner of my eye at Adam. His black hat was still on straight. He sat down next to Alex and immediately began working on a maze on the kid’s menu. The server came by to introduce herself. Without looking up from his maze, Adam says:
Adam will have chicken tenders and fries and water please.
Chris, Alex and I quickly picked the first thing that we could find off the menu and handed them over to the server. Within minutes, our food arrived and we ate; mostly in silence; but Adam and I did it! We ate side by side in a restaurant. No hiding behind his hat. No getting up 20 times to go to the bathroom; but as calmly and as anxiety free as I can remember in a long, LONG time. As we were walking out of the restaurant and heading to our terminal, I heard Adam quietly singing his “restaurant song”; the song that I have been wanting to hear for so long. I felt the weight, ever so slightly lift off of my shoulders. Maybe this was truly the moment that I have been told for so long to be patient for.
Later that night, as we were getting settled into our hotel room, Adam asked:
Which restaurant is next?
( I could feel the surprise on my face) What about going to dinner for dad’s birthday on Saturday, ok buddy?
Ok, Boincy Bouncy (his nickname for my butt) but Adam doesn’t like the word ok. Mom needs to say ‘alright’
I sigh….alright buddy. (it’s always something with him)
Saturday came. After a fun, full day at the Cubs game, we decided to go to a Mexican restaurant for dinner. As we sat down, Adam immediately started cracking up, picked up the Corona salt and pepper shakers in the middle of the table and lined them up in front of him. He LOVES salt and pepper. He turned them around and held them up and said:
Adam wants these for Christmas. Mom can take Adam’s picture.
As we ate dinner, I silently noted that this was the most relaxed that I can remember Adam being in a restaurant. Heck, it was the most relaxed that I, myself can remember feeling in a restaurant in what seems like forever. Suddenly my heart felt hopeful. My heart felt happy. Hopefully we can start going to dinner just like everyone else again.
Appropriate or not, Adam will be getting those salt and pepper shakers for Christmas. The pure joy in his face is the priceless moment at dinner that I will remember forever from our recent trip. As much fun as all of the other activities were, they were just minor details.
Last night, as I was turning out his light, Adam started singing his restaurant song again. I smiled and said:
Good night buddy.
Good night ‘Boincy Bouncy’. He then resumed singing. Are we going out to dinner?
I smiled, quietly closed the door and silently answered him:
Anytime you want Adam.
I think that we have finally turned a corner…….