Spring, 2014: Sedona, home of the red rock. I booked us onto a hot air balloon ride, certain that it would give Greg, our twenty-seven year old autistic son, a memory to store away after Jay and I took our own solo flights someday, if you get my meaning.
Bounded out of bed at 4:30 A. M., arrived at the front of our Best Western by 6 to catch a shuttle to the lift off spot to catch the sunrise, watched anxiously as the crew tried to upright a fallen balloon basket and hoped our adventure would not be cancelled due to high winds. Greg literally beamed and sang his chanty chant as he watched the green and yellow nylon balloons take off, one after another. Ours was the last, but we made it.
Our crew consisted of one pilot; other passengers included a couple celebrating the wife’s birthday, Jay, Greg and me. The basket was surprisingly small and did not inspire confidence. After paying over $600, we were not about to change our minds.
Greg did great, that is, until we were about a mile up. “Read-y to get down,” he said to Jay. I looked at Jay to see if I’d heard correctly. Never expected that one. Greg rides every ride at every amusement park we’ve ever visited! He turned to us again, paler, black circles under his eyes and said, painfully, “Ready-y to-o getttt down.” Speech is not easy for him, so we knew he was distressed.
There was no getting down. With hot air balloons, you get down when the time and place are ready for the balloon, not for the fearful passenger. Our pilot lowered the balloon just enough so we could engage Greg and get his mind off the anxiety that could result in an explosion at any moment. Jay and I went into emergency mode. “Look, Greg! Count the bunnies!” and, “Look! Look for deer!”
We had a successful landing, a lovely champagne breakfast and memories to last a lifetime, just not the ones we thought we’d have. That’s autism.
What does a parent do when one is a mile up in the air? We talked him through it!