In roller derby you have 5 players from each team on a roller skating track at a time. There is one player from each team, who is called a “jammer” and four players who are called “blockers”. The head blocker is called the "Pivot". The aim of the game is to allow your jammer to make as many laps of the track as possible and to stop the other team’s jammer from getting through. In order to stop the jammer getting though, the blockers form a pack. When a pack is formed the referee yells, “Pack Is Here!”
Sometimes when you’re in a pack, and a jammer manages to break through, there is an overwhelming urge to chase after her and hit her off the track. If a player becomes more than 10 feet away from the pack, the referee yells, “No Pack”. If the blocker takes too long to return to pack, they’re given a “Failure to Reform” penalty and are sent to the bin for a time out. Nobody likes being sent for a time out. It makes everyone else’s job on the track so much harder and breaks up the pack.
So, if you’re still with me, here’s how a roller derby pack relates to traveling with three, determined to explore and wander off, aspies. As we ventured through airports, museums, railways and car parks we travelled as a pack. The moment any one of them was either 10 foot in front or 10 foot behind I assertively said, “No Pack!” Their reactions were immediate. They feared the dreaded “Failure to Reform”, time out, and I never once had to apply it.
This new “pack” strategy for getting around has been an incredible success. So often I would say the boys’ names and they would just ignore me, stuck in their own world of hyper focus. But for some reason, having a very specific code, “no pack”, was like a light bulb that switched on in their mind and their reaction was immediate.
Now I’m not sure how we looked to those around us, but I’m not shy about standing out in a crowd anymore. There is simply no way to be inconspicuous whilst travelling with my three aspies. The constant questions are a dead give away to my boy’s uniqueness. “How many wheels does the plane have?” Why are they in pairs?” “If jet engines only go in one direction how does the plane go backwards to get out of the docking area?” And yes, I answer them all. Mostly. Sometimes it depends on whether I’ve had my morning coffee, or if I can remember the contents of my physics textbooks from high school.
I paid the fee to transfer our flights by 24 hours, confirmed with the staff that I couldn’t just check the children in now and leave them there, (humor has become my way of coping these days, no really, I was joking!?!) then text my husband to come and get us. I took a deep breath and calmly walked to the front of the airport with three sad, angry, screaming aspies in tow. After counting down from 100 days to go on their holiday to Granmar’s farm, the disappointment was epic. And so too was the noise.
Our pack stayed together as the crowds parted like I was carrying Moses’ staff through the red sea. I made no eye contact; I didn’t really care what anyone was thinking. I knew how my aspies were feeling and for that very long 20 minutes waiting for my husband to return, I allowed them to express it. Then we went to Maccas for hash browns. And a coffee. A very, very, strong coffee.
The following day we returned to the airport, somewhat earlier, and only then realized the impact we’d made the previous day. The lady at the counter instantly remarked “Oh, you’re that family from yesterday, glad to see you’re back!” Really? I thought, you’re glad to see us? There’s no picture hanging behind the desk with a do not issue boarding pass warning sign? “Thanks” I remarked, I was glad I had made someone’s day.
But the recognition continued. Staff pointing and waving with glee, all glad too, that we had made it on time. They’d all heard the previous day just how badly the boys “wanted to go to Granmar’s farm”. Finally, after I had successfully moved the pack to the loading bay, the staff member who had transferred our tickets came to find us. She was working in another area and someone else had gone to find her to let us know we were there. My heart was full as she told of the empathy she had felt when seeing my boys so disappointed. There was no judgment, no defensiveness to the scale of explosiveness my boys had displayed. Just empathy and support after seeing their little hearts broken. Thank you Jetstar.