Half term. I thought we were ready for it, another week of every-day-is-the-same watching the same YouTube videos, refusing to wear the same clothes and digging the same diamonds. At the last minute I bottled it. I risked the change in routine for a last minute mercy mission up North to visit family.
It was late Sunday afternoon, the trip was going well. We were a good way up the M6, just 70-odd miles left, 27% iPad battery remaining, all was good in our world.
Then the car made a strange noise.
Now I'm no mechanic, but even I knew it was a noise that meant the car wasn't feeling very well. But at least it was still moving. So I did what any mechanic would do in the circumstances. I pretended it wasn't happening and carried on.
After around a mile a couple of pretty lights appeared on the dashboard. I contemplated stopping. But the thought of standing with The Boy on the hard shoulder of the M6 meant I decided that I would rather continue driving until the car disintegrated into bits around us and we disappeared into a sinkhole the size of Portsmouth than risk that.
He was oblivious of the drama unfolding around us at this time. That is until the dashboard started flashing the word 'STOP' in big red letters. The Boy knows what these letters mean above any other. They've been held up to his face on visual cue cards at many points throughout his life. And if there's one thing he has come to learn, it's that S-T-O-P means Stop. Now.
I carried on going. There was a junction in three miles, if we could just make it there things would be so much easier. The Boy was becoming distressed. He has always feared breaking down, because breaking down is the same as an accident and an accident means you're going to die. The colour drained from his face as he sat staring at the four letters flashing on the dashboard. "It'll be alright mate", I repeated unconvincingly as I wondered if the burning smell was all in my mind or there really were flames leaping up under the bonnet. "It'll be alright..."
The sign for the turn-off was up ahead. We trundled past it, then up to the junction and turned into the nearest lay by. We'd made it off the motorway. And more importantly Dad had finally obeyed the Stop sign. Dad lifted the bonnet and pretended he knew what he was looking at. He then called the AA. The Boy sat calmly. Scared, but calm.
Finally our knight in fluorescent armour arrived. Brian, the AA man. Someone was watching over us that day as they sent us the loveliest, friendliest AA bloke there is. He didn't even snigger at my lack of knowledge as he handed over bits of a fanbelt-thingy and told me my water pump was seized. We'd need a tow the remaining 68 miles.
I told The Boy what was happening. He didn't want to be towed he just wanted our car to be better and he certainly didn't want to sit in a van with Brian. Brian could see he was getting upset, and he did the first of many brilliant things for us that afternoon. "There's a Burger King up the road", he said. "I'll drive you and your son there now, you can get something to eat and warm up. I'll come back here and load up the car, then I'll pick you both up."
And that's what happened. The Boy had a brief ride to get used to sitting in Brian's van and then we sat in Burger King for half an hour talking about what was going to happen. The colour started returning to his face.
It was dark when Brian returned with the car on a trailer behind his van. He helped The Boy climb up, putting on his seatbelt for him and making sure he was comfortable. The journey seemed to take forever. I chatted with Brian, every now and then he'd interrupt to ask The Boy if he was okay. He'd nod, just sitting transfixed staring at the satnav system, watching the blue arrow blinking along the yellow line the whole time. Consistent. Doing what it should. Then as we neared Nana's house and he recognised the places about him, he brightened up and began returning to himself.
"Who's that?", he said, pointing to a photograph behind Brian's head that I couldn't see from my seat.
"That's my son", said Brian, his voice filled with pride. Then he turned to me and smiled. "He's autistic too", he said.
Everything Brian had done suddenly made sense.
I have written this blog so many times over, because there's so much I wanted to say, about the strange, unspoken bond that connected the two of us as we unloaded the car that night. But if there's one thing The Boy has taught me over the years... it's that sometimes the words... the words, no matter how hard you search... sometimes, they just aren't there.
This blog is about bringing up The Boy. He's 12 years old and autistic. It's written by The Dad. It's my words, my view. Other people will think differently and have different opinions. Good.