Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Tigers Are Real...

This is Braden...and "First Tiger".

First Tiger is Braden's stuffed tiger.

Braden is 9 and First Tiger is almost 5 years old according to all "got ya' date" estimates.

We found First Tiger at the Kansas City Airport's gift shop on one of our trips to Philadelphia to visit our amazing neuroblastoma team.

Braden was bald...and going through some really big treatments...and it was believed he wasn't going to survive. We had to travel to Philly frequently in those days and flying and all the airport hustle and rush are not really that conducive to happiness for a child with autism. 

Those trips were pretty brutal and usually ended with me apologizing to about every person on the plane...beginning with the stewardesses. 

The bald head usually lent itself to increased understanding from the beginning, but those trips were still worthy of apologies.

Braden spied First Tiger while I was getting dramamine...a really bad item for me to forget for my own sake...

and for the sake of those near me.

He ran to First Tiger and grabbed him and said, "WOOK.....A TIGER!!!!"

And he squeezed him and held onto him for a very long time.  Braden isn't really a fan of stuffed's the autism factor at work so it's pretty easy to get him to put them back down.
I gave the tiger a hug and said how cute he was an then asked Braden to put him back in the bin. 

Braden picked him up and carried him to the cash register. 

Apparently, he had a different plan for the tiger.

I'm a sucker....

I never could predict when the sensory overload outburst was going to happen.  All I knew was that it was coming...and probably would occur at multiple times. 

So when he wanted "Tiger" as was his name that was initially given to him, I said yes. 

We made it onto the plane and to our seats. Braden pulled down the tray table after he put on his seat belt (buckling it initially was not a was the "keeping it buckled after buckling it initially" part that was the problem).  The tray table also presented quite a challenge because of that "gotta be in the full upright position" for take off rule.

Braden was not a fan of that rule.  

Or of the "stow your portable electronics" rule.

The stewardess didn't always get that electronics rule deal on take off, but upon landing time, almost every one came by to tell me it was okay for him to keep watching his DVD player and to not worry about shutting it off. ;)  

We all learn. 

And as I was trying to figure out how I could distract Braden so I could get the tray table up and keep the seatbelt buckled without meltdown #1 occurring, it hit me....Tiger could help!  

Tigers don't talk...and the more words you use when Braden is starting to meltdown, the worse it's going to be...

I picked up Tiger and pretended he was looking out the window, tiger didn't talk but I moved him like a puppet and tilted his head different ways in a kind of non-verbal language...and Braden was cracking UP!  Tiger took pictures with my phone, tickled Braden, licked his face, kissed him, climbed the walls, 

anything I could think of to distract him for what seemed like four hours to taxi to the runway.

Tiger was talking to Braden...

That was enough distraction for me to quietly shut the tray table and keep him from thinking about the seat belt until the engines roared for take off.

Once we could climb to 10,000 feet and turn the DVD player back on, we were usually good for a bit.

And Tiger continued to distract Braden through the entire flight. It wasn't a perfect flight, but it was FAR better than normal.

I think I only had to apologize to half the plane that day. 

Over time, Tiger helped Braden become an amazing traveler.  Now he doesn't have a single issue and people often tell him what a good job he did!  

They all notice him though because as we load, he walks down the aisle and says to every person, "Oh are you? We are going on the plane today and it's going to be FUN! I'm SO exciting!!" (he means excited but his face shows what he means)  

And after we land, he claps and loudly yells, "GOOD JOB AIRPLANE!  YOU DID IT!!!" 


First Tiger has been Braden's best tiger since that moment.  He sleeps with him every night, he goes to every clinic appointment, he travels to school with him every morning, and is there every afternoon when he gets home from school. 

First Tiger is Braden's "woobie"...remember the movie Mr. Mom? 

And he has an awful lot of lovin' rubbed into him. 

He bears the wear marks of millions of hugs and squeezes.

So much so, I was a little worried about First Tiger surviving over time.

A few months after we got Tiger, he found another tiger at the same airport...I got to wondering what if First Tiger didn't hold together?  So we bought it and now, we had a back up.

And that is when Tiger's name changed to "First Tiger"...and the new guy became...

"Second Tiger"

They look alike but Braden can tell them apart in a completely dark room in the middle of the night when he reaches over and accidentally grabs Second Tiger instead of First Tiger...

And he wakes up the entire house with, 


As you may have guessed, Second Tiger did not get held back in storage...once Braden saw him, he simply joined forces with First Tiger and they became a pair.

Then came Third Tiger...a rare White Tiger. 

Now we haul around all three tigers everywhere we go. ;)

It means we carry an extra backpack the entire time we are someplace other than home so the tigers can be with us at all times.  Braden hauls them unless his port is accessed and at that point, I carry them so he doesn't dislodge the needle.

His tigers are there while taxying to the runway...

During take off and landing...

and during turbulence, which Braden actually giggles and shouts for because it's "A ROLLER COASTER MOM"...

That is why we must have Dramamine...Mom isn't a fan of coasters.

And he hugs them when he begins to get anxious....

it helps calm him...

and that allows him to be "just a kid on a plane"

They sleep with him on the plane...and every now and then, he does sleep on the plane which is a huge accomplishment! 

That would have never happened without his tigers.

They come with us to the hospital and are with him during every event for scans.  

They are there during the nuclear injection into his tubies which will light up on scans showing any neuroblastoma cells...

and they listen to Braden emphatically tell the injection to "not light up on ANYTHING!"...

because that would mean the neuroblastoma is back.

They were with Braden during his chemotherapy shots we gave him that night in the hotel. They slept with him and he woke up with First Tiger held tightly in his arms, ready for scan day.

And they went in the scan machine with him. They have to be by his head during the injection to help him relax in the hour long scan in which he must remain motionless.

And First Tiger and Second Tiger are always snuggled on each side of his head with white tiger along the top. Mom's job is to make sure the tiger's paws don't dangle off and shut down the machine while I stroke his forehead and tell him how much I love him.

Who would have thought that a stuffed tiger could bring so much comfort to a child with autism and cancer.

His tigers aren't just stuffed animals, 

they are family.  

They are real people to him.

Margery Williams described it best in the book The Velveteen Rabbit...

“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. 
“It’s a thing that happens to you. 
When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, 
but REALLY loves you, 
then you become Real.”

And Braden loves his tigers...

THAT much.