Check engine light

My best friend is throwing a surprise birthday party for her mom tonight at 5:30 pm. The party is being held at a diner just a couple of blocks away from children’s museum that we went to a few weeks ago during the field trip. The museum is celebrating its own first birthday with special activities and free admission today. When I saw that announcement, I realized this is a great opportunity. I can take Philip to the museum so that he can get his sensory-seeking satisfied before we go to the party.

In order for the plan to work, Philip has to take an early afternoon nap. I have very little control over Philip’s nap time. Sure, I can do my best to make the conditions right: wake him up at his normal time; feed him breakfast, lunch and possibly a snack; arrange for physical activity and mental stimulation.

That’s why I loaded Philip into the car around 9:45 am and headed to Cooke Wildlife Conservation Area. As part of the Mohican Wildlife Weekend, there were hikes, crafts, demonstrations and hands-on activities advertised at this program site. I’ve never been to this particular park, and there was no guarantee that the activities would be Philip-appropriate, but I thought it was worth checking out. Besides, if this event was a bust, there was always the tot lot at the city park and the children’s area at the library. I knew that no matter, I would find a way to let Philip play.

We were cruising along the state route when I noticed my that the check engine light on the dashboard.


I realized that, if something was wrong with the car, I certainly didn’t want to stop at a nature preserve eleven miles from home and not be able to restart my car. As soon as I found a place to turn the car around, I headed back toward the city.

The light stayed on.

I cut short my other planned stops. We stayed at the tot lot for ten minutes. This was long enough for Philip to run several laps around the perimeter, climb the equipment, analyze the wood chips on the ground for foreign objects and otherwise enjoy the outdoors before getting too cold. The car restarted, and I drove to the library.

The check engine light was still on.

We were probably only at the library for fifteen minutes. This was long enough to return our materials, make our mandatory stop at the aquarium, play with and put away some blocks, grab some DVDs and check out. I considered staying longer, but I decided against it for a couple of reasons. The first reason was that I missed a call from my mom. I going to the party tonight with my parents, and they have agreed to pick up balloons for the event. I thought the call was related to this, so I figured time was of the essence. The issue of time was the second reason for our abbreviated visit to the library. Since it is Saturday, our mechanic only works a half-day. He shop is an hour’s drive away, so I knew that I better get the car home so that I could break the news to Peter.

The check engine light was still on as I drove home.

That small, but persistent light changed all of my plans. I was frustrated, and a little pissed off. It made me worry and ratcheted up my stress level. I have no idea what the light means. It could just be a faulty sensor like last time, an easy fix. On the other hand, it could be a signal of impending engine failure, a costly prospect. The light is a warning, but offers no answers.

My husband should be calling with a report soon. In the mean time, I lucked out. Despite the change of plans, Philip is taking a nap. Before he fell asleep, I was able to play at home with him and enjoy some great cuddle time.

Napping, even though things didn't go according to plan

Yesterday, as part of her Autism Awareness Month blogathon, fellow autism mom and blogger at love many trust few wrote a post about lullabies. In the post she noted the importance of music to her and explained how she starting sharing music with her son as soon as he came into her life. She wrote, “I wanted him to share my love of music, but like most things it didn’t quite pan out the way I thought it would.”

These words resonated with me. I used to teach music, so I was prepared with a vast repertoire of folk songs, finger plays, singing games and the like to share with my newborn son. I thought I would do everything right. I imagined teaching songs to Philip just as I had with my nieces when they were younger. I could hear in my mind my son saying, “Again! Again!” so that might I repeat his favorite lullaby. I pictured us making up our own lyrics to songs. I thought we would be singing together.

Early on Philip appeared to enjoy music. He recognized certain tunes. He spun around to music, and we would say, “Look, he’s dancing!”

And then the check engine light came on.

Soon, we realized that the spinning was ever-present, not in response to music. Philip wasn’t singing songs with me-he wasn’t even talking. Hell, he was barely vocalizing. And we weren’t making or enjoying music together. Instead, Philip seemed to be in his own world.

When that metaphorical check engine light came on, I was worried. I was frustrated. I was stress. I was scared. I was pissed off.

This is not what I had imagined. This is not what I had planned.


My husband called. He is on his way home. He didn’t explain the specifics, but told me that the car was an easy fix. The check engine light is off in the car.

My parents have the same model of car, and the check engine light comes on periodically. My dad told me that a can of additive usually makes it disappear.

Eventually, the ten-year-old car will reach the point that it is no longer functioning. Maybe the next time that the check engine light comes on, it will be a sign that it is time to trade in the car. I guess we’ll need to be saving up for that eventuality.


The metaphorical check engine light is still on, but at least we know what is causing it. And, like that can of additive that works on my parents’ car, we have strategies to use in response to Autism Spectrum Disorder. The underlying issue will remain, but we are learning to cope.

Yes, things have not gone according to plan, and the future is still uncertain. But unlike the car, I wouldn’t trade Philip in for anything.


3 thoughts on “Check engine light

  1. Turns out we have a few more things in common! Music and a car that ha seen better days. I hate those warning lights! Thanks for the link…only a couple of days to go for April, but it’s autism awareness in our homes every day isn’t it?


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