Sunday, February 19, 2012

Holiday Road

Every once in a blue moon, my family attempts to do something normal, like take a weekend trip to the family cabin. It never, ever works out very well. Despite our best efforts, the unique (and I daresay difficult) dynamics of our family manage to somehow torpedo the fun getaway that we always hope for. There just is no "getting away" from some things.

For Jack, a few days out of his structured routines is pretty tortuous, and not really his idea of a good time. For Jeff and I, leaving behind the organization of our Jack-proof home and the supportive people who help us manage our way through each weekend is really the opposite of a vacation. Jack struggles to eat, sleep, relieve himself, and settle down when we go away--even to a place like the cabin that he has been visiting his entire life. I think he enjoys some aspects of a trip: stopping at McDonald's en route, admiring Grandpa's electric trains, and going for rides on the atv. But for the other ninety-seven percent of the trip, it's a struggle to calm him down and help him cope. One of us is constantly on Jack-duty, while the other takes care of the rest of the boys, helps with meal-prep and clean-up, and tries to hang out with the other extended family members at the cabin.

My father-in-law always says that there is no such thing as a vacation when one brings one's young children along. It is, rather, a trip. I agree with this assessment and I would also add that our "trips" which involve a person with intense special needs are essentially a journey to the dark side of my mental health. Why do we attempt it in the first place, you might be asking yourself? We attempt it because our other children want to go, and our family members encourage us to go, and we ourselves would like to see that elusive peaceful getaway actually happen. Hope springs eternal, you know.

I feel like I should create one of those posters circulating all over Facebook regarding different occupations, which feature a pair of photo triptychs with subtitles like "what my mom thinks I do," "what I think I do," and "what I actually do." Mine would have a picture of my family laughing and strolling happily through the lovely outdoor setting that is the cabin; next to it the "reality photo" would feature Jack, amped on sugar and little rest, shredding some of the household decor or maybe leaving a deuce in an unoccupied corner of the house.

After a wearying and unsuccessful cabin trip last July, we have stayed away for months. We miss that beautiful place, but we are not superhumans. We can only expect so much from ourselves and our brood. This weekend, we decided to split the family into two factions in order to meet the needs of each kid. Jeff stayed home with Jack while I took the other three to the cabin. Did it work? Yes, I guess. Jack had a lovely weekend one-on-one with Jeff. Jacky just loves it when we all leave and he has one parent all to himself, as well as the run of the house. It kind of makes me sad that he enjoys having us all clear out, but Jeff pointed out that it's kind of a little vacation from the norm for Jack, but all happily within the familiar confines of home. There were also several poo mishaps which weren't a big deal at home, but which would have caused havoc had they happened at the cabin.

The other three boys were really very good. Aside from some issues with sleeping in a new place which resulted in a sleep-deprived zombie mom (what else is new), the trip was pleasant. I'm glad the boys could spend time with their cousins and their grandparents. I'm happy that I got to spend some time visiting with my siblings and that I could enjoy the quiet, wintery beauty of a fresh snowfall in the mountains. But I still feel disappointed that we couldn't all be together this weekend. I wonder if the iconic family vacation will always evade our grasp.

My support group friends understand that it's not wise to look too far into the future and wonder about what things will be like next summer, or next year, or in ten years. It can be extremely depressing to envision the very real possibilities. But I sometimes slip into the unproductive trap of wondering if the classically rendered "family vacation," wherein all family members go along and a good time is had by all, is a pipe dream for us. Who knows? Zombie Mom will have to get to the bottom of it later though, because all boys are now sleeping.


  1. Random thought- My aunt has a son (who is now in his late teens) that has autism and every family reunion I was trying to figure who the extra young adult was- turns out she had a personal nanny for her son that accompanied her on all of their vacations and she was the designated Joe runner- constant attention to Joe yet she still managed to feel just like one of the family. I always keep that in the back of my mind, that it's just another option for those days I feel desperate. Sorry to interject suggestions- I know sometimes that's annoying but just wanted to share. I am glad you at least got a mini vacation and a chance to sit for a minute :) We too will be taking separate vacations soon for the same reason- it's a good thing these kids are cute! ;]

  2. As an outside observer that has followed your family story for many years, I have to say that it sounds to me like Jack prefers the low-key, low-stimulus environment of home. More people=more stimulus. Jack seems to react to "energy" like dogs do. As I've been reading your insights it's occurred to me that Jack responds negatively to high energy levels. The cabin is probably like a torture chamber for him. I can empathize, being a bit of a solitary, peace loving sort of person, myself. I was an only child, so I am more used to a mellow home environment. His idea of a break sounds perfect! I know how you'd love to have all of you together and I empathize with that, but maybe it's just better for everyone to take a break in the ways they like best. Sounds like your decision worked out perfect for all parties involved. And I agree with your Dad-even if you don't have a special needs child-vacation is more like work with young kids. Heck, just trying to go skiing or to the store can be a major ordeal! Hang in there and know that I think of you often. :)