Bright blue water, pina coladas, Bob Marley songs, children’s innocent laughter, quality family time. I imagine the kids splashing and laughing in the resort pool together, my husband and I clinking our umbrella-clad drinks to a toast about being blessed with such an amazing family. Also, in this dream, I look gorgeous in a black bathing suit, round black sunglasses, and a huge black sun hat. My legs are bronze with a suntan. My bikini line is smooth and waxed without even one stray hair that I may have missed. Ahhh, vacation!
I have been disillusioned more times than I would like to admit about vacationing with my family. Reality has hit me hard, too many times to count. I have impulsively booked our family on island-type vacations a handful of times. I truly believed that the picture in my head was exactly how it would be. Yes, I am forty-something years old and yes, I should know better. But, I wanted so badly for it to be a wonderful experience, that I ignored the fact that my husband and I have four children diagnosed with a myriad of invisible special needs and we tend not to do well in these situations.
I believe I have finally learned the difference between a vacation and a trip. It has taken me many years to finally get it through my thick skull how HUGE this difference is.
I consider a “vacation” to be a time and place to relax in quiet, enjoy a meal I did not have to cook and don’t need to clean up, and have someone serve me drinks all day with a smile. If my children happen to be with me, they are being entertained far enough away that I can’t hear them or, they are not with me at all. A vacation is also where I can finish an entire book without interruption. You can spot a woman on vacation anywhere: she is the one with the goofy smile and look of pure contentment.
A “trip” looks and feels very different. Mothers would describe a “trip” as doing the same things we do at home, but in a different location. We still cook, clean, handle the kids, and do many loads of laundry on a trip. In fact, trips are even harder than regular life for women because we are tasked with our everyday duties PLUS the added bonus of planning and executing fun activities and adventures for the entire family. These activities must be appropriate for everyone between the ages of two and ninety-two, and be so amazing that the memories made will stay in their hearts for a lifetime. Easy, right?
Now, I know I am not the only parent who has schlepped beach chairs, coolers, boogie boards, and towels down the sandy beach as my children run ahead, empty handed. Sweating, I curse under my breath as I slather sunblock on these little humans who refuse to stand still for even one second. They run into the ocean while I spend the next twenty minutes setting up chairs, getting the cooler and snacks situated and listening to my husband grumble while he tries to put the umbrella up in a way that will not impale someone with one gust of wind. Are we having fun yet? Now that I am aware of these differences, I keep my expectations in check and therefore, get less upset while we are together.
The descriptions of vacations versus trips are similar for families with neurotypical children as well as atypical children. On a crowded beach, inundated with families, it can be almost impossible to differentiate a family raising a child with invisible special needs from a family raising neurotypical children. Almost.
One summer, it became obvious to everyone at the beach, that we were the former. This particular summer, we were having a heck of a time managing my son’s ADHD symptoms. Unfortunately, his aggression and outbursts had become dangerous and it was heartbreaking to see him so out of control and upset. While my husband was in the ocean playing with two of our kids, I was on the blanket doling out snacks to our other two. Well, goldfish were not the snack of choice for my kiddo, and he let me know LOUD and CLEAR. I watched as his anger over this cheesy snack escalated. He began screaming at the top of his lungs, “Why do you hate me? You are an idiot! I hate you and hope you die!” I was definitely embarrassed, but more than that, I was sad. My poor baby had no control over himself. He grabbed an unoccupied beach chair and hurled it, like a frizbee, in the direction of other beach-goers. How that chair did not injure someone is an act of God. I restrained him on that blanket for thirty minutes until he stopped resisting and his sobs became whimpers. I knew everyone was watching us. I knew they saw me crying as I rocked my son back and forth, whispering “I love you”. This, all because of goldfish.
Vacation, my ass.