Our journey in the Autism Spectrum

Posts tagged ‘Lake Michigan’

Surfing Solo

This summer, due to many variables, we had a very difficult time trying to plan our family’s annual trek to visit relatives in the Michiana area. It seemed  we would have to scrap the trip completely this year.  There was just no way that Big Daddy Chameleon could take vacation during the ONLY weekend we had open to take our trip due to work commitments. We knew the kids would be very disappointed, especially Henry, who had been talking about going back to the beach (Lake Michigan) since our trip last summer!

Grant and I were pondering what we would tell the kids and we were dreading how Henry in particular might take this news. We were conversing on this matter via our cell phones as that it the only way we can have a real conversation without (much) interruption. We hung up still feeling bad about not taking the trip.

In a 30-second moment of insanity I called him right back, “What if I just took the kids?”

I was expecting him to say, “No. No. We go as a family or we stay home as a family. That would just be too much to ask of you.”

What he actually said was, “That’s a great idea! I was kind of thinking that same thing myself but I didn’t want to ask that of you.”

Uh, oh! Looks like I’d be surfing this trip solo.

Just before we left on our excursion I wrote this.

Fast forward a few days. The van was packed, DVD players ready to go, gas tank was full and the GPS was programmed. All kids are loaded up. I’m too focused to be nervous or worried. I just want to get there.  This is the first time I’m taking the all the kids anywhere beyond a 30 minute drive all by myself. I think Big Daddy Chameleon was more worried and upset than he was letting on.

We’re finally on the road. Everyone is plugged in to their own earphones. Henry and Lucy are watching their DVD’s in the middle seats and the teenagers are listening to their iPods in the very back. I’m driving solo with the passenger seat next to me empty. I love it! I feel almost giddy about doing this on my own! For over 2 hours it’s just me and MY choice of music and I am jammin’ out! Buena Vista Social Club, Little Feat…
Then the DVD’s end, we slow down to a crawl due to road construction, and someone needs a bathroom break. The reality of doing this trip by myself begins to set in. I delegate the teens to help keep an eye on the little ones when we find a place to stop and use the restrooms, re-set the DVD’s and get back on the road…which is STILL at barely a crawl. We snack, we drink. “How much longer?” and “Are we there yet?” begins.  But overall, I’m still feeling pretty good about how things are going.

Until GPS takes me off the highway and into downtown Indianapolis during rush hour. This is not the way I had expected as I had just assumed the GPS would take me around the city as we usually go. I continue to follow the GPS directions until she directs me to a street that is clearly blocked off and I would have to figure out my own way around.

I wasn’t panicked yet but I knew what was coming. Henry watches and listens to the GPS so he knows when I am clearly not following Karen’s directions. (Yes, my husband named our GPS Karen. He has a weird sense of humor sometimes.)  Anyway, hearing Karen say, “Recalculating.” and seeing that I am not following Karen’s pink line, throws Henry into a fit! When I continue to try to drive through downtown traffic and get us reoriented, it makes things worse and Henry moves into panicked meltdown mode. No amount of my reassurance or my overwhelming attempt at calm is doing any good. I call Grant on the cell to see if he is at all familiar with Indy. He is not. He also had expected the GPS to keep us on the interstate and around the city. Now I’ve succeeded in freaking him out as well.

“No worries.” I say brightly. “I’ll get us back on track here.” I hang up the cell phone while I’m silently cursing Karen.

We continue to weave our way through streets full of traffic. I call up one of the teens to come be my co-pilot until we can navigate our way back on the highway. Julie (Molly’s friend we have invited along in this adventure) volunteers and works her way up front. Just then I have to stop a bit short at a light and Julie trips over the snack basket and trash can smacking her head into the dashboard as her shoulder hits the stereo button on and music blares!
Now the real adventure begins! The waves are picking up…

Lucy is now reacting and comments and reprimands come from Molly in the back.  Henry’s meltdown increases so that he is yelling and screaming full volume and has unbuckled his seatbelt. I slow to another stop light and lose it. I yell. Suddenly and loudly.  I reach back to grab Henry to get him back into his seat. Except he is moving all around and I end up smacking him in the leg. Now he’s crying and hops back into the seat. The girls become silent.

A wave just crashed over my head and my surf board just flew out from beneath my feet. I’ve already lost my temper and we’re not even there yet!

I collect myself and breathe. The girls remain silent but Henry is screaming again. I do my best to ignore him and get us back on the correct highway. I call Grant to let him know we’ve righted ourselves. Henry is still melting down so I offer him my Nook. His meltdown immediately stops like a switch has been flipped…he’s quiet. For about 10 minutes.

The next 2 hours or so, the van is full of complaints, arguing, and whining. I remain calm and just keep driving. When I can’t take it anymore and Henry is climbing out of his seat again, I pull over to the side of the road. I keep  deep breathing, determined to stay on my board this time. I explain to Henry that when he is quiet and calm we will continue on but not until then. It took about 10 minutes. A LONG 10 minutes. He calms down and buckles up and we are back on the road.

The sky is clouding up and getting quite dark. It begins to rain.  My fuel light comes on. We’re all tired and hungry. I stop to get fuel. I underestimate just how far yet we have to go. We are almost 2 hours behind our scheduled time to arrive. I find out later than Grant has been calling his aunt to see if we’re there yet. In all the chaos I wasn’t hearing my cell phone and even if I had, I was too focused on the road to answer it.

Once we did arrive at our destination, it was all I could do not to start crying. I was so relieved! Grant’s relatives fed and watered us! The kids settled in. Immediately upon entering the front door all of the stress and crying and chaos melted away! They were so happy and excited to get the real part of the trip started!

It turned out to be one of our best visits ever. (Sorry, Grant!) We had wonderful weather and spent well over 5 hours at Lake Michigan the next day! That’s our longest stay at the beach to date. There were no more meltdowns, bickering, or whining. I was able to actually relax some!

Another day was spent hanging poolside and visiting with more relatives. It was just so NICE! AND the kids were having FUN!  I’ve never seen my son  so worn out. It was amazing! All of my husband’s family there are just incredible folks.

After just two full days of fun, it was already time for the long drive back home. This time I made sure I had directions to keep us on the interstate AROUND Indy. I also did a better job of prepping the boy for the long ride home, beginning with the fact that there would be a portion of the trip that we were NOT going to be listening to Karen but that it would be okay. Once we got around that part, I promised McDonald’s.

Packed up and back on the road we still had some restlessness. I get that and it was manageable! At one point, after hearing Karen GPS “recalculate” about a dozen times Henry pipes up, “Oh just shut it, Karen! Not you mom, GPS Karen.”

Perhaps I was feeling a bit too cocky about surfing solo… a few hours from home, I caught up with  Grant to give him an update. Of course he asked if things were going okay. I replied, “Ya know, the kids are doing much better this car ride home and they were excellent during our stay. So much so that I would consider doing this trip again sometime by myself with them.” Crap. Did I just say that? Out loud?

Crazy? Yep. And certainly not something I’d choose to do alone unless I absolutely had too, but it was an experience that unexpectedly boosted my confidence as a parent. I WAS a pretty good parent. I COULD handle it. I could surf these waves of the autism spectrum, and parenting for that matter, and do it solo. But next trip I am definitely hoping for tandem surfing!

Surfing the Trip

Every summer we make our annual family trek to see Grant’s extended family in the Michiana Area. Though family there is always warm and welcoming and just plain ‘ol awesome, since having Henry (and then Lucy soon after), this trip has become more of a stressful, anxiety-inducing exercise in chaos- on- the-road rather than a lovely, relaxing vacation as we used to pretend it would be; those cruel waves of autism-ness crashing all around us with rarely a break. A bit of a side note: this particular year, leading up to this trip was all the more stressful as I totalled my van the week before. You can see that here. So not only were we scrambling to get that issue settled and find a new car, Grant had to adjust his very efficient packing procedure for the new vehicle. But I digress…

Every year Grant’s family is more than supportive and accommodating to the needs of our growing, changing tribe and our peculiar particular ways.  Grant and I have learned to accept that this trip is no vacation and to appreciate whatever little time we have to visit with everyone…which never seems long enough for us but sometimes plenty long for the little ones. 

Over the last couple of years Henry really has come a long way in his development and this has made a big difference in our trek experience. Interestingly the 6-8 hour drive (depending on traffic and rest stops we need to make) hasn’t ever been too much of an issue. (Thank you mobile DVD players!) He seems to be learning to acclimate to the “new” environment (we stay with the same relatives every year) better and faster with each visit. Meltdowns and constant wails  of “ I want to go home!” have diminished greatly as has the general “manic rambunctiousness” and irritability.  (I’m quite proud of myself actually!)  😉 There are still many things that we have to pass on now because of  the little ones, such as our leisurely shopping and sight-seeing trips to Saugatuck, New Buffalo or even the outlet mall in Michigan City. Eating out has become a thing of the past. At least for now. Oh how I yearn for a Butler burger or a Stray Dog…

But we’ve discovered new ways of enjoying our time as a family with family. We’ve had to just let go of how we think or wish things to be and are much more accepting of letting things go as they will. Our relatives have accepted that we are okay with staying in for meals when everyone else goes out.  We don’t have to participate in every activity all the time and odds are we won’t. We have all learned that what matters most is getting a chance to be together and a lot times this means family coming to where we are and visiting on Henry’s terms. It is what it is for now. Keeping the little ones happy in an environment they are comfortable in allows the rest of us a much more relaxed time for catching up!

Weather and time permitting, the last few of years we have ventured to try a day or two at nearby beach on Lake Michigan. We were ready to accept the fact that if our day at the beach lasted 5 minutes or 5 hours we had to give it a try. Our first visit to the Lake with Henry two years ago was a pleasant surprise! Although he was cautious about the water and didn’t want to get wet, he still enjoyed playing in the sand and dipping his feet in the waves washing ashore. He never forgot that experience and continued to periodically talk about it until the next year when we tried it again. This time with life jackets on, both he and Lucy spent roughly 2 hours plus playing in the waves for two days in a row!

Fast forward to this year and our most recent trip last week. Whenever we would talk of our trip, all three kids would mention the beach and “Are we going to the beach?” “We have to go to the beach!” “How much longer until we get to the beach?”.  From the moment we pulled in to Aunt Janet and Uncle Ric’s, Henry was ready to get to the lake! This trip we were able to spend two wonderful afternoons at the lake with barely a meltdown! (Only one incident of sand in the eye caused a bit of an issue and really, I couldn’t much blame him!)  For a kid who has (and still is many times) been quite oppositional at. every. single. turn, this year was such a relief! The battles and outbursts at any and every  request no matter how routine or simple were almost nonexistent! This is HUGE for us! HUGE! I’m not sure I’ve stress enough how HUGE this is for us! I am giddy at the prospect that there is true improvement here and that maybe I could hope for continued improvement in the future…dare I hope? Watching the kids play in the waves, all three together, HAPPY together, I felt as if we were hanging 10 on our boards just riding out those gnarly waves of the spectrum! (Okay sure…not a lot of surf on Lake Michigan but just go with me  on this one, okay?)

At one point Grant and I lounged in our beach chairs (a first time for the two of us to be able to sit and relax together!) watching Molly and Henry and Lucy at peace in the water and with each other.  I turned to him and said, “I kinda almost feel relaxed! Like this might be almost a vacation sort of.”  

He grinned and patted my leg and said, “Good. You deserve it. Now shhhhh! Or you’ll ruin it!”


[Shameless Blog Promotion: Click Babble’s Top 25 Autism Spectrum Blogs and vote for me, A Chameleon’s Blog!  I am the underdog here and certainly would love to be able to break into that Top 25! I feel our story is important and love to share and connect with others affected by ASD. Thank you for your support! ~ Karen]

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