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Monday, June 11, 2012


 We spent the past few days on vacation with my extended family. We drove five hours to get to our serene vacation spot- Door County, WI. It should have taken about 4 hours each way, but when you have four kids, trips take longer. It was a great time of family, laughter, bonding, and special memories. My extended family has such a good time being together, and I cherish those moments because they don't happen as frequently as I'd like. My kids loved bonding with cousins, aunt and uncle, and Nana and Papu. 

On the drive home today we asked the kids what their favorite parts of the vacation were, and they all said being with family. Even Ella said her favorite part was "I like my cousins. A LOT." It's pretty awesome to have a family like ours.
While we had great times and made great memories this past week, it was often hard to deal with our kids' different "issues." On the drive up to WI, we stopped at a gas station for the traditional candy and pee run. Everyone went potty and then went to get their one piece of candy, except Aidan. He has some OCD about potty stuff. He has to sit on the toilet until he feels like he definitely is empty of pee. This can take one minute, or 45. I never know when he's going to have a tough time with the potty routine, it's random. If Aidan is tired or stressed, the potty issue is more frequent. So I had the other kids pick out their candy while Alex worked with Aidan to finish up. Finally we switched, Alex paid for the goodies and took the kids to the car and I was on Aidan Potty Duty. 

He was all panicky. He was afraid that he might not totally finish going to the bathroom, and then in the car would wet his pants. He was in full freak-out mode. I've tried many different approaches to this problem over the past few months. I've tried rushing Aidan. I've tried bribing or convincing him that he's done. I've tried being tough and making him get off the toilet when I know he's really done. I've tried being understanding. I've tried being compassionate. Sometimes it's so hard to be patient with him and this issue. I am often trying to get four distracted kids out the door for something, and then Aidan puts the brakes on and won't finish going to the bathroom, and I get stressed out. I know this stresses him out more, which makes him more anxious, which makes the whole process take longer. So at this gas station, I did my very very best to be calm and patient with him. I gently reminded Aidan that our whole family was in the van waiting for him. He could have his candy when he finished. There was only one stall in the bathroom and someone else really might need to pee. But overall I just bit my tongue and let Aidan take as long as he needed in order to calm himself down and feel ok about being done with the bathroom. I never know how long this approach will take, whether Aidan will be able to calm himself down fast or if it will take forever. But I know that if I get stressed and frustrated, he does too. So after a total of about a half hour in the bathroom, we were able to get back on the road. It's hard to remember that even something as simple as a potty break at a gas station can turn into quite the patience-evaporating experience.

Papu and Jonah, watching the waves
Nana, helping Ella down to the beach
We got to the hotel and met up with the rest of my family. A joyful reunion. I feel all lit up inside when I'm with my whole family. I miss them when we're apart- they're such an integral part of why I am the way I am. It's great being together. We walked on the beach and caught up. We took the kids to the pool and played. We had dinners together and visited a petting zoo together. Great memories.

The first night, no one slept well. Our kids were all up multiple times. At one point Aidan came to find me, saying he was scared of the dark. I took him back to bed and comforted him, and only once he was all tucked in again did I realize he had been coughing so hard from his asthma that he had thrown up all over his pj's. He hadn't told me that! So I got him all changed and cleaned up, and snuggled into bed next to me. A little while later, Jonah came to find me saying he'd had nightmares. Back to Jonah's room we went. We played Musical Beds all night the first two nights. Not so much fun for Mama. Alex slept with Ella, who didn't sleep well at all the whole vacation. Not so much fun for Daddy either. 

Even though our kids were thrilled to be seeing their extended family and be in a new area with new activities, our challenges followed us on vacation, like they always do. The kids had tantrums and meltdowns. Ben and Jonah had a frantic undertone to the whole vacation..."When are we going to the beach?" "When are we having lunch?" "What is for lunch?" "What are we doing after lunch?" "What time will that be?" "When will we be going to the pool?" "Who will be there?" "When will we have to leave?" On and on. All day. Every day of vacation. It was draining. Changes are hard for my kids. Being away from home is different, and different is not good for them usually. We still do occasional vacations so that the kids get to experience new places and sights, but when we go we know that Alex and I will come home much more exhausted than when we left. Managing all our special needs at home is difficult, but away from home it's even more of a challenge. It's worth it, it's worth the great times with family, and that's the important thing. That's the thing I want my kids to take away from vacations.

It was interesting to see the kids' reactions to different things while we were in Door County. Last year when we went, they were all a year younger, so this year was very different. Walking on the beach, Ella plugged her ears to shelter herself from the noise of the waves. I hadn't even thought about how loud they must seem to her, or that she would not want to hear them. I love the water, I love the sound of waves. I would live on the beach all the time if I could. So it surprised me to see my little girl's reaction to something I think of as peaceful and meditative. I didn't think much about how to change Ella's actions of plugging her ears, I just thought about how it's one more instance where her sensory issues are impacting her life. My dad said to me that he saw that Ella was scared of the waves. I said yeah, they're too loud for her I guess. Sweet, wise Papu bent down to Ella's level. He took her hand gently away from her ear and said "Ella. See how the water comes up to the beach and splashes? That's what makes the sound that you hear. It's just the water splashing on the sand! Watch now. Here one comes. Here it goes--splash! Ok, watch again. Here comes another one--splash! It's nothing to be scared of, that noise is just the water splashing!" So you know what my little girl did? She listened to her Papu. Then she took her hands away from her ears and spent the rest of the evening running the beach with her cousin. Happy as a little clam. She didn't plug her ears again on the beach, and was just happy and carefree the whole time. I couldn't believe it! Why hadn't I thought of that? Just explaining the sound that Ella heard made her realize it wasn't scary, and she could handle it because she knew what the sound came from. Sometimes my parents are so smart. I was so grateful to Dad for helping Ella so she could enjoy playing on the beach. 

Another thing we did was to take all the kids to a petting zoo where you can feed baby goats, pet kittens, milk a goat, and see all kinds of other farm animals. I was excited to show the kids this farm, because I love zoos and animals. The minute we stepped into the farm, Aidan started shutting down. He thought he saw a bee, which terrified him. He saw the baby goats running around and started to cry. I couldn't figure out what was wrong until he said he was afraid they would bite him like the other goat did. I remembered several years ago at a petting zoo Aidan had stuck his baby fingers into a goat's pen, and the goat had bit him. That goat just clomped onto Aidan's little chubby hand and wouldn't let go no matter what I did! So then it made sense to me, why Aidan was afraid of these goats that seemed so cute and innocent to me. I put Aidan and Ella into a wagon and pulled them around the little farm zoo. That helped, having the wagon as a security object for them. But poor Ella. Every time we went to a new area, an animal would make a loud sound and startle her. She and Aidan spent the whole time at the zoo with their hands over their ears. They were scared of the goats. Scared of the turkeys, who were VERY loud. Scared of imaginary bees they thought they saw. Scared of the donkeys. Scared of everything. Ella and Aidan did attempt to feed a baby goat with a milk bottle, which impressed me. Sometimes they are very brave. Aidan enjoyed looking at the kittens, but Ella was afraid. She shut down in that little barn, finally turned to me and tearfully mouthed "Go. Out. Now." So Nana's arms wrapped around Ella, creating a circle of security and love to protect her from the donkeys, the calf, and the kittens that were running around that barn. Mom took Ella to the doorway of the barn and they watched while Aidan and I looked at the kittens. Nana would ask Ella if she wanted to go back in, but Ella would say no. Slowly, Nana inched her way into the doorway of the barn, and as long as Ella felt her Nana's embrace, she was ok with being that close to the noisy, smelly animals. I thanked God for Nana. Mom is so good at being a solid, loving, peaceful presence when you need it most. And Ella felt that and was ok. 

So Aidan and Ella saw the farm zoo, but kept those little hands firmly clamped over their ears, and their tushies in that wagon,  most of the time we were there. Other kids ran around full of zest for the animals and the freedom of a farm. Other kids milked the goat. Other kids made silly noises back to the loud animals. Other kids splashed water from the windmill onto each other and giggled. 

I was happy that my kids tolerated the experience from their perch in the wagon, and hopefully learned again about noises and smells and sights that are different from our usual life. And that "different" is ok. We survived "different." "Different" didn't hurt us. "Different" is especially tolerable if you are being hugged by your Nana.

Aidan and Ella woke me up this morning at 5:30. They were holding hands as they came to my side of the bed. They ceremoniously presented me with one almond from the kitchen that they had found. I thanked them for the almond, and told them that perhaps it was a teensy bit too early to be waking Mommy up. (They were so insanely adorable and serious, holding hands and whispering about their surprise for me, that I couldn't be very angry that they had woken me before any human should have to open her eyes.) Every morning of our vacation, we were all up by 5 or 5:30am. Gone gone gone are the days of sleeping in for this Mama. The phenomena of "sleeping in" hasn't been around in this house for the past 10 years. How I miss it so. I've found that if I'm well-rested, I can handle the kids' crises much better than if I'm exhausted and sleep-deprived. Unfortunately, I'm pretty much always sleep-deprived. This vacation was no exception. Very little sleep, between all the kids' issues all night long. So that made it more difficult for Alex and I to be patient with them during the day when they had issues. At home, there are times when the kids will go outside and play with friends in the backyard, or ride their bikes, or play basketball. They're outside, and I monitor them, but we're not on top of each other all the time. During vacations, the kids are always with us. They don't do any activities by themselves because they're too young and it's a new place, etc. So we had a lot of issues. And with the sleep-deprivation, the issues seemed more complicated and frustrating than I'm sure they were. 

Today we had a fantastic breakfast with the whole family and then hit the road for home. The kids had had a very difficult morning prior to leaving the hotel, but I was hopeful that if we could just get on the road and head home, things would be ok. Wrong. We pulled into a gas station for snacks and a potty break. This time, luckily, Aidan did not have any OCD potty issues. Back on the road. Until a short while later when Ben had to go to the bathroom again. Hit another gas station. Back on the road. Then Ben had a complete meltdown about something only Ben would find frustrating, and the meltdown was so crazy that we had to exit the highway and sit in the parking lot of a grocery store until Ben had time to rest in the grass and calm down. Back on the road. Then everyone got hungry. I think we stopped every other exit, all the way home. I drove most of the way because Alex was so tired from his nights up with Ella. At some point, after breaking up fights in the back seat, handing fries and nuggets down our assembly line of kids, and putting in about 300 DVD's, Alex and Ella both napped, and the boys settled down a little bit. 

We finally made it home. I wasn't sure it would happen, but we did make it. Vacations are always such a wonder. New sights, smells, sounds, seeing new people...but there is nothing as great as coming home. To our messy, lived-in, loved-in house. Comfort. A sigh of relief that we made it. I'm grateful for the times we can go on vacation and show our kids a different piece of the world. And I'm grateful when we make it home at the end of the vacation, to the known routine of our life. I'm grateful for all the hugs our whole family shared this past week, all the giggles, all the walks on the beach looking for sea shells. I'm grateful for the times in the pool watching my kids and their amazing cousins swim and play and have fun. I'm grateful for Papu's wisdom that helped Ella learn to listen to the waves, and Nana's secure embrace that helped her participate in our farm day. I'm thankful that as I put Jonah to bed tonight, he said he wishes Papu was here. I love that Aidan's favorite part of his vacation was playing with his cousins. I'm glad that Ben wants to do this all over again, "as soon as possible." It was a great vacation.

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