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Monday, March 25, 2013

Florida Bound!

We are lucky enough to be having a fabulous Spring Break trip to Clearwater Beach, FL, with one of our sets of grandparents. We flew out of Chicago yesterday, despite a long weather delay. Aidan has been having anxiety about his ears popping on the airplane for about two weeks, and was adamant that he was not accompanying us on our lovely vacation. When our taxi came to take us to the airport, he decided grudgingly that he would come too.

Ben and Jonah stayed overnight at Grandpa and Grandma's house the night before our trip. They got to pick out a special dinner that night, watch special TV shows, and sleep in Grandma's special rooms. Our kids are lucky to have three wonderful sets of grandparents, and they get a huge kick out of spending time with all of them.

The best part about that arrangement the night before our trip was that I had time to make sure everything was packed and ready to go without too much frantic Kid Energy. When we're preparing for a trip, the kids are like animals who sense a storm and go crazy. So I spend most of my time calming crazed kids down and then there's no time for packing, no matter how early I begin the whole process of preparing for a trip. Having only two kids at home just makes getting ready easier. Then all four kids get more attention and everyone is happier. Especially Mommy.

We all got through the excitement of checking into the airport and going through security easily. We have gone on a Spring Break trip with Grandma and Grandpa for four years in a row now, so all the grownups have traveling with the kids down to a science. Aidan was still in Shut Down Mode, his nerves a mess with dread about the impending flight. But we just carried on and carried Aidan along with us.

We got breakfast in the airport and ate on the floor at our gate because there were no seats left. Our flight was delayed several times because of a storm over Florida. Jonah, especially, has a very hard time with situations like this. He can't handle boredom well. He can't handle waiting well. He can't handle changes well. He can't handle the unexpected well. So it was a challenge for our guy to maintain his cool while experiencing the stress of all of those things at once. He worked hard to deal with the situation as best he could. I was proud of him.

I found some earplugs at a store in the airport for Aidan to cut down on the ear-popping he was so worried about. For once that morning, he beamed.

As the time to board the plane finally approached, Ella started totally freaking out. She wanted to be held, and even requested her blankie- something that is reserved for sleep or very stressful situations. I finally got out of her through her tears and whimpering that she was scared of landing. Landing on an airplane is very loud and dramatic and the force of it pushes your whole body forward in your seat. I guess Ella remembered that from our Spring Break flight last year, and was scared to death.

As we entered the walkway leading to the airplane, I held Ella as she cried, and did my best to calm her fears. When we entered the airplane, we touched the outside of the door, and laughed together that we were touching the outside of a big, cool airplane! But Ella's laughter was short-lived. She sat on my lap in my seat and cried as the other passengers boarded the plane. We sat with Jonah, who was thrilled that this vacation was FINALLY getting underway! Then a flight attendant told us that Ella had to be buckled into her own seat because she is three years old. I should have lied and said she was two.

I gave all the kids a bag of chewy candy for take-off, since they don't like gum. And we watched the TV on the seat in front of us. Ella did well during take-off, except for when Jonah opened the window shade and showed his sister the clouds we were flying through. Then she got scared again.

About every three minutes during our flight, Ella would ask me "Is this Landing?" I would say no, this isn't landing. We have a long time until we land. Watch four more shows and then we'll land.

We had to wait to land because of the bad weather, so that extended Ella's dread. As we flew over Panama City, Ella sat on my lap and cried while she waited for the inevitable landing. She cried so much she fell asleep just before we landed. I avoided the flight attendant's looks and prayed she would let Ella sleep on my lap until we did land, and luckily she did. Ella slept peacefully in my arms throughout the entire landing.

Aidan was bright-eyed and smiley as we exited the plane. Ben had gotten to sit by Grandma during the flight, so he had been super excited and happy. Jonah had had to deal with MORE waiting and loss of control and unknown as we were in our holding pattern for an extra hour, waiting for weather to clear so we could land. He was happy to be on the ground. And Ella was her bubbly little self, relieved that she didn't have to deal with the landing part of the airplane ride. I think the grownups were all worn out from trying to make the kids' experience as peaceful and happy as possible.

We are staying at a gorgeous hotel, the Sandpearl Resort, right on a soft white beach. It's chilly here right now, but sunny and just beautiful. Last night when we arrived, we let the kids swim until dark and had dinner at the pool. Even though it was pretty cold, the kids were thrilled to swim.

Today was our big swimming day, because it will be the warmest day of our stay and the pool is outside. Aidan had a little panic attack this morning because of being worried about getting cold in the pool. He just refused to leave the hotel room. His anxiety and meltdown made Ben and Jonah feel anxious and they started getting riled up because of that. Finally we had Jonah and Ben take Ella into the hallway to wait, Daddy took the backpack, and I just picked Aidan up and we walked out the hotel door. Aidan was not happy.

As we walked down the hall and I held yet another whimpering, scared child in my arms, I told Aidan that I knew he was worried about some things (sometimes he can't verbalize what he's worried about, but just knows he is worried), but I would take care of him and make sure he was ok. After a minute of letting that sink in, he said "Ok. I'll go with you." Good, because we're half way to the pool already. Once we got in the elevator, Aidan was able to leave my arms, put on his shoes, and participate in fighting about who got to push which elevator button. Ah, back to normal.

Aidan stayed in his clothes for part of the morning, unwilling to put on his swimming suit. It was chilly, but after walking the beach looking for seashells, Jonah and Ben couldn't wait to hit the pool. I talked to Aidan about what his worries were. He said when his suit and swim shirt get wet, he doesn't like the cold feeling on his skin of the material. We talked about strategies to deal with this problem, and eventually we came up with a plan about how to successfully swim. Because he did want to swim. His anxiety was just creating a roadblock we needed to stomp out first.

We had a great, relaxing day. The sun felt so good on our skin, despite the wind and chill. We bundled up and Grandma and I took turns taking Ella to the beach. All she wanted to do was hold our hands and run in the soft sand. When I took her, I sat in the sand while she walked away from me. Then she would turn, arms outstretched, and run at me full-force. I would open my arms and she would plow into me, knocking me onto my back in the sand. She would shake with joyful laughter. We had so much fun.
Grandpa isn't feeling well, so he had some time to rest today. Daddy watched the boys play in the pool. Once Aidan got in, he refused to get out. Jonah was the one who finally got Aidan into the water by showing him a cool way to jump in. When Jonah got out at the end of the day to warm up, Ben stayed in the pool and played with Aidan. Sometimes there is nothing better than a big brother.

At one point today, Ella pinched her hand. She cried for an eternity, as only Ella can. Because Ella tends to be on the EXTREMELY sensitive side of the SPD spectrum, the rest of the day she has had to have her entire lower arm and hand wrapped in a sturdy napkin so she doesn't see the red mark the pinch left on her soft, perfect skin. It's a little ridiculous. But she won't agree to a bandaid because she hates bandaids. She won't put her hand in her pocket so as not to see the mark. She just wants her entire arm wrapped up and incapacitated. She went to a fancy dinner at a bistro with the napkin on her arm. She even had to go to bed with the napkin on her arm.

I always think it's great fun to go on vacation with our family, because it's so interesting. Maybe it's the psych major in my coming out, but there is never a dull moment. Someone is always worried about something to the point of having a complete meltdown. Someone else is stressed about a lack of routine and not knowing when something will happen. Someone won't eat her burger at lunch because it looks wrong somehow- probably because she is used to squished, flat, Happy Meal burgers as opposed to this real, round burger she was presented with today. Someone else is terrified of fish so is dreading the visit to the aquarium tomorrow. (The only think keeping this particular boy- Ben- calm about the visit is that Grandma said if he tries the aquarium and hates it, she'll wait outside with him, bless her soul.)

I love vacations despite the fact that they are a lot of work. As all parents know, it would be a lot easier to stay home. But I think about how much our trips enrich the kids' lives. They get to see things we would never see without these Grandparent Trips. They are privileged to go places many people will never go. They are put into situations that challenge them in new ways. Their weaknesses are brought to the surface and we have to find ways to conquer their fears. They have to practice things like waiting. Or being flexible.

Over the years of our Spring Break trips, I have definitely seen a big change for the positive in Ben and Jonah especially, since they are the oldest. Granted, Jonah insisted at the airport that I find a way to make the pilot let us on the airplane and just fly through the bad weather in Florida, but when I explained that there are some things we have no control over and sometimes we just have to wait, he had the chance to practice having patience.

Our Spring Break trips are magical. We go to amazing places we would never see without Grandpa and Grandma taking us there. We have the luxury of having a one-to-one kid-to-adult ratio, which makes traveling so much easier. We have time with grandparents who obviously, genuinely love and cherish our kids (as do all their grandparents, of course). Grandpa and Grandma are not worried about what our kids might do or say that will be inappropriate or draw unwanted attention. They are not afraid to show our kids a part of the world they would normally not get to see. They are not worried about our kids having meltdowns. They know the kids will do their best to behave in an appropriate way, and the kids always live up to that expectation.

These incredible trips we are so privileged to be a part of are enriching our kids' lives in so many ways. I have always loved to travel because it was a huge part of my life as a kid, and I'm so excited that because of Grandma and Grandpa's huge hearts, my kids get to experience airplanes and hotels and beaches and pools and aquariums. I love every part of our Spring Break trips. The view of the beach is breathtaking. The chocolates on our pillows at night are a treat. The bacon at breakfast that I didn't have to make is so tasty. The crisp sheets on my bed that I also didn't have to make are relaxing. But the best part about our trip is being with Grandma and Grandpa, and watching the generation before me and the generation after me light up each others' world.




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