The vacation that was.

The annual family trip to the shore has come and gone. It was.. an interesting one this year. Let’s start at the very beginning. A very good place to start.

Day 1

This year, we had to take two cars. Our parents finally retired the Grand Caravan, so packing space was at a premium and packing less was not an option that crossed anyone’s minds. Therefore, my car and their car got loaded up. Dude was given the option of riding with me or Dad, and he chose me. I may have forced his hand by nonchalantly mentioning that I had made a Disney playlist specifically for the ride, but still. He chose me!

It’s been a running joke in the extended family for years that our family of four never leaves for vacation when we say we’re leaving for vacation. We tend to miss our planned departure time by many hours. When I was a child obsessed with boogie-boarding and building sand castles, this ticked me off greatly. I would hover and glare at my parents, my stare getting more “if looks could kill” every minute past 12pm that we didn’t leave.

Now that I’m older, I’ve given up any hope of leaving around midday. This year, we got on the road around 4:15pm and I was only mildly disappointed. That’s a little something I like to call Personal Growth.

As soon as we got into the car, Dude looked at the stereo system expectantly and declared, “HAKUNA MATATA!”

“It’s on the playlist, bud,” I responded. “I’ll put it on shuffle and Hakuna Matata will eventually come on.”

Naturally it was the third to last song that shuffled through the playlist.

Still, Dude loved it. When Disney was done, he requested marching band music. He was smirky and talkative and radiating joy by the time we got to the shore. As we pulled off the highway, I rolled down my windows so we could breathe in the salty air.

Day 2

As I’ve mentioned before, Dude doesn’t typically sleep through the night, I’m a light sleeper, and we unfortunately have to share a bed while on vacation.

The first night there, I couldn’t sleep. The older I get, the more problems I have falling asleep the first night I’m in a new or different place. It’s exceedingly annoying and unfortunate. Dude, however, passed out and slept pretty much through the night. Around 6am, I finally started to fall into a deeper sleep.

And this is where I struggle with what to tell you next. You see, I’ve read a fair amount of blogs written by individuals who are on the spectrum. And reading those blogs has made me think about how privacy and respect are unequivocally tied. I would never want to be disrespectful of my brother and his story. But sometimes his story and my story intersect. And sometimes I feel like I need to tell my story for my own sanity** or because I think people will benefit or learn from it. So I try to strike some kind of medium, and I pray that that medium doesn’t hurt anyone’s feelings.

**I’m also trying to “talk about my feelings” because I’ve heard that’s “healthy” or something like that. Squashing down your emotions because you’re afraid of burdening people or sounding like a Debbie Downer isn’t what you’re supposed to do? Weird. 

At 6:15am, my eyes shot open as Dude shot out of bed with a full-blown meltdown. I’m leaving out the specifics, but suffice it to say it was a big one.

Normally we can figure out what prompts these things. In this instance, we had no idea. Excitement for the first full day of vacation? No clue.

The rest of the trip

This was the tone that set the rest of vacation. Every day there were at least two meltdowns. We started going to a different, less crowded beach because we thought maybe the combination of kid noises and waves at our regular one was too much. We went to the arcade at “off” hours so it wasn’t as packed. We only took walks on the beach at low tide so we didn’t have to worry about the sound of loud crashing waves startling him. We had him wear ear plugs when we weren’t in the condo. I slept on the couch for the rest of the trip so he could have the room to himself and go through his night-waking/self-soothing routine without me getting mad at him for waking me up. We skipped going to the beach a few days.

Nothing seemed to help. We all sat and stared at him on the beach, watching his body language, waiting for when he would run (for those new around here, Dude meltdowns generally include running and he has no safety awareness). I held my Kindle in one hand and let my other hand hover a few inches from his arm so I could quickly grab him if necessary. It was the opposite of relaxing.

A lot of individuals on spectrum have difficulty when their routine is changed. Vacations can therefore be hard. Some families just don’t take vacations. That’s their reality.

That has never been our reality. Dude has never had that problem. He has always thrived on vacation. He eats better, sleeps better. He’s basically in zen mode at the beach.

I can’t speak for the other half of the family, but I know I was shocked that our reality/the script was flipped this year. And I wish he could tell us why he was struggling, but he can’t. Surely he must know that we would bend over backwards to make him comfortable? I hope that he has that knowledge, that he knows we’re in his corner and have his back and want to lessen his burden when he’s struggling. And I wish it were enough to help him find his calm when he can’t tell us what’s upsetting him, but it doesn’t seem to be. Not right now anyway.

I came back from vacation feeling like I could benefit from a full day sibling support group. It’s times like these that I wish I knew more siblings like me that I could reach out to and say, “I really need to talk through this.” Because it’s a tough spot to be in when you have conflicting emotions of “my brother is hurting and I want to help him” and “my brother is stressing me out and I’m actually looking forward to going home.” I want to be the saint that only feels Option A. But I’m not. So there it is.

I have great friends who do their best to understand, but they haven’t lived it, so it always requires a lot of back story and explanations and leaving out certain parts of the whole picture/truth. Sometimes I wish I could just word vomit and not have to give the extra explanations. It’d be nice.

It’s also awkward when you come back from vacation and everyone is like, “Did you have a good time?!?” And you pause one second too long and finally, reluctantly say, “Yeeeaaaa.”

I’ve never been a good liar.

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As there is lightness with the not-so-light, here are some Dude-isms from vacation.

Mom: “Alright Dude. If we hustle, we can make it across the street before that car comes.”

Dude: “DO THE HUSTLE.”

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Mom: “Aww look at that old man in his little suit!”

Dude: “ZOOT SUIT RIOT!”

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Dude: “Oopsie daisie!”

Dude: “I love drum corps! I love going to see the Terps!” (said in a tone like he was responding to someone who had the audacity to suggest he didn’t)

Dad: “Dude, show Mom.”

Dude: “NOOOOPE.”

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