Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The Extended Family Vacation- part one

This post is the first in a short series on taking our little RADish on an extended family vacation. A two day road trip, a large house full of kids, a dangerous ocean.... what could go wrong?

Next month we are heading to the beach. Me and the boys will be loading up the car and starting out on the longest car trip we have attempted since our youngest joined our family. Both boys have been campaigning heavily to fly, and they might be on to something. But we are going to drive it. A real family vacation, a road trip.

And when we get to the beach, we will find ourselves smack in the middle of my husband's large family. That's right, we are taking our chaos, trauma and behaviors to a large beach house and rolling out the circus for the family. I am seriously considering just packing beach towels and alcohol.

The list of things that we cannot do as a family of trauma has gotten smaller over the past three years. This summer we have gone strawberry picking. My husband took the boys to a loud, hot, crowded NASCAR race. We have been swimming in the crowded pool in our new neighborhood. We have accomplished longer car trips and not lost anyone at large playgrounds. We made it through a cousin's birthday party. We have rolled with the punches too- scrambling to find a full time summer sitter when my little RADish got himself kicked out of daycare and taking lots of deep breaths when behaviors ratchet up. But nothing we have managed to accomplish so far this summer will hold a candle to what we will face come the first week of August.

  The extended family vacation.
When I tell people that we are heading to the beach, five families, seven kids between the ages of two and eleven, with a high schooler and college kid thrown in to round out the mix, I get a smiling response. "Oh, that will be so much fun!". "What a wonderful opportunity!". And I agree. It should be fun. And it is a nice opportunity, in theory. These well meaning people? They have no idea.
After two days on the road we will emerge from the car, toys and books falling out as we open the doors. We will gather the trash- I'm thinking it will mainly be ripped pages of books and broken happy meal toys we will be filling that trash bag with- the garbage of the traumatized. A month of planning and preparing for those two days will still have us dragging ourselves out of the car, two exhausted parents, one cluelessly happy seven year and a sullen five year old with a settle to score.
We will then spend the next week in a state of hyper vigilance. While our relatives drink ice tea and spend time making memories, relaxing as their children play, we will be following our youngest son around, working hard to stay one step ahead of him. He will be smiling and happy and we will feel stupid as we keep a watchful eye over absolutely everything he does. We will drag him away from his cousins and his fun before something goes wrong, attempting to offer him sensory breaks, which he will refuse. We will flounder, unsure of our parenting skills on a good day, let alone with so many eyes upon us. We will question- should we let him go back and play? Should we force the break? Eventually my husband and I will let the frustration get the best of us and we will argue.
Another time we will forego the sensory break, letting our youngest son continue to play with his cousins. Someone will get hit, or something will get broken. "Boys will be boys", we will hear. "All kids act like that, you should have seen what my son did at his age!".
We will spend a lot of time alone, just the four of us, on this trip. It will be great, quality time, fun and maybe, just maybe, a little relaxing. This hiding will come with a price though. Even if it is not happening we will still feel judged. Relatives will try to include us. They will not understand that it is better for our little family to spend some time alone. That we are OK with this. We will feel as though we are letting someone down during most every moment of this trip. Spend too much time with the large group and we may not be doing what is best for our son. Keep him secluded and we may be helping his anxiety, but also appear as though we have something to hide. I am exhausted just thinking about it, and it is still a month away!
And then there is the parenting style that we have adopted. So far in this life of ours we have adopted two kids, a puppy, two guinea pigs, a fish or two,  and about a million parenting styles. Parenting a child of trauma with attachment issues  requires a specific set of skills that we are just beginning to learn. Skills that are not in the arsenal of main stream parents. Techniques that find us not punishing as others might think we should. "Why are they letting him get away with that?". Why indeed.
So why are we going? Why spend a week of precious vacation time, time we need to reserve for doctor's appointments, therapy intensives, self care? With two kids, one with a cleft palate and one with attachment issues, we are booked solid with appointments, all requiring one of us to take time off work. Why drive for two days, amid fighting, while dodging shoes and toys thrown at us from the backseat? Why spend a week in hyper vigilant mode, attempting to anticipate our youngest son's next move? Why take our circus on the road to the beach, adding an ocean of dangerous water to our live circus show?
I'll tell you why. Because my oldest son deserves to spend time with his extended family, and he radiates sadness if we don't do things as a family. Because my youngest son loves to play in the sand, and is just beginning to enjoy swimming. Because despite how hard this will be it is a great opportunity to show him, once again, what a family is. How a family feels.  How a family acts. Because I will experience moments of absolute joy as I play in the sand with my son, or as I watch him have a sweet moment with his aunt. Because at the end of the day I hope to be able to tally up more good moments than bad.  Because I am not going to make excuses for my son. I will explain reasons but not give excuses. Because he has a right to share these experiences with his family. Because this is who we are, and there is no reason we can't do this. I might be crazy and over optimistic, but I really think we can do this. Bring on the sun!
Stay tuned for more posts in the "Extended Family Beach Vacation" series. Topics to include sharing details of our story with family, preparing my RADish for our road trip, and taking essential oils on the road. 

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