Sunday, March 24, 2013

Packing With Autism: Spring Break Road Trip

Given all of the jokes and horror stories out there about family trips and traveling with kids, I think we all know that it isn’t an easy process.  Now add in special needs and well you have a horror comedy in the making.

Recently we decided to relax over spring break by taking a trip cross country to visit my parents.  The decision was the easy part. Given work constraints it wasn’t even hard to figure out when we’d leave and when we’d come home although we did have to do a little weather forecast obsessing to make sure we weren’t going to get caught in some super spring blizzard.  We even found a pet/house sitter with relative ease.  The plans were set and it was time for the packing to begin.

I should preface this by saying that I am a bit obsessive compulsive about my packing piles and packing strategies. There is a place for everything and I need it in that e-x-a-c-t spot.  I also need to be prepared for every possible scenario while meeting my husband’s need for everything to actually fit into the van (he gets a little touchy when a u-haul trailer is required for some reason or another).

Packing is simple: I put everyone’s clothes into their respective piles. One suitcase is packed with nightclothes and a change of clothes for us to take into the hotel with us for our overnight stay at the halfway point; this suitcase also has a waterproof duffle bag filled with swim suits just in case the hotel has a pool.  Then the rest of the clothes go into a big suitcase. Each child is allowed to pack their own bag of goodies while I pack an emergency bag that would probably rival those that military medics have (remember I have two kids with very unique and complicated medical conditions; trust me if it can happen, it has happened on one trip or another).  Each child has a file folder type container for medications and I make sure we have power cords for all electronics.  Easy peasy, right?

Ry’s bag is predictable. She has her zebra print blanket and pillow pet, her kindle reader, her ipad, and her cellphone. Sometimes she throws in make-up and some hair products.  This is pretty much the same bag she packs for the hospital, for overnight trips, or for long travels. 

Then there’s Caden.  This is where things start to get interesting.  Let’s face it. He has two obsessions right now: rocks and Super Mario.  Consequently he wanted to pack every rock that he has (honestly I’m not sure there are any left on the playground at his school or anywhere around town) and then he started on the Mario collection. Of course he needed his Mario cards and his Mario slippers and his Mario pets (the e-n-t-i-r-e collection of both plush and molded plastic), his Mario sweatshirt, his entire stack of Mario shirts and pjs, and even his Mario underwear.  Then he remember that he likes books so he picked out the entire Judy Blume Fudge series to take with us even though we’d only be gone a week and we only read a few pages out of each chapter at night. Of course he couldn’t pick between just one pillow pet and he needed his fleece blanket.  All blankies had to travel because they would get lonely if he just took one.  His notebook needed to go along just in case something important happened and it was a necessity to pack his ipad and Nintendo 3DS.  Every once in a while he found a few more rocks to pack. Then he found some Mario and Angry Bird puzzles that he had to take along which set off the need to find his collection of Angry Bird Mash-ems and pack those as well. Of course we couldn’t leave home without his backpack alien and its baby and what trip would be complete without empty toilet paper rolls.

Meanwhile his obsession set off my need to be prepared for anything and everything so I added in more clothing—we were packed for spring, summer, fall, and sub-zero winter temperatures.  Then I figured we had better take a laptop “just in case” and it only made sense to pack snacks and drinks and crayons and construction paper because well I saw them in the closet on my way by.  Hey if the kids were taking blankets and pillow pets I wanted mine too so those were added to the pile. And what if the shoes I were wearing turned out to be uncomfortable after all these months so some extra shoes went into the pile as well.

Thankfully somewhere along the line my husband remembered the service dog also needed to travel with us so we packed his bag, bed, and bone and carved out a spot for him to lay although we were all thankful that he isn’t the slightest bit claustrophobic. By the time we had packed the van, the roof top carrier was full as was just about every available spot in the van.  We crammed everyone in and headed out.

Now on the trip there I’m proud to say that Caden’s medication for his chronic constipation worked quite well and I don’t think we missed a rest stop between Minnesota and Ohio.  As predicted thanks to the autonomic dysfunction, Ry was quite car sick and the forecast was totally and completely wrong. We drove through rain, freezing rain, and even snow and high winds.  We melted down at every gas station that didn’t have one of those blasted quarter junk machines and I even talked Dan into stopping at the Nike Outlet so that I could get Caden new shoes and pick up a most unnecessary pair for Ryley to prevent the “it’s not fair” arguments that seem to echo in the van. 

We made it to Ohio and had an awesome adventure with my parents. Of course my parents being the grandparents that they are loaded the kids up with presents and I may have done a little birthday shopping with my mom.  None of this would have been a big deal except that we had to repack the van for the return trip home. 

As you know from your own experiences the trip home is never as much fun as the trip going on vacation. The kids were grumpy, Ryley was miserable and spent most of the trip with her eye and face swelling from some yet to be determined condition.  Caden had hit his limit of no wi-fi and his videos were getting “boring.”  Insult to injury, a large snow storm headed into the (one we didn’t even see on radar until we were on the road again on Saturday) area. We cancelled our first hotel reservation determined to get ahead of the storm by driving a few hours further than anticipated.  Eventually we realized that we might as well drive all the way home; so we went from Ohio to Minnesota  (13.5 hours but who is counting, right?) with 2 grouchy kids and one hungry service dog in one day (hungry because we can’t feed him in a moving car unless we want a whole other mess to deal with).

I survived the last few hours of the trip by dreaming of a fairy who will be waiting at our house to put all of this stuff away and maybe prep my classes for Monday.  Oh and did I mention that we are going to drive 3 hours round trip on Monday to pick up a puppy that we are hoping to train into a service dog for Ryley?  And there’s a sleep study coming up this week and the day before Easter is an in-hospital infusion day for both kids.

Ah relaxing vacations; what would we do without them!


If you enjoy reading my blog, be sure to stop over at Special Happens and read my posts there as well.  This month's post was on why some special needs marriages survive!  Marriages and Success