darwin @pool

Just got back from a long weekend in Napa. How was it?

Vacations with an autistic child are…difficult. Even just the planning phase is full of storm clouds and terrors. Before I had a kid, I looked forward to the day that I’d be able to take him or her to Disneyland. Now I dread the thought. But if we don’t travel, we feel trapped. Besides, vacations have proven to have a salubrious effect on Dar…sometimes. Other times, we wonder why we left home. This last weekend was a little bit of both.

With Dar, the challenges can be broken down like this:

Activities. Maybe this is true of all parents (no grandparents in the picture means we have no way to know), but we quiver and quaver at the thought of paying for any kind of tour or ride or jaunt that takes more than 5 minutes, because Dar may freak out and we may need to leave the tour post haste. By Napa standards, balloon rides are out. (We once did one by ourselves, but the logistical planning to get a babysitter at our house at 5am was akin to the organization of a Navy SEAL raid.) The wine train is probably out. We can schedule a winery tour – and we did, this time, at Robert Mondavi, for all of 30 minutes – but we’re on eggshells the whole time. We don’t want Dar to ruin anyone else’s vacation.

Most people are very nice and polite, but there’s always the possibility that someone approaches me as a woman recently did in Starbucks saying, “Your child shouldn’t be here. He’s very rude.” (Yes, that happened! And Dar was quiet – his only rudeness was sidling up to her and not answering her questions. Let’s not get into what happened next in that case.) I don’t want to go too far in distinguishing us from other parents, especially of small children. Everyone worries that their kid will have a nuclear meltdown. It’s just that we’re living with Chernobyl for decades, with no way to plan on the level of, “You know, Costa Rica would be great but let’s wait until they’re 10 and can fully participate.”

We tend to spend a lot of time at the hotel swimming pool, because we can come and go as we please, and Dar often loves the water. This last weekend, though? Not so much.

Restaurants. Back home, we don’t really go out all that much, and every time we go on vacay, we remember why. I mean, sure, we could stay in and order room service, but that doesn’t feel right on holiday, particular one that includes Valentine’s Day. We bring copious amounts of the food we know Dar likes, but that can only hold his attention for so long. He gets bored. He does NOT like sitting in a restaurant chair for more than a few minutes. Kids’ menus and crayons mean nothing to him. (When our second kid plays so happily with them, we’re like, “Wait, kids can do that?!?” No grandparent help means that happens a lot.) Dar wanders, or we stop him from wandering, in which case he often screams.

There are two things we like least about the wandering. One is him walking up to people seated at other tables. I would like to emphasize that these strangers are usually very nice, but Dar’s behavior is not appropriate, and besides you can’t be sure how much of that niceness is forced. They talk to him and he doesn’t say anything, which isn’t helping. Number two is the lying down. He loves just sprawling out on any floor. It’s dirty and wait staff and customers can’t necessarily see him. Your basic nightmare.

Sleeping. In our house, Dar and his brother sleep in separate rooms and we sleep in a third room. There was a time when we rented one of their bedrooms and we hoped to, perhaps, keep them in a room together for a while (I know two brothers who shared a bedroom until they were 12 and 10), but when the extent of Dar’s autism became clear, we knew his brother would need his own space.

That all goes out the window on vacation. We sometimes book a suite, to put Dar in his own space, but this last weekend, in Napa, we decided to take our chances, which worked…about as well as it ever does. The boys hear each other and wake each other and us. We give Dar Benadryl for sleeping, which often works well, but this weekend featured a 3am tea-kettle-boiling-style screamfest. (I try to use earplugs to drown out Dar, but his screams are minutes and minutes of unmitigated misery, like a cat being slowly drowned, and I’m just not strong enough to ignore that.)

No matter how much Benadryl we give or how well it worked, Dar is up at 6, often “tee-tee-tee”-ing (that’s his happy noise). We didn’t know until very recently that most 5-year-olds don’t wake up at 6 and thunder around their room making noise. Well, okay, we didn’t know it was possible to have a 2 ½-year-old who stays relatively quiet and doesn’t imitate Godzilla at every break of dawn. “Wait, kids can do that?!?”

…So how was our weekend in Napa? Oh, it was fine.