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Here’s How Our Family Thrives During Holiday Vacations

Jamie Sumner
Special needs mom, author and blogger
11/13/19  2:12 PM PST
Here’s How Our Family Thrives During Holiday Vacations

There’s something about the holidays….

Thanksgiving through New Years makes my teeth hurt. I think it’s the impending upheaval of our lives that does it. I love the turkey and the holiday music and the piney decorations as much as the next person. But come late September/early October, I can feel the chaos approaching like a train through a tunnel. The tracks are already shaking and I brace for impact.

A large part of this reaction is that my son, Charlie, who has cerebral palsy, thrives on routine. He loves his public school and his bus drivers and his aides and getting to do a new thing every twenty minutes for eight hours a day. When he comes home and I roll him inside and lift him out of his wheelchair, he is so happy to see me! We cuddle in our big chair-and-a-half and eat Cheez-its. The lack of action and my soft shoulder help him to unwind.

However, you can only snuggle and eat snacks for so long before you’re looking around for something to do. This is where the holidays get hard. They are jam-packed with events, yes, but in between those drives to the in-laws and big family dinners and sing-a-longs and light shows are hours of…nothing.

It’s taken years of meltdowns — crying into couch cushions and hiding in bedrooms – on both Charlie’s part and mine, to figure out how to not just manage these days and weeks out of school, but to also enjoy them.

Thriving During the Holiday Vacations: Two pieces of the puzzle that we hang on to…

1. Control the things you can control

I know. Obvious, right? But for so long, I tried to white-knuckle every aspect of those school breaks. In reality, I had no control over the traffic or the time we ate our meals or the runny noses that kept us up at night or whether there was Wi-Fi.

Eventually, through much trial and intense amounts of error, I figured out what I could manage and I put my energies there, where it would pay off. I made sure to have snacks at all times and had Charlie’s favorite music downloaded on my phone. We stuck to routine where we could: one-hour mandatory rest periods in the middle of the day, favorite blankets and books, bedtime rituals. And I built into our unorthodox days some semblance of the familiar.

I also kept us busy in those long hours in between events in ways that both Charlie and I would enjoy, so I didn’t feel like a circus clown, performing tricks for an audience of one and ending up exhausted. Charlie knows that no school means long walks in the park and dozens of cookies baked and all the holiday music to rock and roll to (literally) in his wheelchair. No, the days don’t look the same as they do when he’s in school, but our new routines are just as good, if not better, for their rarity.

2. Embrace the things you can’t

Dinners are going to be late or burned or weird. Rooms are going to be too crowded or hot or cold or noisy. Cars might break down. Families might fall into fights or awkward silences. The holidays are ripe for the unknown. But if you can’t control it (and you really can’t), then you might as well approach it with your hands in the air. Surrender to the pandemonium. I mean it.

Last year after a two-and-a-half hour drive to the airport and right before we were about to catch a three-hour flight home, my youngest son threw up all over the rental van. Did I want to climb out and sit on the curb and cry with a napkin over my nose? Yes, I did. Instead, I threw all the vomit-covered clothes (and one unsalvageable booster seat) in the airport trash can and sent my husband to the nearest gas station for super-sized Clorox wipes and a vat of hand sanitizer. We may have gagged as we cleaned, but we also laughed until we were crying, because what else can you do?

The moral of the story?

Holiday vacations are weird and stressful, but also maybe a little wonderful. You have to run towards the wonderful part head-on so you don’t miss it. To quote Clark Griswold, “This is no longer a vacation. It’s a quest. It’s a quest for fun.”

child with special needs

Jamie Sumner is a special needs mom and author.

Discover her new book, Roll with It.

Follow her on Facebook.

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