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Chaos Theory as it Applies to Family Vacation

Jamie Sumner
Special needs mom, author and blogger
11/25/19  4:33 PM PST
Chaos Theory

The chaos theory, as it applies to mathematics, is the idea that certain elements in nature are so sensitive that one small change can drastically alter their behavior. The butterfly effect is one example: the flapping of a butterfly’s wings can create enough wind to change a weather pattern—an entire weather system dictated by those paper-thin wings. The same goes for a pendulum swinging freely. All by its lonesome, it is smooth motion, but introduce a second one and you getting conflict—no longer a metronome, instead two battering rams.

While this certainly makes sense when you consider nature, I would argue that it makes even more sense when you consider the modern family on vacation.

Each year, my husband and I travel to Colorado with our son, Charlie, who has cerebral palsy, and his younger brother and sister, who are twins. We are, perhaps, the definition of the chaos theory at home. However, Colorado adds an entirely new roller coaster of variables. First, there is a plane ride, approximately three hours. Then, there is a car ride, also approximately three hours. But before that, there are the giant handicapped jogging stroller and hiking backpack that must be shipped, and the children’s bags that must be packed, and the wheelchair that must be checked prior to boarding. And after that there is, well, the trip itself.

As parents we have to embrace the chaos…

When all factors go according to plan, this annual vacation is a magical. It is filled with hiking and gondola rides and swim time and truly excellent food all at an altitude of 8,000 feet. But more often than not something goes wrong. One year our flight home was cancelled, as in, not another flight available for at least two days. One year they misplaced a part to Charlie’s wheelchair and lost the twins’ stroller altogether. The first year, when Charlie still had his tracheotomy, he had a rough time adjusting to the altitude and his pulse-oximeter alarmed every five minutes for the first three nights. And most recently, after eating almost an entire bag of cheese crisps, our younger son proceeded to vomit all over the rental van as we pulled up to the airport to fly home. We almost missed our flight. Shorts and shoes were thrown away. Clorox wipes were bought. And still, we all smelled of partly digested cheese all the way home. Behold, the chaos theory in action.

But sometimes the chaos works in our favor.

However, I’d like to argue the flipside, because it’s vital to hold loosely your expectations and fears on vacation. Charlie first ice-skated in his wheelchair in this very place. He swirled and twirled on the ice as his dad pushed him with the twins in tow. Never would this possibility have occurred to us at home. Here too, we witnessed a double rainbow cresting over the mountains at sunset. My twins ate elk, actual elk. And liked it. And my husband and I got a rare date night for our anniversary while the grandparents babysat. We have spotted marmots. And have thrown snowballs in July. At a rodeo, we once met a bull named Boudreaux. Change one small factor, and you get conflict. Or, change one small factor and get a whole lot of goodness.

As parents we have to embrace the chaos, especially on vacation. It’s going to bring hardship, sure. But sometimes the chaos works in our favor. Small changes can lead to big pay-offs—double rainbows, ice skating, elk. Most importantly, you walk away with memories that are out of your ordinary routine.

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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