This blog, and, not so coincidentally, my family have been on vacation. We’re just back from another glorious week spent in North Carolina’s Outer Banks.
We first went there in 2011, searching for a vacation spot that worked for our family. We found one, and a lot more. In four short years, the “OBX” has become one of our favorite spots on earth, and has sparked equal numbers of family memories and traditions.
Since we’ve gone at the same time and stayed in the same rental unit four years running, these trips provide a wonderful snapshot of the progress and development of both our children. What we’ve seen has been nothing short of remarkable.
We spent much of that first year’s trip managing Ryan’s time. He preferred the beach in only short stretches and mostly stayed out of the ocean. We brought along as many comforts of home as we could pack and made sure to build time to use them — Hockey Guys, a laptop, etc. — into each day.
Riley, meanwhile, couldn’t get enough of the beach or the pool. She was quick to make friends and try new activities, like boogie boarding in the waves. Keeping Ryan content on the beach required a creative mind to invent new games which captured his interest.
And you know what? It was perfect.
Three subsequent trips later, it is only more so.
We brought along a laptop and the Hockey Guys for Ryan, just as we’ve done every year. Neither was touched. Not once.
Never once did Ryan complain of boredom on the beach. Instead, I had to practically drag him out of the water for dinner some days. He spent so much time riding waves, both on and off a boogie board (which he wouldn’t touch last year) that he actually returned home with a case of swimmer’s ear.
In past years, time was evenly divided between the beach and pool, and our time at the latter meant me organizing and participating in various games, lest Ryan “threaten” (usually with a mischievous grin) to go back to the condo and type hockey stats.
This year, we spent probably 80% of our time on the beach, and Ryan’s only complaint was that Veronica and I didn’t join him in the water often enough. He and Riley played together for hours, just the two of them. They probably spent more time engaged with each other than in several typical months.
For the second straight year, Ryan made a friend. He let his friend try to teach him how to surf. And, speaking of progress, Veronica and I watched without intervening as Ryan listened to instructions and attempted to paddle into a few waves.
For the second straight year, we took a day trip. New this year — no coaxing Ryan to go or complaints from him about how long it took. We left at 6:30 a.m. and returned at 10 p.m. and the entire day was issue free. It was a day so incredible it deserves its own post later this week.
Heck, we event went out to dinner — and waited 75 minutes for a table. Without. Incident.
This autism parenting journey has taught us to experiment and become creative problem solvers for issues we never dreamed of facing. But it’s also taught us to embrace repetition.
That means learning that Ryan’s various repetitive routines are the way he regulates himself and finds comfort in a world where he doesn’t always feel like he fits. It also means that when you find something that works, whether that’s a favorite meal, a bed-time ritual or a vacation, you repeat it, over and over.
I can’t imagine a family vacation better than the one we just took. We’re already looking forward to next year.