I am standing on the deck of a massive cruise ship tearing up when I realize 2015 might have been more challenging than I ever admitted.
Sometimes this family has to stop, drop everything and hop on a cruise ship, or visit an island resort. Family travel is as crucial to us as getting the flu shot, or getting vaccinations, or filling the fridge with food. I know every parent has moments and most parents also deserve a big fat vacation occasionally. Parenting is hard work and when you have a job outside of that, it is also exhausting. Now add demands of special needs parenting to that equation. Together that formula is enough to tip the scales into depression, divorce, illness, disruption. That’s not where I want to end up. So we travel. There’s other stuff we do too in order to maintain sanity and health. We work out often and strive to eat fairly well. But family travel is the place we go when we are done with the rest of the world and simply need to be a family. Period.
2015 was a good year, but it was also way more challenging than I ever stopped to notice. I recognized that we were worn out and stressed out back in October and I knew we needed a break. When I see myself and my husband both transformed into dead exhausted, sleep walking, almost depressed, irritable, cranky, grumpy, drained and really ineffective parents then I know we need to find a way to get away. For most parents, taking a break is vital to being healthy, mentally and physically. I also know many can’t afford the luxury of travel and believe me I know we are fortunate that we can. I would sell our second vehicle and walk everywhere for months if it meant we got a week away together. Family travel time is that important to us. I also wrote about family travel as respite earlier this year.
I also know the statistics. Over 80 % of special needs parents get divorced. We get sicker faster and more often. In this house I also have Crohn’s, so I need to try to maintain some healthy habits as a foundation for my health too. We lose our short term memory often due to chronic stress. We also burn out. We give up. Some quit. Studies have been done linking special needs parenting to post traumatic stress disorder. Results of those studies have equated this experience parenting to be on par with living in a war zone. That SHOULDN’T be the case in Canada where we preach tolerance, human rights, and support and equality. But we are not statistics. We are a family on a cruise ship. One of the happiest places on earth. We are setting sail – it’s the embarkation party. Why am I crying?
This is my Christmas present to all of us. Holding a novel in my hand watching the horizon retreat. Scoping out which lounge chair I will choose. One of my daughters is holding my other hand. Another has found her people already. Same girl who worried she wouldn’t meet any kids on this trip. We have been on the boat for about 2 hours and she’s taking names and text numbers.
My worrier races away from the lounge chairs to start dancing happily, with the cruise director and a bunch of strangers. As if she didn’t have a care in the world. This is the child who spent the past 11 months limping. Same girl we spent the better part of the year carting back and forth to the hospital and specialists, fighting for a CAT scan for what everyone thought was juvenile arthritis.
To my right, I spy my younger daughter jump in a hot tub, beaming at me from the deck. My busy, sporty, active 11-year-old who hit puberty with a vengeance this year as she entered grade 6. The girl we are always fighting for services over. She is happy and calm and thriving right here, right now. (I often wish I could raise and educate that one on an island.)
Sometimes I think every special needs parent who survives September, June and December should simply be able to take a cruise or hop on a plane for a week at a resort. Special needs parenting is rewarding and wonderful and all those cliches, but it is also the most draining experience advocating for services into a void all year long. I summed it up here last year in a post about special needs adoption. I also talked about some of the agonizing over choosing a high school for my older daughter too.
Here we are, I think. I wonder how long I have been holding my breath. And I bite my cheek hard to keep the tears from spilling all over. Emotional leakage.
Adoption disruption happens all the time. People don’t keep stats on that. We will not be that family. Our family is forever. But I know exactly how it happens.
Special needs kids and special needs parents can be excellent at developing coping mechanisms. Mine is working until I am ready to drop, so that I cannot waste time stressing out over the latest service failure, or the awful inadequacies of systems that are supposed to help parents raising kids with special needs. My last work quarter was insanity and this year some of the clients I worked with ended up realizing goals we have been working on together for 3 years now. That was exceptionally gratifying. I have escaped into that work. I can escape a million times a day in my strategy and my writing.
I love what I do for a living and I love my family. I work hard to keep both strong and successful. This year I worked hard. We all did. This year we also travelled a fair bit. I did some travel blogging and occasionally we ended up on a trip together, but those are working trips with social media promotions, posts, tweets flowing out of them. This is our trip. Our time together enjoying each other without homework battles, doctor’s appointments, show week, lessons, IEP meetings, arguments with anyone.
At one point on this trip my daughter asked is this a work trip, like for free? My husband blurted: No, this is a trip that was paid for by the fact your Mom has worked 24/7 for the last six months. Fair enough.
So why am I crying?
I’m crying because we are here. Because my kids haven’t been carefree in months. I’m crying because we are lucky, and fortunate to be parents. Because sometimes I still miss my Mom. Because the year went fast and I am excruciatingly tired. Because a trillion small things need to be done the week before family travel. Because I built a business that is this successful that we can travel together when I think we really need to. Maybe I’m crying because juvenile arthritis didn’t win this round and Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder won’t either.