Monday, August 26, 2013

What I Did on my Summer Vacation - Part 1

Our first grown up vacation.  By this I mean the first vacation that was not a part of someone else's vacation where we piggy-backed our vacation on top of it.  We've taken family vacations for longer than the kids have been alive, and while we pay our own way and drive our own car and pack our own bags...someone else was always doing most of the planning or at the very least it was much more of a cooperative effort, with assigned roles (this person brings laundry supplies, that person brings paper products, etc.).

This vacation was ours entirely, and we decided to go to Orlando.  It's hard not to say Disney.  We went to Disney.  But really it was Orlando, and Disney was to be the centerpiece.  It's like people who become geographically confused regarding which is the state, Philadelphia or Pennsylvania.  Orlando is not Disney...Disney is not Orlando.  But yeah, a vacation to Orlando.

At least that's how it started out.

But more on that later.

I have a really hard time even starting blog posts about huge events because I have trouble encapsulating the hugeness into bite size (post size) chunks, and when I start to contemplate the sheer 'muchness' that I need to cover...I get a little overwhelmed and just...don't write it.  I feel like I need to write this though, because it's big and more or less awesome and incorporates a bunch of firsts not just for Lily, but for Emma, and for Leslie and I.  So I'll cut the steak into bite sized chunks and feed it to you by the forkful.  Medium rare.

It all starts with the stress of air travel.

I am a reluctant flyer.  I hate the lines and the airport and the waiting, but I'm not autistic.  As much as I hate it...I can deal with it.  I can make sense of it.  So knowing what I know about the process of air travel (if not the actual terror I have of the flying itself) and knowing what I know about how tolerant Lily is of waiting in lines, remaining seated, being afraid of things (wasn't sure how she'd handle the jet noise or the take off/landing or the turbulence), confined spaces with crowds of people...I was absolutely dreading this trip. 

And by that I mean the travel part of the trip, not the actual vacation itself.

So we arrived at the airport and we used the "connector" with Lily just to keep her near us so we didn't stress about her wandering into crowds.  The connector (I'd mockingly referred to it as "the Freedom Tether") was like a mountain climbing rope with two belts.  The the rope itself was moderately elastic, and was attached to each belt via a carabiner.  The idea was that Lily would encounter resistance and become acclimatized to maintaining a certain distance from whomever she was connected and eventually settle into a blissful state of equilibrium, where she didn't struggle against the rope, but accepted it and began keeping step with us effortlessly.  The first time we'd discussed it I'd been...hostile.  I was still more than skeptical but reluctantly agreed that it made sense from a safety standpoint regardless of how it looked, and it even worked a little before Lily decided she's had enough and it stopped being a good fit for the adventure.  At one point I had it on in the airport McDonald's and she got the tether wrapped around her neck (not dangerously so) and I got freaked out and pissed off simultaneously...and my stress level ratcheted up yet another notch...but that comes later.

First was check in.  We'd been warned that Air Tran would strictly enforce the 50 pound bag limit.  much thought had been given to the selection of our luggage.  I took a scale up into our bathroom strictly to remove articles from one bag and pack them in another to balance out so that we'd have a 5 or 10 pound grace in each bag before getting to the airport.  We packed heavy items in the carry on.  We wore heavy shoes and packed light ones. 

They began checking us in.  I waited with a sick sense of foreboding.  They didn't weight bags.  They just put them on the fucking belt.  I very nearly stopped the lady and actually did say,"don't you need to w-...nevermind,"  before coming to my senses.  Like really???  Come ON!

Bags safely checked and on the flight, we were ready to tackle the next

Leslie walked ahead to the TSA agent and after a brief huddled discussion, waved to us to follow her.  There was no line.  There was no wait.  An agent was dispatched to walk with us, helping us carry bags.  She stopped the security line at one point and waived us through the X-ray-mahjigger so we could all get through together...and then we were done.  And I was like...huh?  That was awesome!

Where things got less awesome was at the gate.  Waiting for boarding.  Trying to keep Lily busy/happy.  Getting the kids fed.  Getting ourselves fed.  Snapping at each other.  The aforementioned tether/connector 'incident'.

We thought we had the right plan.  One of us would board early and get everything on the plane.  Then we'd follow with Lily at the absolute last minute so there was less time on the plane.  But in reality, Lily was melting down just outside the plane, slapping, pulling hair, trying to bite...and I felt so bad for her.  When she eventually did board, she was more or less fine.  And although she bounced back against the seat more than she kicked the seat in front of her (we bought seats so that Emma and I were sitting in front of Leslie and Lily for this very reason)...ultimately she quieted down nicely once we boarded and she was buckled in.

Emma got a treat
After that it was relatively smooth sailing.  We brought pads for the trip, and despite taking frequent potty breaks she had an accident during landing.  Without entirely skipping to the end of the story, we had a similar issue on the return trip to Pittsburgh.  Really, she was stellar throughout the week accident wise...but both landings.  And she was also a pill on both descents.  I think we chalked it up to the pressure.  She just didn't know what to do with it.  It hurt.  We tried feeding her fruit snacks and drinks, but when she got most uncomfortable she would refuse them.  And we couldn't explain in a way that made sense to her that if she'd just eat or drink it might help pop her ears.

When we landed things went smoothly.  My sister flew down to join us and provide us with some support, and we had to wait at the airport so we could share the minivan ride to the house we rented.  That seemed like more waiting...and more potential for trouble, but Lily loved the escalators, and the car rental place let me stuff all our luggage in the car so basically we just took turns showing Lily all the escalators.  She liked riding them up and down.  And Emma played Minecraft, but complained that her ears were hurting. 

My sister showed up, and after picking up her baggage, we all piled into the minivan and headed to the house.

Leaving the Orlando airport you have to pay tolls.  I knew this only because I'd had a project meeting there once, and had brought no cash (pretty typical for me, really) and had to stop at each toll plaza in order to fill out a form indicating I'd be responsible for sending the money or I could be arrested.  They don't take credit cards.  We brought cash.  We found ourselves and our home via three simultaneous smart phone searches and drove to the house to the competing voices of three separate GPS apps.

Continued in "Part 2".


  1. Good lord--you've described every "flying" stress i ever have. The one thing i HATE about a vacay is the airport and plane ride.

    someone needs to get on that teleporter thing, stat.

  2. Looking forward to hearing more.

    We also took our family (typical daughter-13yrs, and son-11yrs with autism)to Disney this summer. We had some triumphs and challenges as I am sure you did.

    This is the second time we've brought them to WDW and I have noticed two things each time we do:
    1) Despite the difficulties of travel for him, the trip on the whole brings him to a slightly higher level of calm, happiness, life satisfaction - whatever you want to call it, he's less bothered by his disability while he's there.
    2) I can never cease to be amazed at how caring, supportive, mature, attentive, empathetic, and loving his 13-yr-old sis can be. While she is generally a pretty good sister for him at home, she was a SAINT during this trip, and really helped him a lot, which made everyone enjoy the trip a little more.

    For a while, we were almost typical :)

    All the best...

  3. This really is a small world. I've already seen pictures b/c your sister is my cousin's sister (step) and she posted lots of facebook pictures! I could ruin this by telling everyone about the

    1. *tries to do the math on the relationship* If i'm figuring this correctly...that makes you my ...mother?

    2. Dawn:Chris:me Or more complete: Chris' mom and my dad are siblings. BTW I didn't find your blog through any of them. Just connected when you were doing the autism charity and Dawn linked to you once.

    3. It makes it even more fun to try to figure out since Dawn is strictly speaking only my half sister.

    4. Lily and Emma's dad's dad's wife's daughter's dad's daughter's mom's brother's daughter's sons are Pook and Bug (my sons). I love family!

  4. How long do we have to wait for more? I am taking my girls to Orlando for New Year's. Just my husband, the girls and me. I need some strategies! What happens if Kate bites the pilot? What if she dismantles the ride we are on? What if she screams and someone looks at her funny and I go to jail? I have QUESTIONS!!

  5. Dad mentioned that time you went to Florida and didn't pay the tolls the other day. "Remember when that guy that shunned us and is dead to us was in Florida and didn't pay any of those tolls?" "Sigh. Yes, Dad. He's not dead to me, Dad." "DEAD TO US SHUNNED US DEAD TO US."

    Glad you're home safely. Can't wait to hear the rest of the Florida adventures. Because you're not dead to me, Jim.

    1. YAY!

      Sorry your dad still harbors resentment toward me...I was just trying to follow his advice and not meet strangers from the internet in person. I thought he was a murderer.

  6. I have yet to fly with my kids. I'm a little frightened. We drove to Orlando last week, but for us, it's an 8 hour drive, which isn't too awful. My middle son sits in the back, away from everyone else, puts on his headphones, plays on the iPad, and is happy back there.

    We didn't do Disney- just Universal. Maybe another time!

    1. well....tune in over the next couple days. I'll cover Disney.

  7. We haven't tried flying with the boy yet. Frankly, I hate flying very, VERY much. The waiting, the lines, the feeling like a sardine in a tin can...not a fan. Can't wait to hear about part 2!

  8. I have not had to fly with my littles - YET - luckily for us Orlando is only a few hours away - I could not imagine flying! So far so good it seems ;-)

  9. Nice Blog..hope you had great fun!

  10. This is only part 1 of your whole vacation, but a lot of of things already happened to all of you. But I’m glad everything turned out well – you boarded and landed safely in Colorado, got your rental car without encountering any problems, and Lily felt better. I can’t wait to read more of your adventures. > Michaele @