Are your boys on spring break this week? I always hated those words and wondered, “Break for who?” I know the problems when routine is upended. I’d suggest a wine IV drip. However, I know you’ll spend the vast majority of your week in the van listening to country music, and would hate for you to get an OWI. Good luck with the “time off.”
Ha! YES, it’s pure torture for Isaac and me. He’s a lot better now with change, but I’ll be driving around all week guaranteed. It’s easier if we go on a trip somewhere, but Chris can’t get away from work easily. I’m envious of families who can take kids to the movies, relax at home, and do normal activities. But that ain’t possible. Thanks for asking.
My friend understands because she’s been there. A lot of families don’t enjoy the spring break, or as I like to refer to it, my spring breakdown. The only thing worse is the too-long summer vacation. The lack of school, structure, and routine makes everyone crazy.
Henry doesn’t mind the break too much. Noah would rather be at school, but a few days are tolerable. For Isaac – well, life is difficult when the bus doesn’t show up every morning. (When he was younger he used to wait outside for the bus every morning. One time he was outside for three hours waiting for a bus that never came.) It’s a lot easier for me now that he’s older, but I’m still exhausted by the end of the week. He struggles with “down time,” as do most people on the autism spectrum. Trying to figure out what to do with “down time” is work for Isaac.
I planned activities every day for the boys, as much as I could – while still keeping the routine intact. Henry created Isaac’s schedule for the week on the iPad – the big things we were going to do come hell or high water – and I talked about those activities every day. I wrote them on a piece of paper. It helped somewhat.
We never left Iowa. What did we do?
Isaac began sobbing as soon as we left the city limits. Real tears and anxiety. He wanted to go to Burger King. Of all the places to grab lunch, it was at the bottom of my list. Thank God we found a Burger King in Manchester. Isaac opened doors for guests and took empty trays to the front counter. When he’s happy, he’s really happy. I made the decision to eat there because it caused him joy. I hoped it would carry over to the rest of the day.
I drove to Arlington, Iowa, the home of Chris Soules, the star of The Bachelor. Nobody gave a hoot about seeing him or driving by his house or any of that nonsense, but we were interested to see if his hometown was really as small as the ABC TV show portrayed it to be.
Henry said the town was a lot bigger than he remembers it looking on TV.
Noah’s quote: “Arlington is actually bigger than Vatican City."
I parked the van near a veteran’s memorial on the edge of town. Then I heard the nine words you never want to hear when you are on “vacation” with the kids. “Do I have to get out of the van?”
I responded the way all patient, loving moms do: “What do YOU think?”
The highlight for the boys was meeting a man who was sitting outside of the City Hall/Post Office. He was wearing an Old Milwaukee hat made of beer cans that were somehow crocheted or knitted together in what I recall as a red/white/blue pattern. He wore multi-colored shorts. His long beard covered some of his t-shirt. I greeted him and told him my kids had never been to Strawberry Point, and I was going to take a picture.
As I was talking to Old Milwaukee, Isaac took off to open the doors of City Hall because it's fun to open and shut doors. A woman asked Isaac if he needed help. Of course, he didn’t respond. She asked again, and I could tell she was getting flustered. I called Isaac’s name and waved at her. I was grateful for her concern, but this wasn't the time or place to share his diagnosis. She looked confused, pulled out a cigarette, and lit up.
I told the boys to sit under the strawberry while I crossed the street (which is really Highway 13) to get the trio and the entire strawberry in the picture. I was concerned Isaac wouldn’t stay seated, but he did fine.
The kids LOVE this picture and laugh hysterically each time they see it. I nailed it.
We went to Backbone State Park, and Isaac just wanted to go to the car. The weather was gorgeous. I would have loved to have gone on a hike or at least walked around for 30 minutes. We did a little exploring and then drove around the park as much as we could with the windows down while the country songs played.
Fun, fun, fun?
On the way home we stopped for a free ice cream cone because it was Dairy Queen’s 75th anniversary. The manager of the DQ was friendly but looked like he was also suffering from spring breakdown. The four of us sat inside and ate our cones.
Henry admitted it was the first time he had ever eaten a cone. If he eats ice cream, he eats it in a dish. “The cone’s good, but it’s a tough workout for my tongue,” he said.
“Why did you choose today to finally try a cone?” I asked.
“I don’t have a spoon,” he said.
Noah summed it up well when he said, “My spring break nerves are shot and it's only Monday."
We went to my mom and dad’s house and were there about an hour, which was Isaac’s limit. My mom served chocolate cake with seven-minute frosting and ice cream for anyone who wanted some. It was 10:20 a.m.
Very few words were spoken on the drive home because the boys were all in a sugar coma. Isaac was upset later when his brothers didn’t want lunch (“We are too full!”).
The boys used technology a lot, and I announced that there would be no technology use starting Tuesday evening and all day Wednesday. I asked if Henry read today, which is a daily requirement. He said he read stop signs while we were in the van. When he started doing squats vigorously, Chris asked what he was doing. He said, "Well, now I have nothing else to do." God, help us.
No technology means no video games, computer time, iPad, etc.
All the boys got a haircut, followed by a shower. We cleaned, raked leaves, hauled some junk from the garage, went to the library, went to the grocery store, and read books.
Isaac went to the YMCA for two hours, as he does every Wednesday. That evening we went bowling with friends. Besides Isaac taking a ball from the pro bowler shop, the evening was fun and without incident.
A Wednesday quote from Noah: “Mom, thanks for not going insane yet."
The reality of living with a kid with severe autism is that he needs to be on the go constantly. No school/schedule makes him anxious. He said "car" at least 200 times. Maybe more. Below is the list of places we went Thursday. The first location was about 11:15 a.m. I decided not to make dinner because my nerves were shot, so we went to Culver's. Isaac was worried we won't go anywhere Friday.
Drive thru to get a sandwich for Henry
Downtown to pick up Chris from work for a family lunch
Downtown to drop off Chris at work
Can donation location near Fareway
John Deere Museum
Downtown to pick up Chris from work
We sorted and redeemed hundreds of pop cans at Hy-Vee. (No worries, none of them are ours!) We had the opportunity to help a good cause, and the situation was a win-win, so we jumped at the chance. Besides, we needed some structure.
Of course, Isaac and Chris went to Hy-Vee for our weekly shopping trip.
Saturday afternoon we hiked around Hartman Reserve. Noah was our tour guide, and he even took us to the beach. Even Isaac was happy to be there . . .
I broke into song Sunday evening, singing at the top of my lungs. “Tomorrow, tomorrow, I love ya, tomorrow. You're always a day away!” From a bedroom down the hall, I heard Henry yell at me to stop singing. Noah said, “Mom, please. You’re sharp!”
Noah came home from school and said one of his teachers asked the class, “Was spring break too short or too long?”
“Mom, I was the only one who said the break was too long. I’m the only one every single year,” Noah said, reaching for a snack. He shook his head and smiled.
“You weren’t the only one, Noah. If the teacher had asked me, I would have said it was too long, too.”