I begin writing this post sitting in a hotel in North Alabama, where Cami’s great-grandparents live. We drove here from Northwest Florida, where Cami’s Grammy and PawPaw live. We flew there from Northern Virginia, where we live.
Stick a fork in all three of us because we. are. done.
This six-day, two-state adventure is specifically for visiting family, some from Michael’s side, some from my side, all from Cami’s side. If we want Cami to spend any time with extended family, we have to travel to see them. Traveling, especially using multiple modes of transportation, agitates sensory processing issues like nothing else I know of. Traveling pushes more sensory buttons than a trip to WalMart. That’s saying something.
For instance, airplane seats are not very wide. Even very skinny people brush elbows with the passengers sitting next to them. Which is fine, unless you’re my daughter and you’re tired and still trying to adjust to Daylight Savings Time plus switching time zones for a week. Then, you don’t want strangers bumping any part of you, politely or not. You just want to hide and be left alone.
Waiting at the airport gate for a maintenance crew to fix the airplane you’re supposed to ride in for your connecting flight can be disconcerting. If you’re my daughter, it can also be b-o-r-i-n-g. You can’t find something fun to do as a distraction because you can’t wander far from the gate; when it’s time to board the plane, you have to be there. You can’t take your backpack off because it takes too much time to put it on again. You have to wear your backpack on your back, not your shoulder, and even that won’t prevent the bag from banging against seats and people because airplane aisles are not very wide.
If you’re my daughter, when you finally arrive at your first destination and your grandparents are waiting for you, you have to hug them. And really, you want to hug them because you love them, and you’re excited to see them. But you have to remind yourself that grandparent hugs are worth the momentary sensory discomfort because you’re just so tired of the sights, sounds, and smells from your already-long day, you really don’t want anyone touching you at all.
And it’s only lunch time of Day One.
If you’re my daughter, Day Two of visiting family means riding six hours in the cramped backseat of a rental car. The economy car sits low to the ground, so you feel every bump like there’s nothing between your rear and the road. After banging your shoulder on the door every time you climb out of the car, it doesn’t take long for you to miss your mini-van’s roomy back seat at home.
Traveling sometimes means sleeping in hotels. Hotels sometimes have scratchy blankets. If you’re my daughter, you have a daddy who requests—and receives—an actual comforter for the sleeper-sofa because he suggests the housekeeping service take it out of an empty room. The poofy comforter is better than the scratchy blanket because it’s softer, adding weight on your body and soothing you so you can sleep.
Traveling means sleeping in an unfamiliar bed, not on your own pillow, not being surrounded by your books and collections. Traveling (this time) means your dog isn’t with you; you’re not in your own house, not in your own space, and out of your routine. Is traveling with sensory processing issues worth it? We could just stay home. So why travel?
If you’re my daughter, the trade-off for traveling with sensory integration challenges includes irreplaceable experiences:
- Walking around WalMart telling jokes to your PawPaw, who’s one person in your world who loves corny jokes like you do because they make him laugh.
- Playing Madlibs with Grammy while she works in the kitchen, and loving her belly-laugh when you read back the silly story with her answers filled in.
- Visiting a little French pastry shop with your dad, and choosing treats to take back to your grandparents’ house for everyone else to try. (The cheesecake is the best, although the pistachio macaroon tastes better than everyone expects.)
- Touring the grounds of your great-great grandmother’s dilapidated and abandoned house while your mom uses her memories to paint a picture for you of how it used to look, and collecting nature treasures from the grounds and crying when the pine cone crumbles later in the car. (The crumbling pine cone gives you a chance to vent your emotions, though, a reason to cry because you’re at the age when you still think you need an actual reason to cry.)
- Listening to your great-grandparents tell stories about the Great Depression, remember having gospel singings at their house when they were young, and recount the locations where all their people are buried.
- Eating sandwiches, homemade French fries, and barbecue potato chips for lunch with your great-grandparents at their dining-room table.
- Taking a walk around the hotel with your Nana to look for leprechauns on St. Patrick’s Day, and not minding so much when you don’t find any because it’s a beautiful day to just be together.
- Drawing a picture of a fairy and of a dragon, and hand-delivering the pictures to your aunt and uncle.
- Touring the rows and rows of antique cookware and car and boat parts at your great-great uncle’s house in the country.
- Finding fossils in your great-great uncle’s driveway gravel, and hearing the cow across the street moo so loudly, it makes you laugh out loud.
- Riding back down the road to your great-great grandmother’s homestead to collect a replacement pine cone.
- Sharing a meal with another aunt and uncle at a restaurant, and enjoying the slider burgers even though they are extra-peppery.
Why do we ask so much transition from our sensory-challenged child all in one week? If we had an endless supply of money and opportunity, we could visit family more often and in shorter spurts instead of packing it all into one busy trip. Michael and I do the best we can with the resources and time we have. So does Cami, who has learned many different strategies to adjust to the transitions involved in traveling. The most effective coping mechanism happens when we return home, when she stays in her room for the entire day, when the only people she talks to are her dad and me until she’s ready to be with people again.
It’s a tricky balance to strike sometimes, this traveling with sensory processing challenges. It takes courage and constant adjustment. The memories Cami has of who she is and where she comes from are worth every single struggle.
Counting as blessings the many family connections we have,