We took an actual vacation.We traveled across the country with 2 sleepy boys at 4:00 in the morning and landed in Philadelphia around 2:30pm EST. We hopped into our rented Prius and took off for the shore, where Charles' family had rented a beach house in the quaint shore town of Sea Isle City. And this was the view from our backyard:
Collective sigh of contentment.
The boys easily adapted to their new surroundings and even the time change. We sat out on the back porch drinking in the amazing view, took neighborhood walks in the wagon, Christian tried his hand at fishing with his cousin Kyle, we kayaked amongst the mud flats and tall grasses, bird watched as giant herons landed 50 feet from where we were sitting, but mostly we just enjoyed each other. It was a much, much needed break from our everyday life!
Elijah has had zero therapy in over 3 months. Nothing. No physical, occupational or speech therapy. The school district SUCKS, and it is because of them that he hasn't been getting the services he really needs. And yet...therapy input does not always equal output. It's not solely because he has therapy that he performs a new task. Some of it is sheerly developmental, and some of it is opportunity. Elijah has made huge strides in the last 3 months. Even without the therapy. I've become his PT, OT, ST and all other forms of therapist. But, it's not because I've done such a great job. I just think he was ready. So, on our trip he started mastering a few new things.
Talk about opportunity. We didn't have a sippy cup that had a straw with it, which is really the only kind of drinking he has mastered. He doesn't seem to quite get that you have to tip a typical sippy cup up to get the water out. Maybe it's too tiring for him? I don't know. However, without our go-to drinking cup, we had to improvise. The beach house happened to have a small child's cup. So, I filled it with water and thought, Why not? Let's give it a try again. He did it! It wasn't perfect and it was a little messy, but he actually managed it. All by himself. I don't think I'd leave him unattended with milk in an open cup, but it's a step in the right direction. Did I mention how proud of himself he was?
The boys loved their time with Grandma. Christian was open and affectionate with her and was a fan of everything "Grandma's". Elijah quickly warmed to her too, and was happy to curl up on her lap at the beach with a few snacks taking a break from his long walks on the beach (!!)
We arrived at the beach not long after high tide, so the sand was nicely packed and not difficult to walk on. Elijah took it upon himself to walk along the beach, greeting sunbathers with enthusiastic waves of his arm and blowing kisses like he was some sort of celebrity. He quickly amassed the "Elijah Fan Club" with that action. I tried to get video, but was too busy chasing him myself to get anything quality.
Charles built a sandcastle on the beach with Christian and his cousin
Kyle. And for anyone who has been at the beach with Charles, they know
he doesn't mess around. He comes with a full size shovel and seeks to
create model-scale worthy sand castle construction. I took these photos
prematurely, as ultimately the castle ended up with a 2 foot long
underground tunnel, a master wing with porch, the obligatory moat, and
tiny trees coating the landscape...
We said goodbye to our lovely Sea Isle home after a few days and headed back to the small town in New Jersey where Charles grew up. We arrived late that night and trying to put Elijah down in an unknown crib in an unfamiliar house did not go well. I have seldom seen him so upset. He calmed immediately when I laid down next to him on the outside of the crib. His sweet face relaxed and smiled around the pacifier still clutched in his mouth. But, the second I got up to go, crying resumed. I said goodnight anyway and walked out to see if he could calm himself. Christian was sharing the room with him, and I could hear him saying, "Elijah it's okay. It's okay, Elijah!!" He said it a couple of times and then miraculously, the crying stopped. Elijah is not the only one making huge developmental strides lately. Christian is too. I found myself welling with tears of pride for the compassionate and helpful kid he's becoming. He's beginning to take care of and play with his brother, not because I ask him to, but because he wants to.
The following day we met up with our friends Ken and Susan for a little playtime in Franklin Square Park in Philly. Christian played miniature golf with Charles and Ken, while Susan and I watched Elijah navigate the playground. Elijah has one major behavioral issue: He's a hair puller. He's fast and he pulls hard, so I have to stay within arms reach at all times when he's around other kids. (He used to pull adults' hair too, but we finally broke him of that.)
I've got a new "Stop the Hair-Pulling Technique" going that seems to be working, but it wasn't without a cringe-worthy moment: I had been quickly stopping him and saying (and signing) "NO, Elijah! That HURTS her!" I am careful to make my facial expression very serious. He understands, makes a sad face and wants to hug me, but then the hair pulling will happen again within seconds. I decided I might have to try something new. So, one day not long before we left on this vacation, I was at a play area with a friend and her kids. Elijah reached out to grab my friend's daughter's hair and I grabbed Elijah's hand to pull it away. At the same time, I grabbed a little bit of his hair and pulled while I said NO! Elijah immediately let go and looked at me, shocked. I didn't know how I felt about this, but it was the biggest reaction I have ever gotten out of Elijah and the only thing that has made him willingly let go of the hair. (I've always had to pry his iron grip off the kids hair, apologizing profusely to the innocent child.) So, I thought I might be onto something. Maybe sometimes a simplistic approach is necessary. So, I continue watching him play. Sure enough, I see a little girl get right up into Elijah's space (which might be the trigger for him?), he reaches out, begins to grab and I swoop in and grab his hair. He immediately lets go, before he even got a good pull in and begins crying like a banshee. I look down and in my hand is a CLUMP of his hair. Like a lock of hair. Except more than that. My heart drops to my toes. My brain clicks through all of the reasons a clump would be in my hand...I didn't pull that hard, did I??? Maybe he has some sort of unknown hair disease, where it comes out too easily?? I look around to see if this moment has been fully documented by the other parents who are probably currently writing a blog post about the mean Mom of a child with Special Needs who pulled her kid's hair out at a play area. Great.
After Elijah calmed down (but I didn't), he went back to playing. We didn't have another hair pulling incident again that day. I told my Mom the story, who assured me that young children's hair comes out very easily and it probably wasn't that I pulled too hard. I decided I needed to try the approach again, but just be very, very, very, very careful. Since then, I have used a very light little tug as a reminder, while I say, Don't pull Elijah. Be gentle! It actually seems to be working. I don't think this is a recommended technique by many, or probably ANY child professionals. But, I'm also feeling the pressure as the school year is approaching. At some point (after we finish battling the school district so that my child can be safe), he is going to be in a preschool classroom, sitting next to other kids. It will not be good or appropriate for him to pull their hair. So, I'm trying this "technique" out. It's risky because there will be people who take serious issue with it, I'm sure. Perhaps they would feel differently if it was their sweet, innocent child who was at the mercy of my child's iron grip of their hair? If this doesn't work, my Mom has had a ton of success using a water bottle to squirt her dogs' unwanted behavior. Perhaps that is next? Ha ha...just kidding...maybe.
Cut back to Franklin Square Park. We got through an entire park play without a single hair grabbing incident. This is HUGE. Do I dare see the light at the end of the tunnel with this unwanted behavior?? Instead, we watched Elijah walk and bounce and swing and enjoy.
We finished the park trip up with a carousel ride and then headed to the loud and busy Redding Terminal for a bite to eat. We love that place and luckily so did my boys. Elijah was too hungry to be happy at first, but once we got him some lunch, he was in great spirits. Christian exclaimed (like he did every. single. day. of this trip) "This is the best day ever!"
Our trip concluded with what we affectionately call "the porch hang" at Charles' Mom's house. We sat out on the porch during a flash flood storm, with thunder and lightning, and even lightening bugs. To this California girl, it was heaven!!We had to pack up the following day and mentally prepare ourselves for the LONG trip home, but before we left, Elijah decided to show off the improvement he's made in his walking skill. He walked the entire block without help! He would sit for a second or two every 20 feet or so, but then he'd stand right back up and walk some more. Who needs therapy?!
We set off for our challenging trip home: rental car drop off, shuttle to terminal, THREE airplanes, 2 layovers, red-eye craziness, no dinner, baggage claim, shuttle to the airport parking lot, then the ride home. The boys were troopers, but it was a day I could have easily done without. 12 hours of travel for something that should have taken 6. It's just what we chose to endure to squeeze every last minute we could out of our trip with family. And while we waited on our layovers, Elijah walked among the travelers, waving, blowing kisses and winning hearts. At least there was that.
Not every minute of our trip was perfect, but it was a wonderful mix of relaxation, exciting milestones, laughs with family, and new opportunities for all of us. Maybe Vacation Therapy is all anyone needs every once in awhile...