Travel + trauma + disabilities = still a damn good time.
I don't know what type of parent you are (although if you love your kids and continually do your best for them then I pronounce you a GOOD one) but I personally am the adventure mom. The yeet the fuck out of this house mom. The check out that new park/get ice cream just because/go on a road trip mom. It's partly because I like to play to my strengths (problem solving on the fly and active play are my jam) and partly because I'm choosing the option that I find easiest (it's a lot less boring playing with your kids at the park than at home and plus I can look forward to a drive thru beverage of my choice en route.)
(Disclaimer: I know this part is cheesy and very much written through rose-colored glasses. THE OTHER SHOE IS DROPPING I PROMISE haha just keep reading mmmkay?)
I have always loved traveling with my kids and have so many cherished memories of trips past. Taking my (foster) sons to the aquarium and seeing their faces glow with wonder. Watching them splash joyfully in countless low budget hotel pools and excitedly douse their mediocre Holiday Inn waffles with syrup. Taking all three of my boys plus my bff's daughter up north and introducing them to all my favorite spots. Laughing with the teens on the drive and getting everyone WHATEVER they wanted at dinner just to be fun. The trips where my partner joined us, late nights talking at the bonfire under the stars with the boys fast asleep in the cabin, making up inside jokes with our teen in the car, sharing our joy in watching our guys have fun.
So many firsts for these kids who had not previously had a lot of opportunities to explore the world. So many smiles and laughs and memories that I'll hold close to my heart forever. Each and every one of our family trips have been so very special.
Oh the highs, they're SO high, total mountaintop moments. But the goddamn lows....OH THE LOWS. There's no low quite like the low points of a family trip. Add in some trauma triggers/disabilities in a new and often less than accommodating environment, and oh man do you ever have a recipe for some disasters. Yes, plural.
Like pulling over on the highway and getting both kids OUT of the car ON the highway to deliver a screaming lecture about not hitting each other (yeah I know, not my smartest move.)
Like weathering a multi-day trauma storm NIGHTMARE that ate up the whole second half of an otherwise really beautiful trip, swallowing my frustration that this child who had gotten SO many treats and fun experiences on the trip, could somehow still be in total meltdown mode (it's weird, no matter how much money I spend on vacation I can't seem to buy my kids inner peace. They LOVE when I yell at them about being ungrateful while they're in the midst of a mental health crisis though #world'sokayestmom.)
Like dealing with food triggers. OH MY GOD THE FOOD TRIGGERS. These chicken fingers aren't like the ones at home. There's nothing here I can eat. *Takes one bite of expensive entree, throws it on the floor and cries*
Like lying awake with my partner half the night, each of us consoling a total inconsolable little person who can't sleep in this unfamiliar place (because the background noises are different, because they're gassy, because their pajamas aren't the right tightness and the moon is in Aquarius, IDK?!!!) and wondering why the fuck we EVER thought this was a good idea, and the whisper-fighting with each other about whose fault it is.
And the accessibility issues. OH THE ACCESSIBILITY ISSUES!!! New York City is built like the city planners had NEVER heard of disabled people by the way. And every rental cabin you rent to stay in with your darling little autistic eloper who has never met a car he didn't want to throw himself in front of WILL be basically RIGHT on the winding-est, high-AF-speed-limit-est road EVER with absolutely zero barrier between your kid and the call of the open road.
My point is this: For every moment I can think of while traveling with my kids that rocked, I can also think of another one that absolutely sucked. For every mountaintop moment there's also a stuck in the muddy, shitty valley moment. And it's raining down there and everything sucks ass.
Honestly, that last paragraph basically sums up my entire parenting journey. ANYWAYS....my tops tips for traveling with kids who have complex trauma and/or disabilities:
1) Accommodate and modify the experience to fit your kids' needs as much as possible. Gotta order McDonald's for your child with food related triggers because they couldn't find anything on the menu at the fancy brunch place? Fine, order it. Your autistic love feels more comfortable sitting in their stroller watching the iPad while everyone else checks out the really cool zoo? Totally chill, iPad away my dude. You guys bring doorknob covers and cabinet locks to every AirBNB? Same girl, safety proof away.
2) Prepare the other adults involved so that they can help you more effectively. For example, my mom (who we're visiting right now) and I have ALWAYS done this and I think we've gotten better at it over the years. We talked A LOT leading up to this current visit about what the kids would need, what adjustments I needed her to make to her home environment, and what both of our expectations would be. Have we had setbacks anyway? Hell yes (the baby threw a full plate of rice into their pool yesterday FOR FUCK'S SAKE *sigh*) but we've worked through them, and I know that our many strategy phone calls made a big difference.
3) Work on your mindset: Traveling with kids is not a vacation. We are currently on a memory making trip and I'm having so much fun with my littles and extended family (in between the inevitable struggle bus moments) creating opportunities for them to have amazing new experiences and taking tons of pictures, mental snapshots and actual ones. It's been a great trip. Much like climbing Mount Everest, it's actually quite challenging most of the time, but I'm fucking glad I did it! That's the trip. The VACATION is going to be next week, when both the little are in day camp AAALLLL DAY and then their dad will be making up for lost time with them in the afternoons and evenings. And Mama will be chilling. Alone.
4) This is the last one, and I think it's the most important one: Don't apologize for your family, ever. We have ALWAYS gotten our fair share of stares, whispers, and sometimes even rude comments while traveling, from all kinds of nosy people. Randos on the street, employees at our destinations, and even (rare but sadly it has happened) from friends or family. This world is not built for people still in the process of healing from the types of emotional wounds that my kids carry. It's not built for disabled people to navigate it successfully. And our society doesn't teach our fellow humans to be understanding of those factors either.
So sometimes, people are rude and then they get a learning opportunity. In the form of my big ass mouth, educating them in real time :)
When we travel, we live out loud. We lay down the changing mat and change that poopie diaper wherever we need to (should've had an accessible changing area if you didn't want that, #sorrynotsorry!) We use our bright blue safety first handholder and we give anyone who wants to comment about "leash kids" the middle finger. We respond calmly and supportively to teen attitude, seeing it for the trauma response that it is, and we DARE Uncle so-and-so to lecture about sucking it up and "being a man".
If you are parenting a child with challenges and/or disabilities, hear me now: You and your child deserve to take up space. You deserve to parent the way you KNOW your child needs without judgement. Your child deserves to have new experiences and soak up life and see the world. And if the world doesn't want to see them in all of their wild and wonderful neurodivergent glory, tough titties. It's the world that's wrong and needs to change, not your beautiful family.
Cuz adventures are for everyone and life is too damn short to let the whispers and the eye rolls and the goddamn stairs at EVERY subway station (sorry NYC but fuck you) stop you and your kids from having them.
Go forth and make those memories fellow parents. Our family is cheering you on!