Live…travel…and learn…

We are back from our trip to D.C.  We are in one piece.  We are satisfied with the results of our journey.  This shouldn’t be construed as “it all went smoothly.”  First and foremost: J had fun. Second: we had fun.  Third: animals are not J’s thing.  I’ll get to the rest of that in a moment.  For our first family vacation in thirteen years, we did pretty darned well.

The kid who two years ago would eat only Ramen noodles and mac and cheese tried every single food item we ordered at restaurants.  He ate guacamole without picking out the “interesting” bits that he could see in it.  He ate his tacos as they were served: with lettuce and chopped up onions and chilies in them.  There was no turning down a meal, or a taste of someone else’s.  He tasted everything we offered him, and he ate all meals with gusto.

D.C. is a walking town.  None of us had ever been so we were going by the impression we got from maps.  Google Maps can be very alarming when you look at it…the distances, well, seem much longer than they really are.  Once I figured out that D.C. city blocks are not NY city blocks, all was well.  In no time we were navigating like pros…or as close to “like pros” as one can be on the first visit to anywhere.

Of course, quiet places to eat a meal (especially during tourist season) are few and far between.  We had two dinners that were overwhelmingly noisy, but J managed to focus on the purpose of our presence in the restaurants, and didn’t fret about the ridiculously loud noise levels.  Kudos to him.  We were pleasantly surprised!  The kid who wouldn’t sit through a meal in a restaurant a couple of years ago is now totally fine with having dinner at a crowded restaurant while Happy Hour is in full swing, or a loud group of diners is boisterously celebrating someone’s birthday nearby.

J loved the walking bits of our trip.  J loved the Metro.  Any hesitation we might have had about his willingness to descend into the subterranean landscape of a subway station were quickly assuaged.  In mere minutes we were surfacing at the Smithsonian station and trying to get our bearings.  First stop: Museum of Natural History.

And herein rears its ugly head the fly in our ointment…

The first look at the elephant in the Rotunda was enough to tell me we’d have to pick our battles in this particular location.  J was so impressed with the lifelike appearance of this particular pachyderm that he started backing away.  I took him aside and explained that the animals are not alive…  J’s shoulders relaxed slightly, and I started leading him towards the Mammals exhibit.

Out of the corner of my eye I saw the feline that looks ready to pounce from above, and that’s when I realized J was digging his heels into the ground.  Nothing doing.  It was over right then and there even though I explained (over and over) that the animals were not alive.  I motioned for Dada and TGG to go ahead and walk around at their leisure while J and I did the best we could to look at things from strategic spots that kept him away from the actual exhibit.  We saw a lot of animal butts, and that was perfectly fine with me.  I was unwilling to force the issue if it meant J would be upset.  Mentally I scratched the Zoo off our list because, well, if dead animals are a problem, what will live ones do????

A leisurely walk around the butterfly garden outside of the museum helped J’s mood, and once more we plunged into the heat of the day to cross over to the Air and Space Museum.  We fared a little better there because it was cool, and because nothing looked like it was about to kill any living creatures.  J walked around at his own pace, navigating through the crowds that were desperately trying to beat the heat in of doors.  Dada is an “anything that flies” aficionado so he and TGG walked around going ooooh and aaaah while J and I slowly moseyed around and took short sit-down breaks on any available benches.

And then it happened.  The thing that hadn’t happened in such a long time happened.  Gloriously, obviously, publicly, shockingly, stunningly, sadly happened.  Ferdinand the Bull sat on that bee…J had a meltdown.  The crowds and the temperature and humidity that soared finally got to him.  Not only did J hit his head with his fists…he ROARED!  Leaving TGG behind, Dada and I escorted him out of the premises and to a shady area outside of the museum.  We texted TGG our location, and we tried to reason with a very overwhelmed J.  I asked what was wrong.  He roared again.  I told him that was rude.  He squealed.  I checked to see if something was hurting.  Everything was fine.  TGG found us and we briskly walked to the Metro station (in the wrong direction for a good fifteen minutes) while J kept saying GOOD MORNING and ANGRY and I kept telling him “it’s afternoon, and it doesn’t feel so good right now,” and “yes, of course I’m angry.”

Suddenly, for the first time in a long time, we were “those people” who dash out of a place because their autistic son is going ballistic.  I was mortified.  Yes, this was my first thought: we were doing SO WELL.  And then we became “those people” who stop for a brief conversation in the shade of a tree, and I’m the only one who’s talking while everyone’s trying to interrupt me: a) TGG had to make it about him and how he had freaked out because he couldn’t find us, b) Dada was too flustered and holding the map wrong, and c) J needs to use his iPad to tell me what he wants, needs, feels, or I can’t help!

By the end of those three minutes when we looked like the The Three Stooges (with yours truly playing Mo to the hilt,) we knew where the Metro station was and we turned in its direction.  I was having a hot flash on top of the anxiety of seeing J THAT upset.  As Dada purchased tickets for our return trip, an arm snaked around my shoulder and pulled me.  J was hugging me…squeeze-release-squeeze hugging while stroking my hair and saying ANGRY.  Shit.  I couldn’t be angry anymore.  I told him, as he kept squeezing me, that he needs to say what he wants, and I will do what he needs.

And then I realized it: J was hungry and thirsty.  That’s what it boiled down to…we had lost track of time and he needed sustenance.  We were entirely to blame for the meltdown at the museum.  What morons!!!!!

The rest of the trip was uneventful.  We made adjustments to our sightseeing, our meals, and the way we handled J’s needs.  We learned a lot from this particular experience.  Remember, please, that we hadn’t traveled for leisure in thirteen years, and J was only seven when we last took a family vacation.  Things have changed a bit since then.

We hope to do it again next year.  We don’t know if we’re yet ready to fly anywhere, or how long we’d be able to stay if we go somewhere that requires a plane trip or two.  We’re learning again.  We’re opening a new book and seeing what’s in it, and we’re editing and correcting as we go along. We are willing to do this because we think it’s important that we keep learning.  J is obviously trying to figure things out…we’re doing this together.

Next time will be easier…

Lessons learned:

1)  There’s no such thing as packing too many snacks.  Hotel rooms have refrigerators…use them!

2)  If the only animals J feels comfortable with are the TOOB kind, stick to those.

3)  J will happily walk back from dinner with one of us while the other two go to do/see something that appeals to them.

4)  Two craft kits for four nights?  Are you nuts????  Next time take more books and more crafts.  If J wants to go back to the room, he will appreciate this.

5)  J doesn’t watch Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon OR Disney.  Use his Netflix or keep his favorite movies in his iCloud.

6)  U.S. History is too abstract for J so find other things to engage him.  Mix the familiar with the tourist-y and you’ll be fine.

7)  The Sofitel at Lafayette Square is an awesome hotel, and they will give you adjoining rooms if available.

8)  Oyamel, Mio, GCDC, Black Iron Pizza are great places for J to eat.  Service is great, food is delicious.

9)  Road trips are fine, but we really need to think long and hard about the possibility of air travel…hmmmmmmmmm