I am not a traveler. As my sister and her family headed off this week for a summer vacation in Myrtle Beach, I was happy for them but even happier that I didn’t have to go anywhere this summer. My aversion to car trips, I’m sure, was shaped by our annual summer treks to see my mom’s family in West Virginia. While I was delighted to get there and visit my relatives, the journey there was not fun. Of course, this was in the 1970’s when kids didn’t have personal DVD players, handheld video games, IPods, or cell phones to keep us amused during a nine-hour trip. Nope, I had a book and a stack of Tiger Beat magazines to pass the time. My parents and we three kids would pile into our version of the Griswold family truckster [from the movie Vacation], a Buick Estate Wagon, and make the trip southeast. My mom would pack a nice assortment of snacks for the trip, including cheese and peanut butter crackers that left orange powder on our hands, seats, and car mats. One year, the three of us plowed through a box of Bugles corn chips less than a half hour into our journey, leading my mom to complain and later be quoted through the years, “You ate all the Bugles, and we’re not even to Wheatfield!” [a real town in Northwest Indiana about 30 miles from our hometown] My dad did all the driving and insisted on complete quiet, which meant that any territorial disputes within the car between siblings had to be settled through dirty looks so as not to disturb our driver and risk his wrath. Moreover, he saw no need to stop unless we needed gasoline, so we learned to ask for bathroom breaks only when absolutely necessary. I don’t think he intended to be a tyrant about things; he just focused on getting there and making good time instead of making the getting there a good time.
After Ed and I were married and went on some car trips of our own, I began to experience some déjà vu, minus the family station wagon and sharing salty snacks with my siblings. Like my dad, Ed preferred to travel in silence, although we could listen to music at times, and he also stopped infrequently for rest or bathroom breaks because he, unlike me, rarely needed to stop and rest or use the facilities. To pass time, I would read books or People magazines, but I discovered the best way to pass time (and not think about having to use the bathroom) was to sleep. Ed even wrote a poem [“Driving North at Nightfall”] that mentions my penchant for dozing in the car while he notices the landscape along the way. Anyway, my lack of affection for traveling has made it easy to accept that we can’t vacation with Alex; this has not been a sacrifice for me. Since Alex is on a restricted diet due to his food sensitivities, planning what he can eat away from home would be a tricky task. Also, his previous history of meltdowns in the car makes us reluctant to take him on a long car ride, lest risking being hit, kicked, or pelted by objects thrown by our backseat driver, should something along the way annoy him. Moreover, Ed and I always have various escape routes and diversion plans for known places that may not necessarily work for strange places, so we’re not eager to put ourselves in situations that could be potentially dangerous, or at least embarrassing, should Alex pitch a fit. And so, this summer, I look over the vacation pictures my friends have shared on Facebook and don’t feel a twinge of jealousy, pleased that Alex’s unpredictable behavior has allowed me to sleep in my own bed, use my own clean bathroom, and avoid being cooped up in the car wondering when we can stop and get out.
Knowing that summer vacation should be a time of new adventures, however, Ed and I have worked at trying to give Alex opportunities to do fun things during our autism-imposed “staycation.” When he was younger, Alex liked to wander around the backyard and play in the sprinkler, but he’s outgrown those activities, leaving us to find things to do close to home. We’re big on free or cheap entertainment in case we have to leave quickly with Alex, so as not to compound the frustration of changed plans with wasted money. This summer, we have taken Alex to “Wonderful Wednesdays,” the weekly noon free concerts at the Valparaiso University Union, which have been terrific. We’re on familiar territory there, and Alex enjoys listening to the singer-guitarists while we sit and sip soft drinks. In addition, we’ve taken him to Dairy Queen for slushes, a local coffee shop for root beer, and family restaurants regularly for meals. He also likes going to our local arcade to play their Deal or No Deal video game. One of our daily activities is shared computer time in which, thanks to our wireless router and each of us having our own laptops, we are all on our computers at the same time. Ed checks out literary journals, current events, and political websites; I play video games, read entertainment news, and spend time on Facebook; and Alex does math research, checks out electronic gadgets, and Googles a variety of topics he wants to learn. For something new, Ed bought Alex an inexpensive digital camera and has taken him to our city parks to take pictures, which he seems to like doing. Alex’s favorite pastime, however, is grocery shopping at Walmart, where he likes strolling the aisles, pushing the cart, and smiling in amusement the entire time. For him, this is Disney World. While I guess we should be thankful that he finds fun in such a common activity, we still keep looking for summer recreation to keep him interested and busy. Besides, I’m hoping to do something worthy of good photographs to post on my Facebook page and/or material to write for the blog. With four weeks of summer vacation left, I’m sure we’ll find it soon.
“So I recommend having fun, because there is nothing better for people in this world than to eat, drink, and enjoy life. This way they will experience some happiness along with all the hard work God gives them under the sun.” Ecclesiastes 8:15