Vacations are supposed to be beautiful, fun, and relaxing. For a child with RAD, PTSD, or something similar, however, vacations can be a nightmare.
Thankfully, our first vacation as a family of 7 went pretty well. Not bump-free, by any means, but overall better than we anticipated. Personally, I think it's due to 2 reasons: Prayer and Planning.
Friends were praying for us and family members were praying for us. They knew our time away from home would probably be a struggle for Yohannes, which equates to a struggle for all of us. So they prayed, and we were thankful.
A lot of planning took place. Here are some things we did to try to ease the transition of taking Yohannes out of his new comfort zone:
1) 3 weeks before we left for our vacation, we got out the calendar and a map and marked down where we were going and exactly how many "sleeps" would happen at each location. Each day we would point to the calendar and say things like, "When do we leave for vacation?" and, "How many nights will be in North Carolina?"
2) 2 weeks before we left, we began showing pictures of the cabin, inside and out. We went through and explained the layout of the house and showed Yohannes and Paulos where they would sleep each night. Pictures of the outside confirmed that there was a creek and a big porch for having lots of fun together.
3) We put DVD players in the car and let them each pick movies they wanted to watch. We explained the rotation system of what order they would go in to be able to watch their chosen movie.
4) The day before we left, we let each child pack one backpack with their favorite things to bring. Yohannes and Paulos wanted to bring every single thing they owned. With a little coaching, they narrowed down their choices to fit in their bags. They also picked out their favorite blanket and stuffed animal from their beds to have with them at all times, in the car during the drive up and while they slept at each location.
5) The day before we left, I showed them where their clothes were in the luggage that I packed. They were presented with new mittens and hats for the cold weather. Remember, they went from Ethiopia to Florida (not a huge weather change), so they had not experienced the kind of cold that we experienced in North Carolina.
6) When we left on our trip, I had a bag of "tricks", full of snacks, drinks, coloring books and pencils, books, and boxes of candy (each child received their favorite kind). I also brought a huge bag of lollipops. Did you know that sucking on something is soothing for a child with emotional difficulties? It's true. When arguing began, we quickly offered the "offending" child a lollipop to quiet the mouth that needed to be shut. Seem like bribery to you? I guess in a way, but the action of sucking on a lollipop really does work. Chewing gum can work, too.
7) We made sure we arrived at the cabin in the daylight. That meant the children could explore not only the cabin but the outside grounds as well. We went through boundaries of where they could and could not go (things like not near the road, not too close to the icy creek water, etc.). I unpacked, arranged beds, and visited the grocery store while Alan watched them explore the new space.
8) We stayed in a house, not a hotel. Is that possible in every location? No. But where it is possibility, it's a good idea. We were able to stay in the home of someone we knew. Even if we have no contacts there, though, we can usually find a house rental at places we normally stay (like the beach and the mountains) for the same amount per night as a hotel. That way when a meltdown occurs that can be heard for a 5 mile radius, we are at least a home away from the neighbors and not in the hotel room next door.
9) Since we stayed in a house, we were able to cook the majority of our meals. I made breakfast each morning and we did our normal morning routine. Then for lunch we either packed a picnic or ate out. Dinners were able to be cooked on the stove or left simmering in a crock pot so they were ready to eat when we got home. This limited our eating out excursions. Eating in is a good idea in our family since both our newest boys both have food issues of some kind (not to mention the obvious fact that it's cheaper). Meal times do not always go smoothly. There can be a lot of whining, complaining, crying, coaxing, and help with feeding going on.
10) Once we arrived at our friends' house, the Turner family, we stayed put. Meaning, we spent our time with them in their home and on their property. Even then, because we were with other people for a couple nights in a new place, Yohannes had some meltdowns. We had warned Jeff and Melissa this would probably happen and told them what to expect before we arrived. Then when those moments did occur, they understood why we had to leave the room, go to bed early, or not say, "goodnight".
Were there some aspects I would do differently next time? Sure. But, overall, it was a good first family trip. Praise God!