Most of us have fears surrounding family vacations. The larger the assembled group, the more potent the possibility of things going wild. Even if we love one another, even if we've looked forward to the trip, we still wonder if it might end in tears. We fear everyone won't get along, that there will be some unexpected-yet-major drama. We worry that everyone will disagree, loudly or silently, and feel uncomfortable the entire time. Families have the power to affect us deeply, for better or for worse, and so our trepidation is natural. Even if our family is loving, we know that we're all only human. And for families with special needs, there are still more issues to consider. For example, will [my son, daughter, sister, brother] be able to enjoy this break in the routine he finds so stabilizing? Will our accommodations meet her needs for quiet/accessibility/comfort? Will he have a meltdown if he gets frustrated while we're on the road?
I've been thinking about these things because my husband and I are about to drive east to Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, to spend a week at the beach with my parents, brother, aunt, uncle, and grandparents. I'm so excited about the prospect of seeing my family; I've missed them tremendously in the last few months. But as my husband was saying goodnight to me one night last week, I told him that, much as I looked forward to our trip, I was also afraid of going on this vacation. I recounted memories of other trips to Hilton Head, times in which Willie had had difficult days. Unexpectedly, I found myself weeping as I described one of my last trips to Hilton Head. I recalled Dad swerving our van over to the side of the road and feeling scared that we'd be in an accident because Willie was so out of control. I remember the bleak emptiness, the despair of thinking that maybe this was just how it was going to be from now on.
And I'm scared that it might be like that again on this trip. Though we've made progress since that last trip, Willie's behavior remains erratic. And I feel such anguish about it at times—will it ever change, for good? And why can't I do more to help? I live so far away from him now, and sometimes I feel guilty that I've chosen to be here in Alabama while he's in New Jersey. I feel bad that I “get” to do work I love while Willie shreds x-rays for low wages. Moreover, I wish, so often, that I could offer my family real, tangible, up-close support. Yet here I had the chance to do so for a week, and I found myself terrified at the prospect.
“I want us to have a good vacation,” I wailed to my listening husband. “All of us. And I'm not sure we can. I'm scared for—and sometimes of—Willie, and I hate feeling that way.” Through my tears, I told him that I was glad that we'd be staying with my parents and Willie in their condo, because if Willie had a major meltdown, my husband could contribute his physical strength and help mitigate the situation. But that feeling of relief was fleeting … because really, how sad is it that I have to think that way? That we all do?
My husband comforted me, saying, “We will have a good vacation!” The force of his words made me smile, as if he could will it to be so. And he told me that, “There's never a good reason not to do what you want to do,” which I took to mean, in the words of Clarissa Pinkola Estés in her book “Women Who Run with the Wolves,” “It is never a mistake to search for what one requires. Never.”
As I anticipate our departure, I'll prepare for the worst even as I hope for the best. Likewise, I'll carry the belief that, in choosing a life that brings me joy, I am also contributing to my family's happiness. After all, what could be better to “bring along” than that?