My family just got back from a great 2 week long vacation. The first week was spent looking at colleges for my oldest daughter Ana on our way down to the Outer Banks of North Carolina where we spent our second week at a beach house with family from Chicago and Virginia Beach.
For me, there is always some trepidation when it comes to vacationing with Philip. Vacation means daily schedules are thrown out the window and brand new places and experiences are encountered. For most people, this is what makes vacation fun and adventurous. But with Philip, you never know what to expect except that it will most likely not go the way it “should” go.
During our first week of vacation we visited U Penn in Philadelphia, Johns Hopkins (my husband’s and my alma mater) in Baltimore, and Duke and UNC-Chapel Hill in North Carolina. We also did some site-seeing which corresponded with some of the lessons I gave Philip before we went on our trip. The college visits involved an information session in a big auditorium and then a campus tour given by a student. We hoped we could take Philip along, but that proved to be too difficult between Philip’s inability to keep quiet and keep still. Sam and I ended up trading places as to who would accompany Ana and the other kids and who would watch Philip.
On our second week of vacation, we rented a big beach house in Nags Head with my sister Kit and her family and 6 of my cousins and their families. We had 15 adults and 16 kids total! The house had 10 rooms, a pool, and 2 hot tubs. It also had a little boardwalk bridge over a sand dune in the backyard which lead right to the beach. It was a beautiful getaway! The company was even more wonderful. We adult cousins and spouses got to catch up with one another and run the show for once (our first “reunion” as the oldest generation). My kids each had cousins their age to play with. Ana and Carlos went surfing and played pool with their teenage cousins. Lia and the other girls made plays and song and dance videos. Everyday everyone swam and played in the sand at the beach….everyone, except Philip.
Philip would not go to the beach. I do not know why things sometimes change with Philip because he used to go when we lived in Miami. On the first day we all excitedly ran across the boardwalk bridge to get to the beach. Philip ran across too. But when he got to the other side, he immediately ran back. We tried to hold his hand to come with us, but the more he pulled away and cried. Another day we drove to the public beach where the waves were known to be good for surfing. We thought maybe a different entry to the beach would work, but it didn’t. Sam ended up driving him to 7-11 for a Slurpee to sweeten the deal, but after still having no luck getting him back to the beach, he drove him back to the house where Philip jumped into the pool. The next day, Sam and I woke up at 5:30am to watch the sunrise and bring Philip to the beach while he was still sleepy. Perhaps a quiet beach without lots of people would be more appealing to Philip. When Philip realized where he was, he became anxious and fidgety, only walking with us with fear in his eyes. Sam couldn’t take seeing Philip so miserable so he brought him back to the house while I took in the beautiful sunrise. After that day, we no longer forced the issue of getting Philip to the beach. Again, Sam and I took turns between watching Philip at the pool and going to the beach with the rest of the family.
Our vacation was wonderful, enjoyable, and full of great memories, but for me there was also a tinge of sadness. Sadness because of unmet expectations that we would enjoy all these things together as a family. In my mind I envisioned Philip would share the same joy I had of splashing in the ocean, building sandcastles, and discovering new things such as seashells and sandcrabs. I wanted it so much for him, for me. Sam is so much better than me about these things. Sam would say, “Let him be. He is so happy at the pool.” I know I will have to let these things go and get used to a different “normal.” Be happy just because he is happy.
Just when I thought Philip would never go to the beach the whole trip, he surprised me. On Thursday, I was watching Philip swim in the pool by himself. It was about 5pm and everyone else was inside resting or getting ready for dinner. Philip began venturing out of the gate to run across the bridge and back. He did this often and I wasn’t concerned because he always came back, being afraid of the beach. But this time he was gone a few minutes. I decided to follow behind to see what he was up to. I crept across slowly as to not startle him. There I saw Philip, clearly on the beach, still far from the water, but playing in the sand. He was rolling in the soft sand which was no longer scorching hot by this time of the day. He scooped sand onto his legs and arms. He was enjoying the pure sensation of it all. When he saw me, he took off running toward the water. He didn’t quite reach it before turning back, but it was the closest he got to ocean all week long. I thought how interesting it was that Philip did make it to the beach after all- but on his own terms.
The next morning, I asked Philip why it was so hard for him to go to the beach. This is what he spelled:
I do not advise it because it is d-e-f-a-i-n-g (misspell)
Me: Do you mean defeating? Like the waves might overtake you?
Me: Can you spell it again? You do not advise going into the ocean because it is ___
Me: Deafening? Like it hurts your ears?
So that’s what it was all along. The Saturday we left for home, Sam and I got up at dawn to see the sunrise and walk to the pier for the last time. There was no one out but us, so I listened closely to the waves. When there is nothing else to distract your attention such as people, pelicans flying overhead, airplanes with their ads to come eat at such and such, and even the concept of having a fun time at the beach, you can hear the sheer power of the waves as they pound the shore. Sometimes a wave crashes in a fanning motion and when it does, it sounds like a rapid fire machine gun- no joke. Somehow, Philip is tuned into things we are not automatically tuned into, or are easily distracted from. I wonder what else Philip senses that we don’t.
Today I asked Philip of all the places we visited, which was his favorite. “North Carolina,” he spelled. “Why?” I asked. “My cousins,” he spelled. Just like anyone else. Isn’t it the people that make life so enjoyable?
The whole crew (minus Philip who is hiding)