The 43 Hour Vacation


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“I think I will move to Australia.”

So says the young boy Alexander in Judith Viorst’s award winning children’s book, “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.” That was one of my personal favorite books as a child. Now here I was, sitting on the edge of the bed at 2:16am tempted to check the flight schedules to Sydney myself.

Five years had passed since the last time we had attempted to take a family trip together. That one ended with me in a coma.

Those were the “good ole’ days compared to this family vacation.

With Jon Alex’s profound special needs, coupled with his autistic demand for routine and structure, we knew it would be a challenge to slip off for a few days together. However the cabin was free, the drive less than three hours, and the timing seemed right, so we went for it.

Out of concern for overflowing bathtubs onto the hardwood floors, the cabin owners had made sure there was no way to stop up the tub for a bath. Baths just happen to be our son’s favorite activity and part of his nightly routine. So baths were out for the duration of the trip.

There was no chair safe enough to leave him unattended, so he was forced to stay in in his wheelchair for a great portion of the time in the cabin. The television set was mounted up high which, when coupled with his vision issues, prevented him from watching his favorite videos. So quite simply there was nothing for him to do, and his routine was getting out of sorts by the minute.

During the cold war, the United States used a scale called DEFCON to determine our state of alertness. DEFCON 5 meant we were at peace while DEFCON 1 meant nuclear war was imminent.

At 4pm that first day, I took our family’s status to Defcon 3.

Jon Alex’s mobility issues put a severe limit on what he could physically do outside of the cabin environment. So going into town to find things to entertain him with was not really a viable option either.

Meanwhile tensions were escalating rapidly inside the cabin. Our conversations were getting terse, our words sharp, and our tempers brief. Bedtime came and brought a new round of problems. The cabin only had one bedroom on the main level. With Jon Alex’s cerebral palsy and my handicapped feet, we would have to find a way for all of us to sleep on the main level.

We decided to blow up a double high air mattress to put on the floor for Jon Alex to prevent him from rolling off of a regular bed in the night. Despite being non-verbal, Jon Alex expressed his delight with the arrangements by turning the air mattress into his own personal trampoline. He bounced and he bounced, and he bounced.

Did I mention he bounced?  Not for a minute, not for a moment, not for an hour- but for the whole night!!He would not go to sleep.

The air mattress would lose air from all the bouncing, and he would sink towards the floor. We would have to lift him up and re-inflate the mattress over and over. Here we were now at 2:16am, everyone wide-awake, yet utterly exhausted.

As Alexander had said, “It had been a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.” I took our family’s status to DEFCON 2, and downloaded a Visit Australia app for my smartphone.

The sun came up on Day 2 of our unfortunate incarceration.

The second day was a repeat of the first day in many ways. Tensions escalated at an alarming rate. We were beyond tired, bored, and the thought of staying there the rest of the week was unbearable. Becky and I began throwing out trial balloons to each other about ending the vacation earlier than we had planned and just returning home. I was secretly looking at the Qantas Airlines flight schedule.

Once again we put the air mattress down after once again forgoing the nightly bath. And once again, Jon Alex was thrilled to have his indoor trampoline back. No sleep for anyone the entire night, yet again.

I channeled Barry Corbin as General Beringer in the movie “War Games” as he said, “Flush the bombers, get the subs in launch mode, we’re at DEFCON 1.”

At 10pm we decided to leave the following afternoon and return home.

At midnight we decided to move up our departure time to noon.

At 2:00am we decided to leave after breakfast.

At 4:00am under the cover of darkness, and pouring rain, we loaded up and made our move. Who needs breakfast anyway?

At 7:45am we pulled into the driveway of home sweet home. Jon Alex soaked in the bathtub with a huge grin on his face, and I crawled under a blanket in my favorite recliner. I clicked my heels as I slipped my shoes off and said, “There’s no place like home.”