Special (Needs) Vacations

Upon returning from vacation, I thought I’d write down some thoughts.

First, if you have a special needs child, vacations are different. Sometimes you may wonder if they should be called vacation, since they’re often more work than staying home. But they should be called vacation, even with the added work and disruption to normal life. Even if you’re packing up an IV pole everywhere you go. Even if you have 6 crates of enteral formula in your trunk and tubes and syringes galore. Even if you have a throw up bowl in the car that’s not even for carsickness or a stomach bug. Even if you and your husband have to take turns eating and sleeping. Because what makes them a vacation is not the lack of work, but the intentional time together doing special things that you can’t do in your normal life. What makes it worthwhile is the intensity of time together, the experience of newness and beauty together. The appreciation of all God’s made and done, seen together.

If we’re going to define a vacation by how easy it is or how little work there is or how much we’re able to do exactly what we want every moment, then just forget it. You’ll never have a good vacation, special needs or not, because all people, all relationships, all of everything worthwhile, requires effort. Better to just go be by yourself with nobody around at all, because people everywhere have needs, including us, special ones or not. You can’t escape that on vacation. The “special needs” part is simply a reference to the scope and quantity of the needs. We’re all on the “needs” scale somewhere.

So, my encouragement to special needs parents and all parents really, is to get out there and try it. It’s going to be work. It may be harder than normal life. But get those expectations in line and start seeing things. I think the reason why I’m passionate about this is because I’m a recovering vacation failure. I thought they were supposed to be a break for me. I thought they were about closing my eyes, rather than opening them wider. I mainly just wanted to stay home because I like being home and it keeps things simpler. I like predictability. But if there’s hope for me, there’s hope for you. Let go of cynicism about how much it will cost you. Stop seeing how impossible it will all be before it happens.

“You can’t go on “seeing through” things forever. The whole point of seeing through something is to see something through it. To “see through” all things is the same as not to see.” -C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man

Vacations give us an opportunity to see through TO something, not just looking at something, but seeing it. And even more, seeing together. You may wonder what how that’s supposed to work, since your special child (or your very young child) can’t grasp what they’re seeing. That may be true. But they can have a parent who sees, who knows how important it is to see the beauty all around, who sees through it to the God who made it. Let’s give them that at least. Then let’s put aside our doubts about what they can and can’t see.

And the seeing is of more than creational beauty. See Narnia together in the car, see Middle Earth and Hogsmeade as you fly down the road. Then go outside and really see it. See an earth that is stranger and darker than Mordor and more beautiful and safe than the Shire; a world with more magic than Hogwarts and more children of secret royalty than in the Wingfeather Saga.

And see your kids as well, special needs or not. See what delights them, what they dislike, who they’re drawn to. See what it’s like to be them, what it’s like to sit in the back of the van, how their character is coming along in new settings and with different people. See them and see through them to what drives them, what motivates them, what inspires them. See your people and see if they like being your people and why. Then do what you must to right the ship. That’s what vacations are for. For seeing and loving. For laying down the pettiness and sin, again.

Vacations are for making life special, special needs and all.

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