autism,  family,  travel

Ohana means family

J loved the Dole Whip at the Dole plantation.

Every two years, Steve’s family has been trying to do a “destination family reunion” where Steve’s four other siblings, their families, and my mother-in-law all meet up somewhere and share part of the summer holiday as a family. This time everyone wanted to hold the reunion in Hawaii and it was an exhausting, exhilarating, and lovely time. It was kind of a big deal too.

Big meaning the travel out to Hawaii was quite the adventure. Our family got out the door by 8:17 am July 12, drove up to Winnipeg, caught a 2:30 flight from Winnipeg to Vancouver, and then flew out of Vancouver at 6:10 and arrived at 10:30 pm Hawaii time. For those keeping track, we went from Central time to Pacific time to Hawaiian standard time. Hawaii time is 5 hours behind Fargo time, so when we arrived it felt like 3:30 am. 10 days later, we made the whole trip back in reverse, leaving from Hawaii around 10:30 pm, arriving back to Winnipeg around 3:30 pm. We rolled into Fargo around 7:30 pm. Incredibly the marathon trip only takes “one day.”

Downtown Honolulu.

Steve and I were nervous on how the kids would take the all-day travel. We were especially nervous about J. J has a very strict internal clock when it comes to meal times and bed times. He’s the type of kid that when we have friends over and they stay late, he puts himself to bed at 9:00 no matter what is going on because he physically needs to. He has an uncanny sense of time when it comes to lunch. He has a window of 11:30-12:30 for lunch until he gets hangry. This trip put hiccups into all of that strict internal clock but, for the most part, miraculously he was able to adapt to the interruptions in his physical routine.

There were only three moments in our cross country and over the Pacific ocean travel that J had a borderline meltdown.

  1. Arrival at the Winnipeg airport. We arrived at 12:30–hangry time. You’d think that after all the hangry incidents we’ve had recently that I would have caught on to this by now, but of course I haven’t. We scanned our passports into the kiosk while J sat on the floor and tried to keep it together until I could dig through my purse for a protein bar I was saving for myself. Even then he was borderline panic through security. Lesson learned: plan better for the hangry times.
  2. Descent into Honolulu. J had a little panic attack 20 minutes before we landed in Honolulu. He was literally trying to dig out his eardrums with his fingers because his ears were popping so badly. When you’re in pain and when your body thinks it’s 3:00 am and you’re trying to keep it together in front of a bunch of strangers in the dark, it’s hard. But once again, it was a quiet enough meltdown not to cause a scene. Autism is hard, but being older and having more coping strategies does help. We also picked up a pair of earplanes (an earplug that helps with that popping sensation) at a local Long Drug (CVS) in Honolulu. That made all the difference on the way back. No problems at all.
  3. Flying out of the Honolulu airport. J had a little panic attack again right before we went through security. At first, I didn’t realize it was a panic attack. He just kept telling me “my stomach hurts so bad” and he could barely stand up straight. At first I thought his stomach hurt because we rushed through dinner so fast. Now I’m thinking that going through airport security is just super stressful for him, and if you’re going through at lunch time or an hour and a half past your bed time, it makes it even harder to cope with. Luckily, he didn’t cause a scene, but I know for him it was a big struggle.

The most amazing part of the whole travel part of the trip is that both J and W stayed awake for those six hours on the flight to Honolulu when we needed them to and slept the six hours on the flight back to Vancouver when we needed them to. Melatonin works miracles.

Waimea Beach, North Shore, Oahu.
We stopped at some food trucks on the north shore and got acai bowls. Yum!

Big meaning that a family reunion with Steve’s family means you’re hanging out with a crowd. 26 people to be exact in one big house! That’s a lot of noise and action and over stimulation when you’re used to being a family of 4. Luckily, my kids love hanging out with cousins and aunts and uncles. We had lots of space too so each family could have their own place to sleep and hang out. Because Steve’s two sisters also have kids who have autism (there are four cousins with autism!) it was so nice to just have our kids hang out in the ways they needed to hang out and us parents could talk to each other about our autism frustrations and struggles. All four autism cousins are very different in their abilities and challenges, but the journey is similar and it’s nice to know you’re not alone. In fact it’s nice to have family members who know exactly what you go through on a daily basis. Sure, it got crazy sometimes (with the autism kids and the “neurotypical” kids) but we all had a really fun time. It was practically an unofficial autism convention. I’m so proud of my sisters-in-law. They are rock star moms. They work so hard, and I know making big trips like this with kids on the spectrum is really challenging. But they do it and they push their kids out of their comfort zones and their kids grow because of it. Love them so much! They sure have some incredible kids.

All the grandkids from the last reunion in Florida. Two have been added since then!
W at the Polynesian Cultural Centre, Oahu.

Big meaning that these trips are starting to mean something. My kids are at the age that trips like this mean something. W really enjoyed the Polynesian Cultural Centre in Laie and learning about the different cultures in Tonga, Samoa, New Zealand, Fiji, and Hawaii. J enjoyed some of the history parts of Pearl Harbor. They both loved the beaches and the hikes. (You can check out more places we visited on my Instagram) They both told us dozens of times that they loved being there, and thanked us for taking them. Before we met up with Steve’s family for the reunion part, we spent three and a half days just the four of us exploring the island. I think that was one of the best decisions we made this trip. That way we could do the things we really wanted to do and then “go with the flow” the rest of the time with Steve’s family.

Byodo-in temple, Oahu.

As I type this, we’re finding our way back into the Central Time Zone and getting back to real life. The jet lag is still a little rough. It’s hard to get to bed and get up in the morning. W’s already off again to International Music Camp in the Peace Gardens and I can’t believe that July is almost done. When my kids were little I felt like the days seemed like years. Now I wish I could make time slow down. It’s crazy how that happens, isn’t it?

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3 Comments

  • Carol Forster

    Oh my gosh, so many things going through my mind after reading this. First of all, such proud moments for J handling so many situations over a long period of time. The growth and maturity that he is showing are such a tribute to both of you. Your pictures are phenomenal. W continues to also grow in maturity, sophistication, and beauty. I love how you expose your children to new cultures and adventures. Your mini autism convention, I’m guessing, was a welcomed opportunity to share and learn from one another. One thing I think you need to add, is that you are also one of those rockstar mothers. I continue to be in in amazement for all you do for the autism world with your blog, and also how you continue to nurture and strengthen your family. You are here blessing to all.

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