There’s no place like home
As a little girl, my parents, sister, and I would pack into the ’88 Toyota Camry (a luxury car compared to our early 80’s Chevrolet Citation) and drive 2 days across Canada (or the “American Way”–hovering just under the 49th parallel) to get to Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario to visit my grandparents and two sets of aunts, uncles, and cousins for a few weeks. My sister and I enjoyed every moment of it (even the middle of Saskatchewan/North Dakota parts–and who would ever guess that one day I’d end up living in North Dakota?). We couldn’t get enough enough of our cousins and grandparents. After all, we only saw them when we took the trip out every 2 years. By the end of the trip, I sensed my parents felt otherwise. I could tell they wanted to go home. I could tell they were done with family. I could tell they just wanted to get back into their own routine. I didn’t understand why then, but I think I do now.
My family lived in Western Canada, while the majority of my extended family (excluding my Thibodeau cousins) lived in Eastern Canada. For those of you who don’t know much about Canada, the geography or culture, they are two very different places. The closest comparison I can make is that Alberta is probably the Texas of Canada while Ontario is your East Coast New Hampshire/New York/Massachusetts equivalent. Alberta is prairies and mountains and Ontario is bush and lakes. It’s one of the many reasons why I loved that trip. I got to see lots of Canada–a Canada so different but the same in a lot of ways. I got to meet family who I had this connection with–people who I didn’t know very much about (because we weren’t growing up together and this was before the Internet and Facebook) and yet felt like we had this bond together. Even now, as an adult, I don’t get to see my Ontario family very often, but I still feel connected to them.
But as an adult now, thinking back to my parents at that time, I could see why they were ready to head back to Alberta after those two weeks. My parents had established a life outside of Ontario, raising their kids in a very different place (which included “big city life,” different religions, different occupations, etc)–and while they loved their family, those life choices created very different lives from their parents, brother, and sister. My parents were their own family. This trip I really felt we had graduated to that “own family” status. My parents now live in Colorado, my sister and her family lives in Saudi Arabia (we met up in Colorado), Steve’s mum and two brothers live in Utah, and all of those places have very different cultures than North Dakota. Although we have a niece and nephew who also have autism (who live in other places in the US), none of these families have lived the autism experience. In some ways, I feel like we have lots to connect with. In other ways I feel like we don’t. We are in a very different spot in our lives. We have older kids (one in high school, one in her last year of middle school) while these families have elementary kids, preschoolers, and babies. Autism is a huge part of our life that impacts us in everything we do and every decision we make. They’ve never experienced autism like that. Sometimes family gets that. Sometimes they don’t.
We had lots of fun adventures with everyone over the two weeks. With my parents and sister, we hiked in Rocky Mountain National Park. With Steve’s family we did some hiking and explored the Timpanogos caves in Utah. We hung out. Most of the time the kids got along. Sometimes they didn’t. J had his ups and downs along the way. J and I still worked on reading (every day we work on reading) while on the trip. Just to keep something routine and predictable going. We even pulled in J’s cousin, B to do some reading exercises with us! Which helped a lot because (even though J doesn’t verbally express it) I can tell he gets frustrated in how different he is from everyone else.
I wonder how long and what it takes for most families to feel like they have their “own family” outside of their own family? Does it take distance? Time? Do the kids have to be a certain age? Having a kid with special needs definitely helps push you in that direction. What does it take to make it feel like you’ve “arrived” at that point? Is it bittersweet for other people too?
Don’t get me wrong, I love my family and in-laws. We have a blast together, but as much fun as we had on our trip, we are happy to be back home in Fargo. Back in routine, back in our house, back to the amazing weather we have here. Yes–Fargo has amazingly beautiful weather (we’re SO glad to get out of the high 90’s/100’s!).
Two weeks away makes you really appreciate home.