We’re down by the coast for the 4th of July weekend. I am trying to fill our summers with at least a couple weekend trips and one big family vacation to ensure I am making memories with the boys and getting Nico out into new environments as much as possible. Now, this is no easy feat when you’re traveling with an autistic child and a toddler because it requires a lot of mental prepping for all involved and immense amounts of packing. Let’s just say, I have a carry-on solely for Nico’s knick knacks, iPads, food and juice….and…now a bag full of Max’s toys and trucks. Oh, and let’s not forget the box fan and noisemaker. Needless to say, this is a true labor of love.
Nico would be content to sit at home in his favorite corner of the couch, playing with his straws and rainbow-colored pipe cleaners while memorizing lines to different movies and their soundtracks he finds on YouTube. He’s making peeps YT-famous left and right with how many times he replays their videos. His interests have matured in this way and I have to say, I’m kinda digging it. I’m a self-proclaimed movie buff myself and love a good film score and soundtrack so it isn’t a stretch to think this apple didn’t fall too far from the tree.
However, I want him to be active outdoors, experiencing new places with his little brother, and feeling comfortable in unfamiliar settings with people other than his family. So this requires I plan outings that involve water, playgrounds, theme parks and 4-star hotels with a view. All his faves if we do venture away from home. And I’ll always know whether or not Nico feels at home in “our home away from home;” he walks in, kicks off his shoes, whips off his pants, and b-lines for the nearest seating area to chill in his boxers with his iPad. That’s the sign I chose well.
I’m trying to push us both out of our comfort zone a bit more and more with planning these family getaways. I couldn’t be anxious about meltdowns anymore; it would only make it easier for Nico to want to stay home on the couch and keep us from enjoying all that life has to offer. I lived like that for far too long and it was a lonely existence. I’ve just trained myself not to worry anymore about the stares and comments we may encounter.
And to be honest, I have my little guy, Max to thank for that. Nico is no longer the child I worry about in public right now.
It is my toddler who I want to leave at home and who gives me anxiety every time we step out of the house because HE. IS. THAT. CHILD. You know the one. The one who throws himself on the ground in the middle of the street because you asked him to hold your hand so he wouldn’t get hit by a car. I mean, how dare I ask my son to take care of him when he apparently can parent himself at two and half years old. This is the kid who you can’t leave alone for a second if he has crayons or markers otherwise you will have new artwork on your walls, couch, and windows. He’s the kid who can be perfect and precious one moment, but once hunger or exhaustion kick in he turns into a little mad man.
Max is a stitch and he truly lights up my life in more ways than I can count, but man, he has given me a run for my money. He’s been a handful in a WHOLE different way than Nico. He has forced me to loosen the grip on my perfectionist ways because he literally does not care that I like to keep a meticulously clean home or well-planned vacation. I find myself saying, “who cares” “whatever” or “just let him do it” way more than I ever thought I would say to my child, but he is the one who has truly taught me the art of picking and choosing my battles.
He’s liberated me in a way that sometimes actually feels refreshing. Max has forced me to throw my other rule books out the window just like Nico did. I have surrendered to the idea that life with these two is just going to be a bit more unpredictable and high-octane.
Even Nico sees how high maintenance Max can be. But what I have come to realize (and appreciate) is that Nico is actually a calming presence for me in most instances now. He is the child that I appreciate for being so obedient, so calm and so quiet. I don’t think I actually ever thought that would be possible. Now, don’t get me wrong…Max has truly given our family so much to be thankful for. Despite this toddler phase that has been less than picturesque at times, he has gotten Nico to communicate more than I have ever seen him do with another person. This is probably because Nico has become that voice of reason for Max when he’s having a little tantrum, not a meltdown, which here’s a little PSA—there is a difference (learn more here).
When Nico would break down in public places, he was having a sensory meltdown, but Max is demonstrating typical toddler behaviors. He is exuding his independence, and trying to manage his emotions—with limited communication skills—when he is met with opposition and that is a tantrum. This has always been my biggest pet peeve as an Autism mom; the silent judgment that was passed any time Nico melted down in a public place. People just assuming he was an unruly, disobedient child “having a tantrum” or “making a scene” when, in fact, my child was actually struggling tremendously due to no fault of his own.
Having Nico be there to calm Max down when he is worked up and not interested in listening to his mother or father has been a Godsend. There’s this natural admiration that Max is starting to build for Nico that is so endearing. Max has been listening to Nico more and more lately and wanting his approval too.
It has been the most apparent this weekend between the two of them and my heart has melted a little more with each instance. When we went to the aquarium and Max started to break down because he was getting hungry, Nico was there to try and distract him with a new fish encounter. When we were trying to lay down for an afternoon nap and Max wasn’t having it (and Nico could sense his mama was fading fast in patience), he cupped Max’s face and said, “Bro Bro, it’s nigh nigh time. Everyone tired. Shhh…”
Sadly, it fell on deaf ears, but my goodness was it the sweetest interaction to witness. And it did allow for some cute banter between them where Max tried to get Nico to abort the whole nap mission with him. When Max is breaking down at the end of the night and begins to cry and yell, Nico reminds him, “Don’t cry, Bro Bro…It’s ok…don’t cry, please.” They are becoming more aware of each other and of the way they manage certain situations, and this is teaching them empathy, awareness, and unconditional friendship.
I yearned for days like this. Days where I could sit back and see my children bonding and keeping watch over each other. I look forward to our family trips more now because of the time my boys get to spend together. How they will play and interact with each other in new environments. My husband and I feel more hopeful for Nico and more at ease with taking him out and about; we now have our own little foursome and there is always someone for someone between the four of us.
Max may be a handful at times and cause me more hair tinsel than I expected at my youthful age [insert sarcastic laugh], but on weekends like this when I see them holding hands, hugging and laughing with each other, and helping their mama become a better, stronger, more carefree version of herself…I can’t help but get super cheesy and geek out a bit over the fact that it really is all happening in the way I had hoped and prayed that it would. I even see my Type A twin-of-a-husband letting go of his reigns a bit more which is just downright miraculous…and why I’ve been looking up in the sky for pigs as of late (wink wink).
But one thing my husband and I have held tightly to is the hope that our boys would find love, trust, and a true sense of brotherhood in each other; they have done exactly that. And although I have no idea what the future holds for Nico and Max collectively and individually, I know that these family trips are establishing norms for them and will hopefully be a part of their own family traditions long after my husband and I are gone.
But before that happens, I do hope we get to tagalong on a few. Turks and Caicos sound nice, boys…just sayin’!