I’m crazy. Insane. Totally out of my mind.
But last week I finally did it. I took the kids to Disney World.
It was totally a surprise. The kids literally had no idea and thought I was going away on a business trip. They had never been on a vacation. Never been on a plane.
(Catch their reaction here — I promise it’s worth it:)
For most, the decision to take the kids through this rite of passage can be somewhat anxiety inducing, but overall, an exciting and joyful.
For me it was a little different — for a couple of reasons.
First, as someone who still struggles with the weight of overcoming a childhood filled with trauma, the idea of a wonderful family trip to Disney World can be a downright frightening proposition. When you grow up with the very real, very clear fact that there is no safety net for you — no backup plan — you literally save every dollar that comes your way because the rug could get yanked out from you at any moment. Childhood trauma doesn’t leave you just because you’re a fancy looking grown up now.
Frankly, the idea of spending THAT MUCH MONEY on something as frivolous as a VACATION (of all things) was a prospect that took some getting used to.
(I know, I need to get over it. People go on vacation. I’m trying.)
Secondly, I’m a single mother and things get complicated quickly. As some EduMom readers might remember, my ex-husband was diagnosed with stage 4 stomach cancer last year and was not well enough to make the trip with us.
But with the kids having to deal with some major adult-sized worries in the wake of his diagnosis, it still seemed like the right time to do something special. I was fortunate enough to have my dear cousin take pity on me and offer to join me on a couple of days of the trip so I’d have a couple of extra set of hands — and eyes — on the kids.
And finally, my 10-year-old is an awesome, amazing kid who just happens to have special needs that require special accommodations that are required to make an experience like Disney possible. Overstimulation, anxiety, transitional changes, impulsivity are challenges for us when in the comfort of our regular environment — so you can just imagine the challenge of throwing Disney into the mix for him.
(Matthew is a very talented young artist who loves Walt Disney.)
But just because things are hard, it doesn’t mean they aren’t worth doing.
And Matthew deserved to have a Disney experience to celebrate his 10th birthday just like thousands of other kids who have for generations. So we made it happen. And Disney even has a special guide that really helped us figure it out.
Overall, Matthew did pretty well. It wasn’t perfect. But even the “perfect” kid would find themselves overwhelmed, tired and bouncing off the walls at points during the Disney experience.
It wasn’t until the day we spend outside the park and at the hotel pool that we ran into an issue.
To be honest, my boys were more excited about spending the day at the Caribbean Beach pirate shaped pool all day than any other activity we did the whole week. They spent hours running and jumping, giggling and laughing and soaking up every minute of that boyhood joy that comes with discovering that you are part fish.
About three hours in, just after noon, I decided to walk over to the food truck to grab a quick picnic lunch for them, knowing it would be practically impossible to drag them away from their moments in the sun. My cousin volunteered to stay behind, the kids seemed totally occupied and it was an ideal time for me to quickly sneak away and be back in a flash.
Unfortunately, Matthew noticed I was gone almost immediately after I walked through the gate. His anxiety ramped up, he couldn’t access the coping tools to calm down and a total meltdown commenced.
It ain’t pretty. But, it’s normal given his diagnosis.
When I returned minutes later, my cousin told me what happened and I immediately sat with Matthew to get him to a better place. An older woman stomped over to the side of his lounge chair — and I initially thought she was trying to offer some support or assistance. Instead, she unleashed this wonderful tirade.
“I have been a teacher for 38 years — and I just want you to know — I have never seen a child show such disrespect in all of my years — and I was in the classroom for 38 years! That was HORRIBLE. I was a teacher — for 38 years. 38 years! You should know that he is incredibly disrespectful. There is clearly something wrong with that child.”
And all of this, in front of Matthew, who was just starting to get his train back on the tracks.
This was also the day before his birthday and in front of my two other children.
For those who aren’t familiar with a diagnosis like Matthew’s, this may have looked like quite the spectacle. Matthew doesn’t want to act out. He doesn’t like feeling out of control. He’s incredibly embarrassed and full of sorrow and regret immediately after.
I’m sure other folks looked on with horror wondering “what was wrong with that kid” — perhaps similar to how some might look at a child with a physical disability the first time they had encountered that situation. But no one else dared to walk over to yell at me — only the “educator.”
Before I became a parent advocate, I probably would have burst into tears. I mean, here’s a teacher — telling me how horrifying my child’s behavior was — in a very loud, public shaming.
And honestly, for a brief moment, the thought occurred to me that maybe I should explain to this “teacher of 38 years” that my child who has special needs of a behavioral nature was simply acting out in a way that was totally understandable (although not acceptable) in the scope of his disability and that we were handling it and moving on.
Or that I was doing the absolute best I could to make sure my child was able to participate in this amazing experience in spite of his challenges and that it was likely my fault for walking away from the pool area for the 10 minutes it took to grab some chicken nuggets and bring them back to the lounge chairs that made him feel anxious and act out.
But then I remembered: I have nothing to be embarrassed about.
I am not ashamed of my son. He was struggling and it was my job to help him through it. And I don’t owe this bitch anything — least of all an explanation.
So I did.
And when we were done, I just stared at her blankly — as she looked at me, standing in her judgement, with all the contempt and disgust that she could muster toward my spoiled brat of a child and my utter failure in motherhood.
I love my child. All of my children.
Any way they come.
Even when things don’t go perfectly.
Even when they are struggling.
And thanks to finding my strength and my voice, I know I’m not alone in standing strong for my children, even in the face of judgement, callous disregard from “experts” and those who might not have the compassion to understand.
Stay strong, Mamas.