Happy Spring to all the disabled parents out there! First off I want to say that I recognize that for many people, traveling is not possible for several reasons including continued Covid concerns. My heart goes out, especially to those who have children under five who are unable to be vaccinated.
Our family did not have big plans for Spring Break, but we didn’t sign the kids up for camp or anything, so we decided we’d better do something. I was not looking forward to a week of having the kids at home and trying to work. We did enough of that this pandemic, thank you very much. So, I took the week off (mostly) and we headed out to the great metropolis of Houston, Texas. This is about a 3-hour drive for us, so definitely do-able. We were lucky in that our entire family is vaccinated and boosted.
This, however, is not the story of a perfect family vacation – far from it. I want to be real and share my experiences even when they are not so great. Houston, we have so many problems….
We started the trip strong by visiting my aunt and uncle, my cousin and his wife, and their twins. Despite my 7-year-old asking “are we there yet?” far too often, we had a lovely visit with them at their suburban Houston home and ate a delicious meal together. My cousin’s kids and ours get along great and we enjoy socializing with them.
We returned to the hotel that night, and the kids had a hard time settling down. I also forgot to have them bathe. They were super-excited about the fact that this hotel had a pool that was actually a lazy river shaped like Texas (Texas is really into itself). The next morning, the kids would have rather gone to the pool, but we headed to the Houston Space Center instead. It was very crowded; even though we bought tickets in advance, we had to wait in a long line. It was so very difficult to find disabled parking, In fact, I had to drop the family off to wait in line while I looked for parking. I never did find a disabled spot; instead, I was able to get a spot at the end of a row where I could let my ramp down.
Our day at the Space Center was just okay. Our 10-year-old was more interested and engaged while our 7-year-old was doing quite a lot of complaining. We saw some cool things and took a tram tour which was wheelchair accessible.
Then we left and tried to grab a nice lunch at an authentic Mexican restaurant. My daughter complained incessantly because they didn’t offer the typical Tex-Mex fare. We went back to the hotel and the kids finally got to check out the pool. Although after a bit it was so windy we had to leave, much to my 10-year-old son’s dismay. That night, we went to a seafood restaurant I really wanted to try, but no one else was into seafood and the service was poor.
Day two: the Houston Zoo. I had higher hopes for the day we would hit the Zoo. My kids both love animals. We again faced massive crowds but we started early and found disabled parking this time. I felt like my kids only wanted to do the things that cost more than the tickets we’d purchased, such as face painting. More on face painting later. I had the foresight to buy unlimited carousel rides in advance. The carousel was really needed with animals of every sort, not just your typical horses. The kids wanted to see the cheetahs (7-year-old daughter) and the red panda (10-year-old son). We saw those and they also enjoyed the giraffes and many other excellent exhibits. They found the playground after we discovered the petting zoo was closed at that time.
One of the main things I deal with at a place like a zoo is staring. There were no major issues this trip; just the usual staring and pointing. I try to smile and normalize disability for other people’s kids. No one was scolding their kids nor tolerating abysmal behavior – all in all, a win, I’d say. On the way out, we let the kids get their faces painted. Immediately my son regretted his choice to let the artist free-draw a koala. Admittedly, he did not look great. My daughter didn’t help the situation. She complained on the way out that the other face painting place had better choices than the one we went to. SIGH. I felt frustrated the kids were complaining when they are so privileged.
We got lunch this time at a burger place we’d enjoyed in another city and luckily we were able to eat outside in the beautiful weather where they had some games the kids could play. I admired how diverse and vibrant Houston is. We spent the rest of the day at the hotel pool and the kids enjoyed themselves. My husband is much more outgoing and talkative than I am and made fast friends with some folks playing 80s and 90s hip hop.
I had this idea that everyone would get dressed up that night for dinner so we could get a nice family picture of the four of us together. This is the kind of idea that early always goes badly. So while I should have known…. I corralled both kids into taking a shower and drying their hair and putting on the clothes I picked out, I also got my husband to put on a collared shirt which was the first time he “dressed up” since well before the pandemic. Everyone looked nice but it was harder than expected getting someone to take a decent picture with my phone. We tried two groups of people and ended up with a photo where my husband looks like a spacer alien – and that truly was the BEST one!
On to the restaurant, which again was a traditional place. My children were whiny right out the gate. We were seated outside and what had been a hot afternoon was now a breezy evening. So they were cold, and my husband went back to get their jackets. Meanwhile, my son stabbed his straw through his Styrofoam cup, spilling root beer all over me and into my wheelchair seat cushion. SIGH again. My daughter did not want to eat her quesadilla because it was on a blue corn tortilla. Heaven forbid! This dinner was not pleasant. My husband and I just wanted to get through it as quickly as possible. We explored the neighborhood afterward and found a playground where the kids could blow off some steam.
The next morning, we packed up to go home. We tried to find a really nice place to have a big breakfast for the road. Apparently, the rest of Houston had the same idea. We continuously stopped at places that were on my list of great breakfast restaurants only to find lines out the door, no disabled parking, or waits that were not bearable for four hungry stomachs. We stopped at a place that we had just passed by and it turned out to be an excellent Greek place that serves fantastic breakfasts. Including actual baklava French toast. Even though it took a really long time to get our order in and get our food, it ended up being worth it in the end. We agreed to one last stop, halfway home, to visit the Blue Bell ice cream factory. This is an interesting place in a small town in Texas. There is a high school baseball museum and a visitor center, but the highlight for us was going up to actually see how the factory works and get a dollar scoop of the amazing ice cream itself. Typically I am a chocolate person but I decided to go out on a limb and get strawberry which was excellent. My son got sherbet and my daughter got cotton candy. My husband was too stuffed from breakfast to eat any, and in fairness, I couldn’t even eat half of my scoop.
The drive home was relatively uneventful, although my van hand controls were making a noise that was concerning me and so I made a phone call on the way to set up a maintenance appointment for later in the week. My daughter proceeded to again ask “are we home yet?” every 10 minutes.
This trip got me thinking about several things. First, how come kids can be so well behaved on some trips and not so much on others? Second, how do other parents cope when their children are acting up or behaving in spoiled or ungrateful ways? How do you salvage situations that you had been looking forward to you or carefully planned when they are not working out the way that you hoped? Third, how do those of us with mental health disabilities muster the patience that it takes to be effective parents? Because of my depression, I tend to think the worst about these types of things and allow my mind to go down a rabbit-hole of believing that I’m not a good parent or that something is wrong with my children. Luckily I have really good treatment and usually, I do not get sucked too far into these irrational thoughts. But any parent who struggles with mental health can find the usual parenting challenges all that more taxing.
So let me hear from you! What was your worst family vacation? How did you make the most of it? Did you vow to never travel with your kids again? What ultimately gets you back out there once again?