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“We all need to wear T-shirts that say, ‘Motley Crue'” says my husband jokingly as we head towards the Outer Banks of N.C. for our family’s annual beach trip.  We are, indeed, a model of diversity and acceptance for those outside the “norm.”  There is our own boy with his high-functioning autism and passion for maps, houses and presidents.  Our girl with her ADHD, activity-seeking self.  Our older niece with Aspergers (a form of autism) who embodies the mysterious side of vampires and wolves.  And my niece’s boyfriend, also with Aspergers, who came along for the ride for the first-time this year.

I laughed, thinking of previous vacations and all the strange habits that our family has learned to contend with as a result of having children on the autism spectrum.  There was the first-summer that we all decided to vacation together in the same beach house.  My boy was scared to use the public bathrooms along the way, due to the loud toilets, so we strategically stopped at rest areas where he could go behind the trees unnoticed.  I think it was that same year when our boy also insisted that we tie kitchen towels tightly around his head and on his wrists throughout the whole week at the beach.  We have pictures of him wearing a red and white-striped kitchen towel tied around his head as he stood in front of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. I guess it satisfied some sensory need.  He also hated the feeling of sand…I wondered if we would ever be able to enjoy the beach together.  Suffice to say, our boy seems to have overcome the sensory difficulties with sand!


I am happy to say that while we are still a motley crew, we have come a long way since those first years of “vacation.”  Aside from the innocuous sound of a cat-call whistle every-time we entered a new city and  “Charge!”  played from the back seat at every new county sign, our boy handled the 6-hour trip to the beach like a champ.  (Thanks, Easter Bunny, for the sound machine!)  Rest areas are now a non-issue and we have even expanded our repertoire of restaurants beyond Taco Bell along the way.


We were a bit worried that a rainy start to the week might be a challenge for our girl, who was chomping at the bit to feel the rush of the waves against her body.  She likes to stay active and to be in charge.  While my dad did report that both my boy and girl were “swinging from the rafters” at one point, our girl managed to channel her energy fairly well, teaching my sister how to play Skipbo, trying her best to encourage my niece and her boyfriend to join us in a round of “Freeze Dance”  (I think they ran away to the screened-in porch.), and making sure that we did not miss any windows of dry weather to scamper alongside the surf.  And, during our visit to the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse this year, our girl took the opportunity to dance in the rain!

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Yes, vacation with our children can be challenging sometimes.  “Lost” items and changes in routine can send us into a tailspin at the drop of a hat.  At the same time, these loved ones encourage us to not only accept their eccentricities, but to embrace them.  On one particular rainy day, our boy managed to get everyone in the family to write a ghost story and read it aloud. While the adults did actually write stories, others members chose to draw pictures of ghosts and vampires with bleeding mouths.  And my girl, who supposedly could not think of a ghost story, wrote a sweet essay about how awesome her big brother is…I think she might have been trying to win some “brownie points,” but her words still touched my heart.

Later that week, when the dryer took forever to dry a load of clothes, our boy reveled in the opportunity to help his Mamaw devise a special vacuum attachment in order to vacuum the load of sand built-up in the dryer vent.  His fervor for vacuuming also came in quite handy when it was time to clean the beach house at the end of the week.


At times, I do notice other families leisurely hanging-out on the beach all day reading books, playing paddle ball, surfing in the waves.  No apparent oddities or special accommodations to be made. I wonder how it must feel.  But then I also know that we all have our own back stories.  Stories of disappointment and unexpected challenges.  Each one is just as messy, real, and beautiful as mine.

A motley crew?  Yes.  Loved and accepted?  Yes.  Thank you, God, for allowing me to see all that is pure, lovely and true.  Especially amidst our motley crew.





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