While perusing my emails last week, I noticed an email from our local regional park offering up a free Christmas train ride and Santa visit. I’ve wanted to ride the Christmas train for awhile now. Everyone raves about the magical lights and enchanting ambiance, but at $7 a person, I have never been willing to chance the outing.
Outings are always tricky for our large family. There are so many variables with my sons’ sensory issues and Charlie’s hesitation with new surroundings, so we plan all outings very strategically. Since this outing was free, I was willing to take the risk. It was one less stress if we had to leave after a few minutes. There was one catch though. It started at 5 a.m., as the local news crew would be filming.
I recruited my always willing mom and very hesitant husband to join us. After all, Charlie is a very early riser. The other boys would be so excited to see Santa that the exhaustion would be left in the dust, however, I am not a morning person. When I woke up at 4:15 to a quiet and somewhat warm house, I questioned the whole idea. Am I nuts? I could be sleeping in, but then I remembered why I wanted to do this.
This was for my boys, and for me too. We would not be able to experience this magical event as the crowds are usually massive, with lines too daunting for my little Charlie. This was our chance, and we seized the moment. What a glorious moment it was!
In the darkness of the freezing morning, we pulled up to a wondrously lit scene, and Charlie exclaimed: Christmas! That moment was worth it all. The line for the train was less than 5 minutes, and the visit with Santa was not rushed or tainted by the sound of a loud crowd.
It was peaceful and magical all at the same time. Everyone enjoyed the moment and the new memories. There were no meltdowns, no protests, and not one tear. It was a God-sent, and I’m thankful that we took this crazy gamble!
With that said, I want to share a few outing tips with you that allow us to be active in the community all while honoring Charlie’s needs.
- Free is best!
I will admit that I am cheap, but the stress of knowing that we just paid $50 to get into an event weighs heavy when I’m on edge about a possible meltdown. The thought of having to leave makes me uneasy as I’ve just shoveled out cash I’ll be wasting. When it’s free, I am a little less stressed, because if we stay for 5 minutes or don’t even make it inside, nothing has been lost
- Have high hopes with low expectations.
We always hope for the best but realize that it will not always work out in our favor. Often with this attitude, we are left with the joy of a surprise success. Believe it or not, your child can feel your stress, so try to avoid it. Some days even making it to the car is a success. We have been there…often. It hurts, but then there are great days that will exceed your wildest expectations. Keep taking your child out! It will get better!
- Have a plan!
My husband and I always have a plan. It always involves one of us completely in charge of Charlie, while one is responsible for the other 3 boys. We are always willing to sit in the corner and hold Charlie if he needs it, and/or take him back to the car if it’s too much. We do our best to be fair to all our kids, so we try to calm Charlie before we employ our exit strategy, which we always communicate in advance.
- Know the crowds and avoid them.
We almost always arrive early to every event that we attend. We strategically time our arrival to avoid a wait for opening as well as large crowds and long lines. We are getting better, but sometimes miss the window of sweetness. We just try better the next time.
- Leave while the trip is still a success.
We are constantly on guard for any sign of meltdown when we are out, and we almost always leave once we feel the trip has been successful, which is usually about an hour. This is hard, but we prep our other kids for an hour at each event. We do our best to not push our luck but have overstayed many times. Sometimes it was to our benefit and sometimes to our demise. It’s always a moving target, and we are constantly learning. Remember, you want your child to equate happiness to an outing not a meltdown, so leave before one happens if you can.
- Pick your events wisely. Set your child up for success.
Whenever we can, we attend sensory sensitive events. We do this for a few reasons. It is easier for Charlie; we also want to expose our other boys to other children who are dealing with a disability. Usually, these events are smaller in size, and people are more sensitive to breakdowns. With that said, we don’t only attend special needs events. It’s just a great stepping stone to expose Charlie to the outside world in a much more welcoming environment.
Here’s to successful, stress free outings! Some outing will fail, but keep taking your child out!
Let’s work together to integrate our kids into the real world today, so they can enjoy every day life in the future!