Saturday, August 16, 2008

Summer Vacation: The Story Behind the Story

We just returned from our annual summer vacation (hence no posting recently). This is the third year in a row that we have spent a week in a beach-side cottage with my side of the family.

While Max's older siblings and cousins have many memories of the previous years and talk about personal highlights, and favorite memories, and planning new adventures together, I'm never entirely sure what Max recalls about the past trips. To help strengthen some memories and build a reference base for him, we spent time looking at photos from last year and talking about the cabin and our plans.

Changes in his routine can be really difficult for Max, as I think I've mentioned once or gazillionty-twice. He'll happily go with the flow...and then suddenly hits a point where he's gone too far. When this happens, he doesn't eat well, doesn't sleep well, doesn't cope well, and things can escalate quickly to a sort of extended plateau of misery. He's matured enough now where short trips can work fairly well, but an entire week is a real test of endurance. I know I've seen big changes in him over the past year, but I was still keeping my fingers crossed that he would be able to handle it.

I don't know if he remembers the trip from last year, or is just so pleased to be there with a houseful of many his favorite people, but he adapted incredibly well this year. I was aware throughout the week of how much he has matured since last summer. He ate! He slept (thanks to Grandpa, who went to bed early with him every single night)! He even tolerated the 4.5-hour journey fairly well!

There were still a few moments where I was holding my breath & still keeping my fingers crossed -- several pukey, clingy mornings, and one short head-banging, hair-pulling tantrum during the night (towards the end of the week), but overall it was smooth sailing.

Smooth sailing with a generous side of splashing.

There were several things that stick out in my mind about Max's week -- things that remind me of how far he's come. Looking at his behavior each year in the exact same setting is a bit like having my own longitudinal study in a pseudo-lab setting. And though that makes it all sound too sciencey, it was a good eye-opener for me. In this parenting journey with Max, where progress is measured in the smallest of steps, it is so easy to overlook the changes that are truly taking place.

The cottage we stayed in is set back from the main road a bit, with a sidewalk, then boardwalk path, and then a flight of stairs leading to the front porch entrance. The dock and beach area are situated directly on the other side of that main road. At one point we realized Max had left the house (where some of us were) and come to the beach (where the rest of us were) all by himself. Gah!

I didn't see it happen, so I have no idea if he stopped and looked for cars before crossing the road or not, but I noticed that several times when we walked across together, he DID seem to remember that we had to stop and look. His uncle gave him a gentle-but-stern lecture about not crossing the road by himself, and he nodded and nodded and said "yah!" And then we sharpened our watch and made sure we verbally "handed it off" when done. (The tricky part here is to announce an impending doze before it happens...)

Now even though I do NOT want him to cross roads alone, it still is a warped type of progress. There was a time when he would have darted out into the street repeatedly, oblivious to danger. There was a time when he refused to hold hands, and leading him was very difficult. There was a time when he would have gone to some other family's beach spot, intrigued by a toy or snack he spotted there. But this year, he knew where to go, he knew how to get there, and he safely held hands and went with an adult every time but one! That is progress.

This photo captures an imaginative moment Max was having. He held this rock, signed "cracker", and then held it to his lips and pretended to eat it. He was pretty pleased with himself and insisted Grammy & I watch his little game. That same afternoon, he also picked up a hand-sized rectangular rock, held it to his ear, and said "Eh-oh?" as though answering a phone.

Max doesn't generally engage in pretend play, except for imaginary telephone conversations (well, and the let's-pretend-we're-sleeping-and-then-I'll-poke-you or the let's-pretend-you-can't-see-me-and-then-suddenly-you-can! type of thing), so pretending one item IS another item -- when they do not look the same and are not usually used to represent each other -- was definitely a noteworthy activity.

Grammy took along this incredible bubble-making wand. Max watched the other kids use it for a long time, and then tried it himself. He knew the loop end needed to be dipped in the bucket each time, and he knew the sliding piece needed to slide at some point (to open the loop), and though he had trouble doing it all in the correct order each time, he managed to produce bubbles the first few times he tried. His excitement caused him to mix up the steps, then, but after some hand-over-hand assistance, he was able to do it again.

Max's favorite pastime was sitting in the hot sand. He scooted through it on his knees, and slid his hands around and sifted sand for hours each day. He even seemed to enjoy the heat of it, preferring to sit and "sand" (yes, it's a verb now) rather than cool off in the lake. I really can't think of any other activity he willingly engages in -- independently, quietly, contentedly -- for such extended periods of time. Truly! I read books, dozed, had was very calming and peaceful for BOTH of us.

Of course, Max also had great fun with all those people around. He is incredibly social and loves to have personal attention from someone. (And with 12 other people in the cabin, that wasn't too hard to find!) The other kids are all old enough now to interact positively with him and help keep him engaged. While some times they were clearly humoring him, other times he was simply one of the gang.

By the end of the week, Max was insisting on specific people for specific activities (lots of snuggling-based games with the aunt pictured below and a water toy Toss & Find game of epic proportions with his youngest cousin), and was verbalizing a version of each person's name. He had a blast.

On the last night, Max insisted on sitting at the kids' table instead of with the grownups. Though my mind immediately jumps to spills and mess and little ingestion of food, my heart knows the sheer beauty of that request.

After eating that meal, we all walked down the road to get ice cream. I ordered for the 4 older kids and then we stood at the counter waiting. The cones were HUGE (And messy. And we were leaving shortly. And he doesn't usually eat his food, anyway. And Is my cup really always half empty??!), so I didn't order one for Max. I figured he could just have a few bites and be satisfied.

But Max had a different idea about that. He wanted ice cream, too. Blue ice cream! He stood at the counter, just barely peeking over the top of it, trying to get the ice cream server's attention and signing and saying "booo" (blue). He was very polite, very appropriate, very persistent, and very independently trying to state his wishes and place an order. It was a proud moment, indeed. And while I know all the reasons in MY mind for not ordering him his own cone, I felt incredibly humbled. He wanted ice cream, too.

This boy? This boy who can't speak? The one I still think of as the baby? This boy is growing up. He's catching on. He's maturing. He's got some big ideas....and I think there's an awful lot he would like to say.

I'm trying really hard to listen.


Penny L. Richards said...

That boy is so beautiful--and so expressive--and you're right, making great progress and maturing!

Jake wants an ice cream too. Sometimes he lets me have a few spoonfuls, but it's definitely his. (The laundry afterwards, now, that's a different story; but it's still worth it....)

Jujyfruit said...

Thanks, Penny. :)

Think of Jake & Max going out for ice cream together; that'd be a wonderful -- and colorful -- sight, eh?