Last week I shared about some sweet vacation memories. I referenced one that didn’t bring back good memories. Actually brought back crummy ones.
The way it played out was interesting in that Jacob’s behavior wasn’t unusually different. He was pretty much being ‘himself’. It was just considered ‘inappropriate’ by the viewing audience under the circumstances. And, upon reflection, the one trip that could probably be blamed as the main reason I came to dread going anywhere ‘new’ with Jacob. The entire trip wasn’t ruined but I let everything that happened involving Jacob totally dampen my memory.
When Josh was a tween and teenager, we’d let him invite a friend to vacation with us. One summer he and his friend were going to camp out a few nights while Mike, Jacob, and I had reservations in a nearby resort area with cabins. We had learned from some previous trips that cabins are a better choice than a *hotel room.
The first evening there we went to a restaurant to eat. Mike, Jacob, myself, Josh and his friend. We took Jacob in his wheelchair knowing that sitting at a table in a restaurant was probably going to be difficult for him but I felt we could manage. Turned out my optimistic attitude quickly unraveled. Taking him in became a bad, bad decision. One I realized I shouldn’t have considered possible. He was agitated, frustrated, destructive, loud … The stares were awful. Whispering. He was disturbing everyone in the dining area where we were seated. Hindsight tells me it probably wasn’t as awful as I remember. I just knew it bothered me greatly and felt like my whole family and our guest were affected negatively. It wasn’t worth staying so one of us left with Jacob for the rest to finish the meal. That was hard. People don’t mean to be cruel but you feel like they are thinking ‘can’t you control your child?’ ‘you are ruining our evening!’ Don’t worry, our evening was ruined as well. Those times, those memories are sad.
Word to the wise—if you find yourself a spectator in a similar situation, respond with love. Use it as a time to teach your children that some people are different. Ask if there is anything you can do to help. Be nice. Be kind.
The last night of that same trip, Mike, Jacob, and I had to stay in a *hotel as the cabin was booked. I was on edge from the time I walked in the room. Could not help it. Jacob doesn’t understand, or if he does, won’t obey simple instructions such as, ‘please be quiet’ or ‘use your inside voice’. Just because he is non-verbal doesn’t mean he is quiet. No, quite the opposite.
That evening, he listened to music and I was constantly turning the volume down. That is one thing he will usually do when asked, but literally 30 seconds later he pretends we aren’t paying attention and turns it up, maybe even louder! I was trying really hard not to disturb the guests on either side of us. Praying he’d tire and fall asleep early. He did settle down and slept okay.
The problem started the next morning. He awoke with a start and from the minute his eyes opened he was LOUD. LOUD! And not the sounds of happiness and enjoyment, humming in his own way. He was fussing. Deep guttural moaning. Did I say LOUD? It wasn’t long before he had obviously disturbed the guests on one side of our room. Separated by two sheets of sheet rock, someone banged on the wall. Then started calling our room and hanging up. Banging the wall some more. And it seemed the more they did, the louder Jacob got. I just knew any minute the hotel manager was going to pay us a visit. I was frantically packing our things as quickly as I could to get out.
Mike decided to step next door and explain that we were sorry but Jacob couldn’t help it and we would be checking out soon. When he knocked, a teenage boy answered the door, and it seemed before Mike could even finish his statement, the wise young man said “my sister is an idiot!” When I heard what he said, I could have hugged that teenager. Disclaimer: I don’t like the word idiot. Or stupid. None of us should call our siblings (or anyone else) an idiot but his reaction was an unspoken apology that truly decreased my stress several notches. As we checked out, they passed us in the hall and for a brief moment I saw embarrassment and understanding on the girl’s face.
Those few minutes cured me of agreeing to stay in a hotel with Jacob. I realize something like that may never happen again. But, I haven’t been willing to find out.
The moral of the story is: you never know what is causing someone to behave in a way you don’t understand. Err on the side of empathy and your kindness will go a long way towards lessening another’s pain.