A Hell of a Ride

Four weeks and two days ago, Dan broke his leg rock climbing in Peru.

(At least that’s what his doctor told him to say when Dan shared how he really broke his leg. Unbeknownst to me, Jordan proceeded to share the doctor’s version of events with several people, one of whom reached out and asked, “When did you guys have time to go to Peru? And why didn’t you post any pictures?”)

The doctor told Dan he cannot put any weight on his leg for six weeks and then he’ll have four additional weeks following that in a boot. He was lucky he did not need surgery.

Dan’s accident happened two weeks before our planned spring break trip to Myrtle Beach. I had found one of those timeshare deals where you pay $300 for three nights at a condo, listen to a timeshare presentation for 90 minutes, and then get a $100 AmEx gift card for your time. Meals and entertainment aside, we were only paying $200 for our trip, as the flights were booked with miles.

After the accident, I called the timeshare company to find out exactly where our condo was located. I was not sure this trip was even feasible given Dan’s condition. The person I spoke with said the condo was several miles from the beach and there were no restaurants on the property. This did not sound the least bit relaxing, so we needed another plan.

A Google search found a Marriott resort right on the beach, with a nice pool and a couple of restaurants. Dan could just stay at the pool, and it would be easy for the boys and me to alternate between pool and beach. This was more our speed. They also had a wheelchair we could use when we went places with a lot of walking. Unfortunately, our almost free vacation had now turned into an actual expense. At this point, however, I needed something easy and decided it would probably be worth it. And, that part certainly was – the hotel was beautiful and our time spent by the pool was exactly what we all needed.

What impressed me about the Myrtle Beach area is their focus on Autism awareness. The CAN (Champion Autism Network) card allowed us to skip the line at several places, including the Sky Wheel and Johnny D’s, a delicious restaurant known for their waffles and owned by a woman whose son has autism. There were autism awareness flyers everywhere, and the staff was very welcoming.

What I didn’t anticipate was how difficult, stressful and tiring it is to maneuver a wheelchair. We opted to take ubers rather than rent a car so we could all get out at the entrance of every location we visited. Each time we got into a car, I collapsed the wheelchair, and a combination of Jordan, the driver and I tried to get it in the trunk. Some trunks were easy, but others required quite a bit of effort. Every time we got out of a car, I rushed to get the wheelchair from the trunk and push it open before Dan got out and hobbled around without support. Despite asking him to wait until the chair was set up, Dan’s natural instinct was to help, so he often got out of the car too quickly.

Here are a few of our travel experiences:

The Boardwalk

On our second night, we decided to go to the boardwalk for dinner and rides. After a two-hour dinner (we were lucky to be seated at the same time as two giant parties!), we made our way to the boardwalk. Only it wasn’t like the boardwalks we’ve been to, which are right off the beach and very family friendly. Sure, the Sky Wheel (giant Ferris Wheel) was off the beach, but the other stores and food areas were actually off the street. It was very crowded walking down the street blocks with the wheelchair. At one point, Jordan took over from me; then he got tired and said, “Ryan, you push. You need to do more.”

“Do you really think this is the right place for Ryan to push?’ I asked.

“He needs to step it up,” Jordan said. “We’re tired.”

Ryan suddenly decided after about 30 seconds that he had had enough and just let go. Dan and the chair started barreling toward the street.

$&@#!!!

“Dad is going into traffic!” I yelled. Dan was trying to steer but he was going downhill and couldn’t stop.

Jordan and I ran toward the chair and together, grabbed it and pulled it back onto the sidewalk.

“Ryan! You can’t just let go!” I admonished once we were back on solid footing again.

“It’s heavy and I’m tired,” he said. “I have to go to the bathroom.”

Ryan always has to go to the bathroom at the worst times. We pushed the chair down a few more blocks to the only available public restroom, which was in an alleyway. Ryan went in and I stood near the door, while Jordan moved Dan off to the side.

All of a sudden, about a dozen extremely tall (at least 6’5 and taller) older boys showed up and began shouting angrily at each other. They then stormed the bathroom to continue their fighting. They were screaming and it sounded like things were getting physical, and I was afraid Ryan would get hurt in there. Ryan is about 5’5, which is tiny compared to those boys.

From where Dan’s chair was, he couldn’t see the boys were in the bathroom with Ryan. “Dan!” I shouted. “Ryan’s with them!”

For a few seconds our panicked eyes met, and I wondered who should be the one to go into the men’s room and rescue Ryan. Me, the woman? Or Dan, with his one functioning leg? This was lose-lose. As Dan started to rise from the chair and I shook my head afraid he would get even more hurt, Ryan emerged from the bathroom.

“Mommy,” he said, oblivious to our panic, “It’s so loud in there.”

We later learned from our uber driver that the boardwalk isn’t the safest place to go at night.

The Aquarium

The next day, we ventured to Broadway at the Beach, an outdoor complex with many restaurants, rides and a zip line, and a big aquarium. Dan and Ryan love aquariums and really wanted to go. Jordan, who now had a cold, grumbled about it. I said we would stay an hour, max, and then spend the afternoon at the pool.

Apparently, everyone visiting Myrtle Beach had the same idea as it was a mob scene when we arrived. Pushing the chair up and down the narrow ramps and trying to navigate to the tanks with the crowds was nearly impossible. We couldn’t get close to much, although Ryan managed to take some good pictures, and people did part for Dan’s chair at some  of the tanks so he could get in and see the fish. I kept losing Ryan in the crowd. Between worrying he would disappear, and the physical difficulties of the chair, I was very happy when it was time to leave.

The Wallet

After the aquarium, we got into an uber with driver, Gregory, and headed to our hotel. I decided to make reservations for date night at Crocodile Rocks, a dueling piano bar back at Broadway at the Beach. I had to give a deposit to hold an actual table, which would ensure Dan had a seat for the show, so my wallet was out while I was on the phone. We arrived at the hotel and I jumped out of the car to get the chair. When we got to our room to change for the pool, I suddenly realized my wallet was missing.

“Why don’t you call Gregory,” Dan suggested. “He’s ex-military and I’m sure he’s very honest.”

You can’t just call an uber driver directly, but through the app, if you click on ‘I left something in my uber,’ it will automatically dial your driver. Gregory answered and confirmed he did have my wallet and could bring it by the hotel in 30 minutes.

“Just some advice,” Dan suggested. “Next time you may want to check the car before the driver leaves to make sure you don’t leave anything in it.” Hmm… super helpful. Thanks for that.

We went to the pool and 30 minutes passed. Then 45. I called Gregory again and he said he was tied up in traffic and would be another 30 minutes. Which soon passed.

I called Gregory again and it went to voicemail. What if he had disappeared with my wallet?

A little later, Dan called Gregory again and left my cell number. A minute later, Gregory called me. “I’m so glad you left your number – it doesn’t show up when you call through the uber app,” he said. “I’m at the pool.”

Thank goodness! I got up and started walking around the pool area. “I think I see you!” I exclaimed. “Turn around.” I gave him a big hug and a tip for coming all the way back to us, and breathed a sigh of relief. There are definitely good people in this world! However, we are going back to renting cars for future trips! (Ryan will be disappointed as he loved being in a different car each time and looking on the app to see what type of car we were going to get!)

Having a family member with a physical disability brings a completely different set of challenges to having a child with autism. I have a lot of respect for caregivers of family members who face this every day.

What’s been positive about the situation is the boys are now helping a lot more – the three of us take out the trash and put away the groceries. They probably should have started doing this years ago, but better late than never. My Fitbit steps are also at an all-time high from all of the running around I now do! Dan’s belief in being appreciative for what you have has been reinforced through this experience. And we can finally see the light at the end of the crutches tunnel – only two more weeks (fingers crossed) to go!

I don’t think Dan will ever go rock climbing in Peru again!

Senior Living

I guess 40 is the new 70 because I am somehow on a marketing list for senior citizens. It starts with an email titled Home Stair lifts, which includes a picture of a smiling, attractive woman probably in her 80s, sitting on one, with the prompt to ‘browse home stair lifts’ on the ad. I can’t imagine I’m their target audience, but the next day, I receive the same email again. Looking at it a second time, I notice the woman in the ad seems very relaxed, and I have to admit after a long workout or one of those marathon travel weeks, it would be nice to hop on a stair lift to get to my bedroom! Maybe they’re onto something.

A week later I receive another email with the subject line See if your favorite place has a discount for seniors! It depicts colorful pictures of various septuagenarians and octogenarians eating out, shopping and hanging out the park. Really? Come on, advertisers – if you want me to click through, I’m going to need to see a group of relaxed 30/40-somethings enjoying several bottles of wine or cocktails. Preferably at a resort.

Then there are the weekly suggestions to join Silver Singles because “life doesn’t stop at 50” (thank goodness for that!), and “you shouldn’t let your love life down, either.” This one isn’t too bad from an age perspective as 50 is not that far in the future. (Although why does the word ‘silver’ have to go with 50?) [Sidebar: Dan and I were actually just talking about that big number. I suggested to Dan, who now has an interest in visiting Sardinia after finding out he’s something like 2% Sardinian, that we should take an Italy trip for his 50th birthday. And then I realized we’ll be in the middle of paying for college at that point in time, so maybe we do it for my 50th birthday. Where I don’t plan to be silver.]

And the hints I’m getting old keep rolling in with a letter in the mail a few weeks later from a life care company inviting me to an educational opportunity focused on topics including long-term care, how I can stay in my house for the rest of my life, and Medicare, Medicaid and other insurance options. This is followed by an e-mail about independent and assisted living options in my area.

It’s really depressing at first. However… after a long week where I feel like my brain is literally full, the idea of moving into an assisted living facility doesn’t sound all that bad. How long could I stretch it out if I cashed in my 401k and moved?

I’m suddenly picturing utopia – a quiet room where I don’t have to think about anything except how to spend my day. I can stay in my room alone watching TV and reading – a luxury for sure!  Or if I feel like being social, I can visit with the other residents and participate in the home’s activities – play mahjong or bingo, attend musical performances, watch movies. I spent several summers in high school and college working in the activities department at a nursing home, and there was always something going on. There will be a hairdresser and nail salon on site so I will always look my best, and regular physical therapy sessions to keep me fit and help when my shoulder, foot, or back start hurting. I will no longer have to deal with an overflowing hamper and having to do daily laundry for four. The home will take care of my clothes and return them to me washed and folded. And let’s not forget about the food. It’s all inclusive and I wouldn’t have to clean up – I’d just show up and get three hot meals every day!

Of course I’ll miss my family and friends, but they can visit whenever they want. Dan can bring the boys to hang out on the weekends. We’ll have a lot to talk about from the week, and since I wouldn’t have seen them in a while, the boys will share actual details when I ask “What’s new?” or “How’s school?’ rather than answer with one word responses like “Nothing,” “Fine,” or “Good.”  Dan can even bring their weekend homework, which I will happily help with given he’s handling everything else all week long and I’ll be feeling generous by that point. I’ll wish the boys good luck on their upcoming tests and projects as they put on their coats at the end of their visit, give them all big hugs and kisses, and return to my latest Kindle book or Netflix show when they leave.

Think about it. This could almost be like a vacation. The break that every parent – working or stay at home – needs to recharge and empty their brains for awhile.

The next morning’s email: Burial insurance – Do you have coverage for final expenses? From the home to the ground in a day. Thanks a lot, advertisers. It would have been nice to enjoy the assisted living fantasy for a little while longer!

Be well, work well

Last week, PwC closed the entire US firm, giving us the full July 4th week off as part of the firm’s Be well, work well initiative. (Be well, work well is about renewing our energy through four areas – physical, emotional, mental and spiritual.) A firm-wide shutdown is the best gift because you can truly disconnect since no one else (at least in the US) is working — and you can return to work after that time with a relatively empty in-box and most importantly with that renewed energy. PwC has been doing this for 14 years between Christmas and New Year’s, which is always a welcome and appreciated break with the family. This was the first time we had a week off as a firm in the summer.

When PwC’s break was announced, our family already had a late June beach vacation planned, and I didn’t want to spend money on another trip. My kids were also busy with their respective summer activities the week of July 2. Knowing I had four days of the week nearly all to myself (as the weekends and holiday would be family time), I spent awhile thinking about what to do with that precious time. A staycation – for just me! What a rare and incredible gift!

Two weeks before the shutdown, Dan got a new job and found himself with some time off before beginning it. He spent a good part of his first week off getting back in shape – working out and eating and drinking better.

As a result, I vacillated between three options for my week: lazy days at the pool relaxing, an intense focus on fitness, or — what I really needed to do — clean out the clutter throughout the house. Decluttering is on my list every winter break. Some day, moving will be a nightmare because of all the stuff we’ve accumulated during our 15+ years here. My annual decluttering process has never been a success and actually paralyzes me. I’ll buy a box of garbage bags, start with the best of intentions on a messy drawer, move to a closet, and then get overwhelmed thinking of the remaining 30 or so drawers, half a dozen book cases and all the closets and shelves left to clean. I’ll then give up and vow to tackle it next year. No room has ever been completely cleaned out because of this.

Having this new time off was more of an incentive to deal with the mess, and conversations with myself went something like…

  • [Responsible Jodi] What if this is the year you actually get rid of the clutter? How often do you have four days all to yourself? Why would you waste this opportunity? A clean house = a clean mind. Be well, work well!
  • [Lazy Jodi] Really? You’re going to spend four precious days alone cleaning out the house? If you clean all week, you’ll go back to work exhausted. This is your chance to chill and de-stress. Rest, swim, read, go out to eat, go to a spa. Be well, work well! 
  • [Healthy Jodi] Admit it. You know the house clean-up project is a lost cause. Lazing around at the pool will ultimately make you feel guilty. The best thing you can do with that time is get lots of exercise and focus on a healthier diet. Be well, work well!    

So who dominated? No one, actually. The three worked together quite nicely.

When the first weekend began, Dan asked if he could help with the decluttering since he had one more week off himself. Having him on board to clean gave me an idea. What if instead of setting a ridiculous goal of cleaning the whole house, we took the worst room — the one that annoys me the most — and focused on it together? That room would be our office. Dan was self-employed for several years; I work from home a lot; and we’ve also used the office space to store the kids’ school stuff since kindergarten. The amount of papers and boxes piled on top of each other is insane. I hate walking in there but have never been motivated to put in the time to fix it.

My nine consecutive days off ended up being the best combination of me time, couple time and family time. I got my money’s worth at the gym, working out regularly and taking two Pilates classes. I read three books during my several hours a day at the pool, including three luxurious mornings there alone. The combination of sun and exercise helped me sleep better than I had in a long time. For the most part, I made good food and beverage choices. I had a girls’ movie night; Dan and I had a double date night out; and we went to a movie together. Our family spent a very fun July 4th with friends. We all saw the Phillies beat the Nationals, followed by the most incredible fireworks, and pretty amazing local fireworks again at the end of the week. We had brunches and lunches with family members. And 17 garbage bags later, Dan and I FINALLY cleaned out that office. There is actually a floor under all of those boxes and a lot of space on top of the desk! Who knew? I now smile when I walk in there and marvel at how nice it looks.

I saw some great posts of other PwCers who went on what looked like amazing vacations and yes, getting away this week would have been terrific and much more interesting to write about. But Be well, work well was certainly in play all week — and I’m so grateful to PwC for that!

Our Happy Place

Dan, Ryan and I just returned from a relaxing five days in Cape May, NJ. If you’re not familiar with Cape May, it’s a beautiful beach town lined with old Victorian homes – some are Bed & Breakfasts (B&Bs), some are hotels, and others are houses you can rent for the week. There are shops, horse and buggy and trolley rides, ghost tours, mini golf, and a winery, among other things. The restaurants are amazing. It’s quieter than your typical beach town and we like it that way. We call it our happy place.

In July 2004, Cape May was our first family vacation spot. The boys were three months old, waking up every two hours (on a good night), colicky, and screaming constantly from reflux. I was at my wits end from exhaustion and suggested we move this party to the beach for a few days so I could get a change of scenery. I had been to Cape May once with my parents and sister and loved it.

“Are you sure?” Dan asked, probably mentally calculating all of the stuff we’d have to bring with us. “It seems like a lot of work to go anywhere.”

Yes, it was going to be ridiculous, but I convinced him three nights away would be fun. I had another month left of maternity leave and wanted to take advantage of being off in the summer. I also managed to get my mom and dad, grandparents (Mom-mom and Pop-pop) and Aunt Sue to book rooms at our hotel so we’d have lots of help. In the early days, we felt more comfortable going places with an entourage.

We loaded our car with two pack n plays, two bouncy seats, a double stroller, 20 bottles, two boxes of diapers, a tub of wipes, a changing pad, a play mat, two baby bjorns, suitcases full of their favorite toys, and enough clothes, bibs and burp clothes for several weeks.

“Is this really worth it?” Dan asked, surveying the car and the tiny open space in the back for him to see out of while driving.

“I have to take a picture,” Sue laughed. She sat in the backseat between the two car seats and entertained Jordan and Ryan on the ride down.

By the time we had unpacked our car, the sun was going down and it was safe to bring the boys on the beach. We put them in their baby bjorns and they experienced the beach for the first time – one boy strapped to each of us.

That night, Ryan slept in Sue’s room and Dan and I fell asleep around 9:00, right after Jordan did. The next time I heard Jordan crying, I woke up surprised to find myself feeling rested. It was 4:00 am – for the first time, Jordan had slept a seven hour stretch. How amazing! (Note: This was a fluke. I attribute it to the magic of Cape May. Jordan, although the first baby to sleep through the night, did not consistently do this until he was eight months old.)

The trip ended up being more than worth it. We had some fun meals with my family and took walks with the double stroller. There’s something about beach air that is immediately relaxing, and the stress of the past few months temporarily melted away when I dug my toes in the sand and felt the warm sun on my shoulders.

Fast forward to 2008. Mom-mom and Pop-pop rented the Ashley Rose – a pretty, yellow six bedroom Victorian home – for a week in August. There were 12 of us in total. The boys were four and while we had a lot of toys, we could pack like a normal family and Dan could see pretty well out the rear window. My niece, Shaina, was six months old, so the honor of lugging a crazy amount of stuff to the beach now went to my sister, Marni and brother-in-law, Dan. (But nothing could ever top packing for twin babies!)

Here’s what I remember about that week:

  • Jordan making everyone dance in circles to his music
  • Pop-pop playing the harmonica for the kids while they ran around the living room singing and squealing with delight
  • Daily happy hours organized by Mom-mom and Pop-pop that started at 4:00 pm promptly (“Be on time or we start drinking without you,” Mom-mom always warned)
  • Long family dinners with lots of laughs
  • Fun game nights after the kids were in bed with more laughing
  • Ryan locking himself in his bedroom on the last morning and falling asleep, immune to us frantically banging on the door and yelling for him to open it (We finally found a key.)

I also remember this was the week Shaina developed reflux – and screamed and screamed and screamed – thus beginning Ryan’s lifelong fear of babies!

The following year, Mom-mom and Pop-pop rented the green and red Ocean Victorian house for a week. It was just as much fun as the prior year. Shaina was a year and a half by this point, her cries long ago replaced by smiles and giggles. She and Jordan could make each other laugh for hours.

This house also had the added bonus of a room with a pool table. When I found out Pop-pop enjoyed the game, too, every day after coming back from the beach I’d ask, “Pop-pop, ready to play?” “Of course!” he’d always answer with enthusiasm. Sometimes the games were close, but he always won. As a former math department head and calculus teacher, I’m convinced there was something mathematical about the way he hit the ball.

In 2010, instead of a house, we stayed at the Marquis de Lafayette hotel. Mom-mom and Pop-pop rented an apartment on the top floor with a deck and full kitchen, which is where we had our happy hours. We took a whale watching boat ride and Ryan, who was going through an impulsive phase, threw my jacket into the bay. It was rescued but took several washings to remove the fish smell. Jordan wrote a song about the 50 states (he was six and very into geography) and made us all sing it over and over.

That was the last time the entire family went to the beach together. It was hard after that for my grandparents to go anywhere with a lot of walking.

Dan and I continued to take the boys if not every summer, at least every other. It was never quite the same as those special weeks with the whole family, but we made new memories and have grown to love the purple and white Inn of Cape May. Sue has joined us there a few times, too. Ryan learned to swim in the Inn’s pool when he was seven (Jordan had learned the previous summer), and pool time transitioned from me freezing in the water with the boys to sitting on a lounge chair with a book and/or drink in hand, watching them swim.

As the boys have gotten older and enjoy going out to eat more, Cape May has become all about the restaurants and negotiating where we’ll eat each meal. We often map this out a week in advance of our trips as everyone wants to go to their favorite places. This was the first year there were only three of us since Jordan spent the week in Europe as part of a school sponsored exchange program. There was a lot of room in the back of the car after we loaded our suitcases. It really hit me how much they are growing up and Jordan, especially, is starting to do his own thing.

The Ocean Victorian is two houses down from the Inn of Cape May, so we walk past it frequently on our vacations. If I stop and really listen, I can hear little boys’ high pitched voices singing while a harmonica plays; I can hear the giggles of a baby girl; I can hear many adults laughing till they cry at silly things happening during game nights; I can hear glasses clinking together, toasting the beginning of happy hour; and I can hear the balls breaking, signaling the start of a pool game.

Maybe, the family in there right now is lucky enough to have four generations spending the week together. And if that’s the case, I hope they are savoring every moment.