Saturday, August 21, 2010

A Crabby Choice Works for Vacation Curmudgeon

Though she’s never said so, I imagine that my wife thinks that I am a vacation curmudgeon because I frequently answer her suggestions of places to go with, “That sounds like a great place, but, what will Kai do over there?”

It’s not that I don’t like to travel. Quite the contrary, I’ve enjoyed traveling throughout the United States as well as to Europe, Asia, and Africa.

When I was a child, our family literally packed up our station wagon every summer and drove to all parts of the United States. In my idyllic recollections, the thought of roadside Stuckey’s and Holiday Inns evoke fond memories rather than pangs of recalled boredom. Those vacations were seemingly among the happiest times of my youth, and I would like to create similar experiences with my wife and son.

But, when you have a child with autism, it is not so easy to come up with great vacation ideas.

Among the things that need to be considered are that waiting is extremely difficult for my son. It is risky to go to places where he would have to wait more than a very few minutes to enjoy something. Well, that alone eliminates about 95% of the most popular family vacation destinations.

Eating out is another issue. While he does far better in restaurants now than he used to, it is still more of a tense experience than one of relaxed joy whenever we do eat out. You never know how impatient he will be if his food takes too long to come out, or what will happen if he gets frustrated with coloring his placemat, or so on. Also, with his gluten-free/casein-free diet, finding proper menu options can be challenging.

Furthermore, Kai’s interests are just not that broad. He is not that into aquariums or zoos or museums or other places that many kids are.

What he does like is going to the beach as, with his sensory issues, he loves the feel of the sand and waves. He also has a fascination with critters as he enjoys picking up bugs and worms in the backyard. And, he likes pounding on things.

It was with these things in mind that I finally came up with a vacation spot that would be worth trying: Ocean City, Maryland.

Ocean City has beaches. Miles and miles of beaches actually. I also found out that you can do crabbing there, which aligns with two of Kai’s interests: his love of critters as well as of pounding, which he could do after we cook the oodles of crabs we would surely catch.

My sister’s family lives within a half day’s drive of Ocean City and they were keen about joining us so we decided to get a condo together. That turned out to be a key to having an enjoyable time with Kai. It allowed us to skip restaurants altogether as we cooked and ate all our meals in the condo. It was also great having my sister’s family with us. Besides the camaraderie of doing fun activities together and just getting to spend time with family that we don’t see often enough, it was so nice to have others there to play with Kai or share the load with cooking or other chores. At home, my wife and I constantly feel stress as Kai requires so much attention. It was nice to have the extra support on our vacation.

As for the activities themselves, we went to a different beach every day. Kai loved being buried in the sand or splashing in the water. It was his first time in the ocean and he tried to sneak sips of the salty water whenever he could get away with it. At our last beach, he kept finding numerous small, shelled creatures that washed ashore.

Our crabbing experience was fun. We were thrilled that we actually were able to catch numerous crabs using chicken necks as bait. Most of the crabs we caught were so small that we threw them back. But, we kept some of the not-too-small ones to eat. Kai loved the whole experience and wanted to go crabbing every day. I think he enjoyed pounding open the steamed crabs with his wooden mallet even more than he liked catching or eating them.

My wife likes seafood so catching crabs also worked out in that she had a little taste of seafood. Although, I did “cheat” a bit by bringing back a dozen crabs from a local restaurant for us to eat back in the condo. While it was fun catching our own, the quantity of the meat in the much larger restaurant crabs was much more satisfying.

We also did other fun things like going to a water park and playing miniature golf. Ocean City must be the unofficial mini golf capital of the world with places galore. We also got to see the wild horses on nearby Assateague Island. Certainly not something you see very often.

There were a few stressful times, mostly in the car when Kai was yelling at the light signal for being red, or at the driver (me, mostly) for being in the wrong lane, the one that wasn’t moving. But, overall we all had a great time.

It was wonderful to have such a good experience, and to shed my curmudgeon image for this summer anyway. Now, I just need to come up with another great idea for Summer, 2011.


  1. I had to laugh at the second to the last paragraph...I am the one who does the yelling at the traffic sometimes. When we vacation...I am the one who gets frustrated with waiting and crowds. I am working on it :)

  2. I am not normally very patient in traffic either. But I am forced to set a good example and try to stay calm for Kai. :)


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