Posts Tagged ‘Travel’

Our Trip to France Part 3! Finally!

We finally made it to France after all of the planning and preparation and changes in plan. The whole point of the trip (besides finally getting back to France after many years) was to get together with Stew’s whole family in one place at one time. This was Stew, his parents, both of his sisters, one of their husbands, and all eight Anderson cousins, including our kids, plus me and Karalyn as well. So we jointly rented an old converted farm house in the tiny Brittany town of Plougasnou. It was supposed to be about 5 and a half hours drive from Paris, but with stops for the kids and Carebear it took us closer to 7 hours. I was glad that we decided to take a room at the airport the day we got in so we had a chance to recover from the 18+ hours of airport and air travel before hopping in the car for another full day.

I was also glad that we ended up with a much larger mini van than I thought I was reserving. It was more of a van than a mini van and easily had seating for 9 people. This meant that some of Stew’s family could pile in with us when we went on day trips and there was still plenty of room for car seats and Carebear. Both kids totally loved driving around the lush French countryside. There were farms with animals everywhere. And we had no real set schedule on a daily basis.

I was really worried about the lack of school and therapy schedule because often long holiday weekends are the hardest time for the kids at home. They expect to get up and get ready and go to school or therapy and get upset when things don’t happen the way they are supposed to, but in France that expectation was totally absent. Neither one seemed to miss the regular schedule at all. It took nearly the entire trip to get the kids onto the local time in terms of going to sleep and getting up in the morning. But I found a strange peace and satisfaction in our nocturnal time together when everyone else had gone to sleep. Though sometimes Karalyn traded off with me on staying up with Myffy. Myffy was always the last kid standing. And removed from our normal crazy work/school/therapy/swim lessons/gymnastics/etc. schedules, I even found time to read a whole printed book and half of another, just for pleasure, something I have not done in a very long time. Usually anything I want to ‘read’ has to be on audible.com or it doesn’t get read.

The kids both did fantastic with their cousins, and aunties and uncle and grandparents. Lu even took to calling out ‘Granddad!’ to get David Anderson’s attention and then would giggle when he turned to her. It was pretty cute. Myffy missed a few outings with the Anderson clan because of her difficulty with the time change- often everyone else was up and away by the time I managed to get Myffy up and dressed, but there was still plenty of great family hangout time.

Oceanopolis in Brest was a big hit with the kids.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As was the back yard of the Gite with it’s farm animals, playground equipment and awesome hammock.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But most of all, the kids loved the ocean, so we went down to one of several lovely little beaches most days when the weather permitted.

 

 

 

 

It was a cold, often rain-spitting north Atlantic Ocean, but the kids wanted in no matter how pink all of our toes went. And we all fell in love with the rugged beauty of the place. All in all the trip was more than worth all of the difficulty and planning ahead of time. And now that we have done it once we are hoping to try to get in a bit more travel with the kids in the future.

 

 

Our Trip to France Part 2!

After publishing Our Trip To France part 1 I realized that I left out several steps of prep that we did with the kids. These steps were mainly the practice flights from Phoenix to Flagstaff to give the kids a test run before trying to plop them onto an international long-haul flight. We did Lu’s flight at the end of a week long session at SARRC, and Myffy’s flight the day after her endoscopy to check for EE in Feb.

 

 

 

Madison went with us for Lu’s flight and other than getting nervous going through the security line when we had to take Dahanna’s back pack and leashes off, as well as all of our shoes, Lu did really well.

 

 

 

 

 

When she got into the airplane she was really happy and kept saying, ‘Airplane go up in the air!’ As a pilot and the daughter of a pilot, I couldn’t help feeling a little bit proud of how much she seemed to love to fly. Even though it was only a 45 minute flight, I couldn’t help feeling encouraged and excited. For any other family considering taking their special needs kids on a long haul international flight, I would highly recommend doing a short practice flight first. It does add expense to the whole trip, but it really helped us to anticipate where problems were mostly likely to arise.

 

For Myffy’s practice flight I took her by myself and she had a much harder time with the lines and delays, so I wasn’t able to get any pictures. My hands were more than full. Still I think that it was really good that we went through it once first both so she could learn to anticipate what would happen next on the long flight, and so I could be prepared for her reaction. It was after this that I decided to buy the big box of individually wrapped ear plugs to pass out to other passengers.

 

 

I don’t want to give the impression that Myffy struggled throughout the entire travel time. There where whole hours of her walking along and sitting and playing and being perfectly sweet and totally awesome. It was also encouraging to think back to when Lu was Myffy’s age, how much trouble she had with fast, unexpected transitions and changes, and to see how far she has come. She just rolled with weird thing after weird thing on this trip and took so much in her stride. It helped us to remember that even in autism there are stages that kids go through and grow out of and that in another year or two international travel might very well be a breeze for Myffy too.

I sure hope so, because we have already begun to discuss plans for our next overseas visit with the Anderson Clan!  Stay tuned for part 3 of our trip to France when I finally talk about being in France!

Our Trip to France: Traveling Overseas with Autism, EE and a Service Dog. Part 1.

Yes, we did it. We took the kids to France and made it back again. It wasn’t easy, but it was totally worth it. Worth all of preparation and planning. All of the worry and stress about what could possibly go wrong. The kids, and all of us, had such a great time. Tallulah’s face in this photo of her on the beach by the ocean says it all. She loves the ocean and she loves France. We all did. Heck I even started looking at real estate while I was there, imagining a world in which we could move to France, or have a second home there and spend two or three months of the year. Yes, it really was that great to be there.

However, if anyone else ever wants to follow in our footsteps and take their special needs kids and a service dog overseas, I do have a few tips to pass on. First, do all of the paperwork for the dogs travel papers several months ahead of time even if they tell you that you have to have them done 5 days before travel. You will have to do it again 5 days before travel, but at least you will find out if there are any unforeseen glitches. We had a very big unforeseen glitch. When we looked over the list of all of the requirements, we met them all, rabies, check, microchip, check, certification paperwork, check, etc.

The odd little issue that became a game changer for us was that because Dahanna was microchipped after her 2nd rabies vaccination, the USDA refused to certify the vaccination. As if it could have been some other dog who was vaccinated because she did not have a microchip at that time. We didn’t find this out until we went in for the 5 days before travel paperwork. In a panic I told the vet to just vaccinate her again, thinking that would make everything ok, but after they gave her the shot I found out that now she was not allowed to travel for 21 days. WHAT!?!?! I did a lot of crying and shouting over the phone, trying to explain that we’d been planning this for months and no one ever warned us that this was even a vague possibility, but it was a done deal. There was no way we could take her.

Brian from Arizona Goldens came up with our solution which was to take Carebear with us instead. We had a few days to work on getting the kids used to this idea, and in the meantime we sent in all of the paperwork for her. Luckily her shots and microchip had been done in the right order. I did get an incredulous comment from the USDA agent, “What do you mean, you have a spare service dog?” Yes, we are one of the few families in the country to have not one, but two service dogs. Because Lu’s needs are greatest we decided to spend the last few days before travel focused on Lu and Carebear working together. I was worried about how the kids would react, Lu to being attached to the higher energy Carebear who she often shies aways from when we are at home, and Myffy to having Lu hold the leash for her dog. I was amazed. Both the kids and Carebear totally surpassed my expectations and took it all in their stride.

One of the issues with traveling with a dog on such a long haul flight is the fact that there is no where in the plane for a dog to discretely and hygienically relieve itself. Because the flight to London was nearly 10 hours, plus getting to the airport two hours early for an international flight, plus the two hour lay over and the hour and a half flight to Paris, in all Carebear would have roughly 16 hours inside of terminals and airplanes. Because we weren’t doing customs in the UK we were told that there was no way that we could leave the international terminal to take her outside. The solution: doggie diapers. It was a good plan but the truth is that it was such an odd situation for her that she just held it instead. Boy was she glad to see some grass when we got to Paris!

 

 

As far as the kids in the airports and the planes, I was actually pretty shocked by how calm and collected Tallulah was through the whole ordeal. Because we were carrying all of the feeding tube equipment, powdered food in cans and medications in bottles, as well as laptops, ipads, iphones and sundry electronics, our luggage got searched, scanned, swabbed, opened and pretty much everything short of making us drink Lu’s migraine meds. All of this took a very long time, which wouldn’t have been too bad if Myffy had not been really really upset from the moment we hit the lines for security. Usually if Myffy screams Lu throws her hands up over her ears and wails in torment. For some reason in the airport it didn’t seem to bother her much at all. Maybe it was all of the other things going on to distract her from the sound. I really can’t say. But she was calm and collected and kept hold of her leash and only got upset at security in London when for some reason they picked her out for a full body pat down and she didn’t want anyone to touch her belly near the site of the G-tube. I was really upset at this because Karalyn, who went with us on the trip, went through the metal detectors with Lu first and as she was putting Carebear’s collar and leash back on while body blocking Lu from running forward a lady came up and started patty Lu down without asking or explaining or anything. I was on the other side of the metal detector holding a screaming and thrashing Myffy, trying to shout at them to stop and let me through. Luckily Karalyn handled the situation well, explaining Lu’s autism and the feeding tube and after touching her ankles again they let her go and finally let me get through to them.
On the plane itself once again Lu did great. She settled in with her ipad and was perfectly happy to do her feed. British Airways was great to us in every way. The staff were fascinated by Carebear and truly impressed with her stellar behavior.  Especially when they saw us putting the diaper on her! Myffy had a bit of a harder time than anyone else and I was so glad that I went to that industrial supply store to buy a large box of individually wrapped ear plugs so we had them on hand to pass out to the nearby passengers, along with a card explaining what autism is. It saved a bit of time trying to explain what was going on while Myffy was screaming, and everyone around us was really awesome and supportive about it all. Myffy cried herself to sleep before we were out of Arizona, and slept through nearly all of the entire night flight to London. Lu did her feed and had her meds and slept as well.

All along we were warned that the customs people in Paris would be all over us the moment we got out of the plane, before we even entered the airport and would want to go over every detail of the paperwork for Carebear. And someone did meet us as we exited the plane, a woman in a red jacket who said to follow her. As we approached four police men she said something in French and one of the officers made a gesture with his hand and a pfwt sound with his mouth which I interpreted to mean he didn’t really care. At the end of the hall the woman went through a door to the left and waved us on down the hall to the right. It lead to passport control and then on to the baggage claim. I kept waiting for someone to ask for all of this paperwork, but the customs counter was empty and closed. We walked through the door marked Sortie with everyone else from our flight and no one ever asked to see anything. Isn’t that just always the way? You do everything you possibly can to be totally prepared, and then you realize you could have not prepared at all. Of course if we hadn’t been prepared, I’m sure customs would have been all over us.

The next day we drove to Plougasnou. It was a long drive through the french coutryside, which was lovely and luscious, but as we neared the coast of Brittany, I started to fall in love. Being California born and Arizona raised, I’ve never spent much time on the Atlantic Coast. It is definitely somewhere I want to get to know better. Lu loved the French countryside too. Just driving around seemed to make her so happy. This is Karalyn the graduate student pictured here in the van with Lu. She came along with us on the trip and was an enormous help with everything. Thanks Karalyn!

I’ll write more about our time in France in a few days so stay tuned for Part 2 or Our Trip to France!

Freedom!

The rest of our California trip:

After 2 days at Disneyland we took a break from the park to do a couple of other LA area things. Sunday morning we drove up to Pomona College to visit an old friend and see my Dad’s skyspace on campus in the courtyard by the geology building. I had visited the site back in 2007 when it was still under construction but had never made it back to see the completed piece. I was glad we went. It’s a real stunner. Any James Turrell fans out there should put this on their ‘must see’ list for sure.

 

 

Unfortunately Lu was pretty freaked out on the drive there and as we drove around campus to park. To be honest, she tends to get really anxious and freaked out whenever we drive around in a city with big buildings. Parking garages in particular seem to set her off. She isn’t able to explain why this is to us yet, but my best guess is that the main multi-story building with parking garage she has ever been in is Phoenix Children’s Hospital with the Flagstaff Medical Center a close second, both of which have been the sites of numerous appointments, tests, procedures and surgeries. She reacted to the beautiful buildings at Pomona in much the same way.

 

However once we managed to coax her out of the car and she realized that we weren’t going anywhere scary, something beautiful and amazing happened. In the middle of campus there is a long, lovely green, surrounded by tress and buildings with no cars in sight. Because Lu’s instinct is to bolt whenever there is open space in front of her, for her own safety she has never been allowed to walk through a door to the open outside without holding onto someone’s hand and more recently also holding onto Dahanna’s leash.

It is my acute and ever-present terror of her coming into contact with a moving vehicle that is the cause of this. This is not an unfounded fear. We had too many early close calls to ever risk being negligent about this. But at the same time, it is heartbreakingly sad.

 

 

 

Sometimes she seems like a colt stuck in a stable who desperately wants to just get out there and run. I sometimes wonder if she would do so much jumping and pattern walking if she were just able to get out there and run.

 

 

 

 

It is my hope that as she gets older, with the help of Dahanna, she could learn to do track and field, or maybe even long distance running, if there is a way to keep her safe while she is doing it.

 

 

 

 

 

Because there on the Pomona green, we let her go and she got a taste. Freedom. Her happiness was palpable. She loves to run.

 

 

 

 

 

I don’t mean to say that she has never run before, she gets to run at recess and during PE and at the completely fenced in park where we go to play in Flagstaff. And we try to give her lots of physical activity with both the big trampoline in the back yard and the two small ones we keep in the house. She goes for pony rides and outings. It’s not like she never gets to do anything or go anywhere, it’s just that someone is always holding on to her or is right there within arms reach to slow her down if she gets going too fast.

 

 

After a good old run at Pomona, we left to meet some of Stew’s friends at the beach. We went to Huntington Beach which the GPS said was only 15 minutes away from our hotel. Somehow it took us over an hour to get there with Lu getting nervous as the drive went on. But when we finally got there, another revelation! It was a dog beach so we decided to let both Lu and Dahanna have a break from their leashes. This was a very difficult thing for me. Back when Lu was first being diagnosed I had this recurring nightmare where I was at a beach, knee high in the water, holding Myffy in one arm and holding Lu’s hand with my other hand. Suddenly, out of no where, a huge wave hit us and we were all knocked back into the swirling water. I managed to stand and pull Myffy up above the water but I had lost hold of Lu. My instinct was to dive back in to search for her but I was afraid of drowning Myffy in order to try to save Lu. I would wake up thrashing in bed in a sweat as if swishing my arms through the water searching for her.
I told Madison about all of this before we got to the beach. I told her that I would need to stay with Myffy and I was trusting her to always have Lu. She and Lu worked it out that as long as Lu ran along the beach Madison would run along side her, in between Lu and the waves. Lu could go into the water if she wanted but had to hold on to Madison’s hand. It worked out well. Lu ran to her heart’s content, she and Madison both got wet, and Myffy and I played on the beach while Stew had a chance to visit with old friends and do some wading out into the water with Lu as well.
I think as much as taking the kids to Disneyland was a triumph for the family, taking Lu to the beach was overcoming an enormous fear for me. And I realized that sometimes my fears for her safety may be stopping her from experiencing life. We’re not about to remove all of the safeguards we’ve set up for her, but at the same time, with the right people who I know I can trust, I think that it is time for me to start letting go just a little in order for her to discover more of the wonder and joy that life has to offer. Wind in her hair. Sea spray on her face. Pink-cheeked exhaustion. Freedom. Happiness.

WE DID IT!!! Our Autism/EE Disneyland Adventure!

Well we did it. We took our kids to Disneyland! A year ago I didn’t think a trip like this was possible. Back in January I even wrote this post called Disneyland and the Dog about how we couldn’t imagine being able to take our kids to Disneyland before learning about Arizona Goldens’ Autism Service Dog program. And now, less than a full year later we have accomplished an enormous family goal! We have gone on our first completely non-medical family vacation in 5 years and did the fun kind of things that other families do with their kids.

There were a few hiccups and tough times along the way, the drive was long and mornings and evenings so off schedule caused a fair bit of anxiety for the kids, but the actual time spent in the Disneyland park itself was so much better than I could have hoped for.

We decided not to buy multi-day passes ahead of time because I am so used to the things that we expect the kids to like the most turning out to be too difficult or traumatic. I could just see us getting there and the crowds and noise and motion being too much for the kids to handle for more than just an hour or two. I fully expected to only stay 2 or 3 hours on the first day. But thank goodness we planned ahead and brought Lu’s tube feeding equipment and food with us in back packs into the park. We stayed for more than 7 hours and walked more than 5 miles inside of the park for 2 days in a row (thanks fitbit step tracker)!
I need to give some credit where credit is due here and a ton of credit goes to the lovely Madison, Tallulah’s one-on-one school aide and one of her home ABA interventionists; as well as credit to the also lovely Dahanna who was a total star! The way we worked things was that Madison mostly was in charge of Tallulah and Dahanna, walking with them both, giving Dahanna commands, holding Lu’s hand in one hand and Dahanna’s leash in the other, keeping the two leashes from getting entangled and the rest. I was in charge of Myffy and had a back pack with just the feeding pump, bags, tubes, adapters and syringes in it which is not very heavy in case I needed to run after Myffy or jump in to help Madison with Lu. And Stew was in charge of everything heavy and everything else; the stroller, the cold bag with Lu’s food in it, and another back pack with all of the other stuff we might possibly worst-case-senerio need.
Dahanna did a great job of navigating the crowds, waiting in lines, keeping our group together like a sheep herding dog and riding all of the rides with Lu but one (that one was the Dumbo ride which I was afraid to put her on because I had this momentary vision of her hopping out of the Dumbo when it goes up and down in that shakey way, it was the first ride we tried and it took me awhile to realize that she can handle pretty much anything we can). The people around us marveled at her calm demeanor and professional air as she hopped in and out of all the crazy shaped ride cars and never even batted an eye when the Pirates of the Caribbean ship plunged down into darkness and water sloshed in, getting her pretty well soaked by Lu’s feet.
One thing that I was really impressed with on this trip that I never even noticed as a kid was how alert and awesome the Disneyland Staff are. Maybe this was accentuated by having the service dog which is a very visible sign of a kid with a disability, and maybe it was having the guest assistance pass which put us into the disabled lines, but even when we were just walking around and trying to get food I felt like the staff were constantly watching, ready to help and totally on the look out for kids in distress.
When we went to eat the chefs came out to talk to us about the kids’ food restrictions, and even though Lu never actually ate anything by mouth the whole time we were in the park, I so appreciated their willingness to make up special food that my kids could safely eat. We got gluten free rolls, BBQ meats that were not dredged in flour and had a special sauce, pancakes and burritos that were gluten and diary free. It was great. Myffy ate a ton of everything and hopefully next time we go Lu will be interested in eating as well. Normally Lu does not like doing her tube feeding anywhere but in her own bed at night, on her beanbag or on the sofa during the day, and she will let us coax her into feeding at the dining room table with us as we eat dinner for 15-20 minutes usually before asking to  move to the sofa. So even though we brought her feeding stuff with us, I was pretty sure she would want to go back to the hotel. But she didn’t. She let us hook her up right out there in public at the tables of the Disneyland restaurants. And she hardly even seemed to notice.
On the first day there it wasn’t until half way through lunch that I realized that I’d completely forgotten to bring Lu’s ipad which is usually the only way we can get her to sit with us through a meal. I felt a moment of panic but then looked around and realized that everything around us was better than a life-sized ipad. All day long Lu’s face had the most amazing glow of happiness. And once she got used to the routine of waiting in line and then going on rides, she eventually didn’t even seem to mind the wait too much. Especially once she got tired and wanted to sit in the stroller while waiting.

We rented the stroller with Myffy in mind because her legs are so short and she is a pretty slow walker, but she would not go in it even for a moment. She wanted Mommy up and no one but Mommy. So I carried her. All the time. For over 7 hours and over 5 miles a day, two days in a row. And boy was I feeling it by the end of the second day. I was so glad I could look forward to that chiropractor appointment I’d made for a couple of days after we got back. I made a mental note to schedule a massage as well. But aching backs aside, it was an awesome trip and we never even came close to my worst fear of losing a child at Disneyland.

 

 

 

It was a couple of long hard days, and Myffy didn’t quite make it without a little nap in line for It’s a Small World (which I think we rode 7 times during the two days), but all in all I’d call our Disneyland Adventure an unqualified success!