Sorry, skipped a post there, Friday. Busy and also fighting off some fatigue that is really cutting into my productivity. I'll try to stick to the schedule, but sometimes the rest of life will get in the way...
Never vacation without the kids? Never say never. About nine months ago a dear friend of ours presented us with a once in a lifetime opportunity to visit Bali. At first I couldn't see how we could do it. Bali is a day's plane ride away for us, which makes any trip shorter than a week kind of silly, and then it takes a day to get back. That's a nine day trip minimum. We would be traveling with a group of adults and older teens, and financially bringing the kids was not really an option. Who would stay with the kids? How would the kids react to such a long absence? So soon after our big school transition? There were plenty of reasons to hesitate, but in the end we decided it was an opportunity that we couldn't pass up. Some big pieces of the puzzle fell into place, so we checked our passports and made our reservations.
One of the biggest pieces was my wonderful parents agreeing to take on the childcare. This was no small favor to ask. An almost seven-year-old on the spectrum and twin almost three-year-olds are not a neat and tidy package to hand off to anyone; and our household really runs best when it runs on routines. Mom and Dad leaving doesn't exactly make for routine, but my parents worked hard to learn the rest of our system so they could maintain as much of the groove as possible. We will never forget their generosity.
Of all of the things we did to prepare my parents and the children for our trip, I decided to focus on three things that seemed the most important and might be helpful to others...
Caregiver manual - My mom said she referred to this frequently, so I was glad I took the time to put it together. I filled a three ring binder with useful information like:
1) How to run our audio/visual system, which is a bit tricky. I included a list of shows the kids watch that are recorded on our DVR so that it would be easier for Grandma and Grandpa to find them. Since we returned I've been referring to it myself...
2) Morning and Bedtime routines for the kids. These seem to be the most important pieces of the day, which I guess makes sense.
3) A medical release letter and a copy of our insurance card. Just in case. It was going to be very hard to get in touch with us and we didn't want to risk denial of medical care because we couldn't be reached to give our consent. I included the kids' dates of birth, id numbers, and known medical conditions in the letter.
4) Doctors, dentists, and nearby ERs were listed with phone numbers and addresses, too. Grandma actually needed this since our son developed a mild fever and she wanted to check in with the pediatrician. Happily that went away in just a day.
5) Maps of our local area, and key destinations. Since my parents do not live nearby and don't drive much when they visit us I knew they would appreciate some directions.
6) Contact info for some of our local friends who had agreed to be "on call" should something urgent come up.
7) A schedule and menu plan for each day. Grandma said she liked having menus all planned out, and sometimes I have trouble remembering what is supposed to happen each day, so having it all written out in one place was useful.
Other miscellaneous items: business cards, coupons, directions for checking voicemail, etc. all got tucked into one place so they knew if they had a question they should check there first. One thing I should have put in there and didn't is the baby book our pediatrician gives to each child. He has compiled a lot of information there and referred my mom to one thing in there that she couldn't find, since she couldn't find the book. She figured it out, but it would have been better if she'd known where it was. We also have used this for babysitters, once, since returning from our trip. Not everything in there is pertinent, so I'll have to revise it somewhat for that purpose, but it was certainly handy to have it all put together.
Social Story - I think I've made it pretty clear how valuable I think social stories are. I have started using them with our younger children, too. They are great for children of all abilities! This story was pretty specific to our family and how this vacation away was going to work. We explained that Grandma and Grandpa were coming to visit and that Mommy and Daddy would be gone for nine days. We explained that Grandma and Grandpa would know the best ways to take care of everyone and everything. We talked about what the children could do while we were gone. We assured them that we would think of them often even if we couldn't call (which we didn't!) and we assured them that we would come back home. We read this several times before we left and left it as a resource for Grandma and Grandpa to help the children understand what was happening.
Journals and Calendars - I made some simple books - blank paper stapled between two pieces of construction paper - for each child. They decorated the covers the day before we left and there was one sheet of paper for each day that we were gone. Each evening Grandma would pass out the markers and crayons and the children would make a picture for that day in their journal. Our oldest also had some lines on her pages so she could write a sentence or two about her day. This one is especially precious to me because besides just marking the time from our departure to our arrival it also is a simple record of what was most important to her each day that we were gone. Grandma also made each child a calendar and they marked the days that we were gone with stickers.
I'm not sure who was happier upon our return, the grandparents or the children, but the really gratifying thing was that they were all happy, and we were refreshed, if jet-lagged, from our time away.