Some people believe that the toughest part of travelling with a one year old is in the car, during the drive. But this is incorrect. The baby is a cagey animal and saves its energy for the proper moment. Attacking during the car ride by crying is generally only annoying for the occupants, and may extend the trip, and, while inconvenient, is not that big of a deal. Instead, by lying in wait until the nighttime, the baby is able to exert maximum impact and steal that most precious of commodities, sleep.
Speaking from personal experience, we lived through this in 1999 when we arrived in Gettysburg, PA with a three year old (Elisabeth) and a sixteen month old (Catherine) after a day of tiring but fairly uneventful travel. The adults and the three year old were ready for some well-deserved sleep. But the baby had other plans. Catherine stood up in her portable crib, started fussing and refused to go to sleep. At home, that might mean sacrificing the sleep of one or maybe two family members. But in the echo chamber of a hotel room, it is the sleep of the whole family that evaporates (and sometimes some unsuspecting bystanders in neighboring rooms). That particular baby stand off may have lasted 90 minutes, but felt like a week, and left us groggy for most of the rest of the trip, and the details are too painful to recount here.
Fast forward to today, when we are now in Washington DC with the kids for college visits for Elisabeth. Veterans of the road, even we were surprised at how quickly and easily the 20 hours in the car passed (though you may want to see if our three kids in the back seat feel similarly). But we forgot the lessons of Gettysburg (our own, not those of the Civil War conflict). Timothy, now 15 months old, went to bed with no difficulty and we high fived one another, very tired from the drive but impressed with our skill dealing with our children on the road.
But at the wee hour of 4am, dressed in his goblin pajamas, Timothy made his move.
He started fussing a little. It’s important to note that the strategy of ‘cry it out’ does not work so well at a hotel — especially a really nice hotel where Laura managed to find a $100 rate, but where the only other sign of another infant is a ceramic baby fountain in the lobby. And so, exhausted, I picked Timothy up, expecting that it would just take a minute to get him back to sleep, and to return us all (and the hotel) back to our much needed sleep. But instead, we got a repeat of the Battle of Gettysburg.
Or, as Yogi Berra put it, “It’s déjà vu all over again.”
Thanksgiving is really the best of Holidays. Yes, we fight with family and stress out about stupid things, but we get to do that every day. But Thanksgiving is a nice reminder to insert some gratitude into our thoughts as well.
I’m thankful for so very many things. Grateful that we have a healthy family and wonderful people in our lives. Thankful that I work with great, committed people at Outward Bound, and had the chance to work with special people at Youth Frontiers.
And I’m grateful for that sneaky extra (47th) chromosome that handed Timothy Down syndrome. It’s like a spice in your food that your mom snuck in. You’re not happy that she put it in, but then she makes you tastes it and you reluctantly admit that it’s not as bad as you thought. And, after a few bites, you think that maybe it’s a pretty good thing. Or at a minimum, you’re hungry enough that you can live with it. Like any strong spice, you wonder if you’ll pay for it later. But for now, it’s probably best to just enjoy the good meal.
I’m not sure that people believe me that this Down syndrome deal is such a great thing. And believe me, there’s no way I would have believed it a few years ago.
Now, being a great thing doesn’t mean that we don’t get really mad at the Down syndrome sometimes and really annoyed at the inconveniences and, more than anything else, really worried about the future.
But in case all of us didn’t notice, every part of life has many sides to it, and everything has its costs, and on this deal, when you weigh those many challenges against the benefits and doors that it opens – the people you meet, the experiences you have, the best in people that it brings out, the love you feel, and more than anything else, the perspective you and others gain — it is truly great.
To share just one piece of the perspective, you realize that anything is possible. If you can live with and be happy with something (Down syndrome) that, on first blush, you felt so terrible and sad about; then what else can you do, what else can you learn, what else can you love?
Don’t worry, be thankful.
And Happy Thanksgiving,
P.S. Plus, we get moments like at breakfast this morning, when Timothy was seated in his high chair and was looking around like he’d lost his car keys, and Catherine piped up, “Maybe he’s thinking, ‘Now, where did I put that extra chromosome?’ “