Tag Archives: vacation

Summer Camp Decisions…

summer campI think regardless of whether your kid is neurotypical or not, the decision to send him or her to summer camp can be a big one.  Particularly when it comes to an overnight camp. Ironically, both my girls, neurotypical and well skilled in self-advocacy, making friends, and taking care of themselves were older than 8 when they first went to overnight summer camp.  Yet this winter when camp registrations were opening, I found myself wondering if Berrik could go, should go, or even would go.

I lost a bit of sleep over it while I weighed all the benefits and risks.  So many more things to consider for a kid his age, and especially because he isn’t wired the same as neurotypical 8 year old boys.  Let me tell you a little about my thought process:

  1. It will have to be a camp that meets specific requirements (as determined by me!).  One of them was that the camp counsellors would need to be adults – teenagers dealing with a bunch of 8 year old boys makes me nervous.  Not that a 17 year old and a 20 year old are likely all the much different, but that was one of my requirements.  The ratios of adults to kids had to be what I would consider reasonable for kids this young (no more than 5 kids per adult).  They would have to be willing and able to keep Berrik on his diet for the most part, even if I have to send all his ‘treats’.  And perhaps most importantly for me, I wanted to know that the Camp Director and staff knew what ADHD was, and had some experience with kids who have it.  (Not surprisingly, most camps I called were very familiar… it’s a pretty pervasive diagnosis amoung young boys these days, so I think every camp would have to know how to manage).
  2. So.  Assuming I could find a camp that would meet my specific requirements, I next moved on to what I felt the benefits would be.  Berrik has now been homeschooled for one year.  He has friends with whom we have regular playdates, he attends Cub Scouts, and karate weekly, is attending a spring sports camp each week, and also is playing soccer.  So he has social opportunities.  I actually don’t worry much about his ‘socialization’ per se.  He’s social.  He makes friends easily.  Not a big concern. What I like about camp is the requirements to work together with cabin mates, compete together, do chores together, win challenges together and lose together too.  The ability to cooperate with a group of people all day long for a week is a great introduction to an important life skill.
  3. This year, because we have been home together, Berrik has grown considerably in his ability to care for himself (despite how counterintuitive that sounds).  I have had time to teach him how to make his bed properly, hang up his clothes, empty the dishwasher, set the table, make simple food for himself, take care of the dog, take care of personal hygiene.  When I looked into both my daughters’ rooms this morning, it’s very clear that I DID NOT spend enough time with them on these skills (I really need to get Berrik to teach them).  While he is very self sufficient, it is not the same as being away from home and having to do chores in a different environment, take care of his belongings, keep his stuff tidy, respect others’ stuff etc. etc.  I think this next step towards independence is an important one, and I also think he’s totally ready.
  4. Berrik has been refined sugar and wheat free for 1.5 years.  He is very good at advocating for himself with family and friends with regard to what he can and cannot eat.  Taking it a step further and advocating for himself in a new environment will be great for him.  I’ll make sure the camp knows what he can and cannot have.  There are plenty of gluten free options already for the kids with celiac, so that makes it easy.  The dessert and other treats can be fruit and baking sent from home.  Not a big deal for him, and hopefully nfireot too much of a PIA for the camp.
  5. This time last year, Berrik had no confidence.  He thought he was stupid.  He thought kids didn’t like him because he wasn’t smart enough.  He was teased.  He felt like he didn’t belong.  Fast forward to now, and the difference is mind blowing.  I see it in everything he does now.  As he told me this morning, “You just need to believe in yourself Mom.  If you believe in yourself and work hard, you’ll be able to do it.”  Granted, he was encouraging me as I was complaining about folding laundry, but at least he knows the right messages!  Because he is confident, and he does believe in himself, I am excited for him to attend camp and prove to himself how self-sufficient and independent he is.
  6. Berrik loves video games.  We try to keep his screen time to a minimum.  He also loves to be outdoors.  Camp will be a wonderful opportunity to be screen-free for a whole week, along with nearly unlimited time outdoors exploring and running and playing.  This is a huge sell for me.  Thanks to homeschooling, we go outside a lot. No need to wait for a 15 minute recess!  But it’s not the same as doing camp activities with a bunch of peers, all day, every day, with zero screen time.  Both Berrik and I will love this.
  7. I asked Berrik if he wanted to go to sleepaway camp for 6 whole nights without Mom and he said “YES!!!  That would be so fun!!”  At the end of the day, that was the decision maker.  I also texted my mom and asked if she thought Berrik was ready for sleepover camp.  She said, “Oh yes, for sure!  He’d love it.”  And then a few weeks later I mentioned that it was 6 nights and she said, “Six nights!?!?  OMG.”  She thought I meant ONE NIGHT.  LOL.  Oops.  By then I had already registered him and paid.
  8. Now lets talk risks.  There are many potentials.  But I think they are all mitigateable (I know, I know, not a word.)  He could get hurt.  He could eat a bunch of crap that will make his brain feel crazy.  He could feel homesick or lonely.  But these are all the same risks that all kids are exposed to at summer camp.  I’m doing everything I can to mitigate any risks that I can think of, and have come to the personal conclusion that I can only do so much to protect him, and that overprotecting him will be more harmful than helpful.  Kids don’t die of homesickness.  They learn to be resilient.  Berrik is no stranger to bumps, bruises and scrapes.  And our family is no stranger to broken bones (thank you Avi) so while I hope he doesn’t get broken, if he does, the world won’t end.  If he gets hopped up on sugar and acts a bit crazy, then the counselor will understand why I’m so weird about sugar (and likely won’t give him any the next day! hahaha).  The benefits for this specific kid outweigh the risks.  Perhaps not so for other kids, but for Berrik, it is the case.  So off to camp he will go.

We are preparing and have been for weeks.  We talk about things he might do there, what the expectations will be, how he will make lots of friends, and what the most polite way to decline food might be.  He has identified what treats he wants me to send that he says will be better than marshmallows. He knows which stuffy will come.  We will decide on clothing choices for the week when we pack.  I think he’s going to love it.  I think I’m going to cry all the way home from dropping him off.  I may not sleep.  But in my gut I know he’s ready and I know he’ll have the time of his life.  For us, this is the right decision.

Family Vacation: How We Made it Work for Us

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These matching shirts were how we surprised the kids at Christmas with the upcoming trip!

As I was preparing to write a post about our vacation to Disney World, I came across this article Benefits of Family Vacations that extols the virtues of family vacations.  It essentially says that taking a vacation is good for child development related to exploring new places and the resulting growth in frontal lobes (I’m really paraphrasing here). It also says that happy childhood memories related to family vacations can serve as ‘happiness anchors’ in future times of distress.  Additionally, taking photos (except when it interferes with your activities) helps foster feelings of engagement and enjoyment of whatever you are doing.  The obvious need to de-stress for all family members, is also mentioned.  All this to say that I guess the kids will grow up to be happy and issue-free, all because we went on a family holiday! 😉  Such an oversimplification, however, I cannot argue with the notion that family time is valuable, whether you’re on vacation or not.

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This guy was pretty happy to watch a little Batman vs. Superman on WestJet Connect.

The point of this post was to talk about our big family trip to Disney World, and how we made it work with a kid on a pretty strict diet and also in a time of major economic slow down in Alberta, made more impactful in my family due to my leave from work.

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Travelling with teens. Enough said.

 

  1. We rented a condo through VRBO.com with a kitchen.  This was critical on so many levels I don’t even know where to start.  When you have a family member with some significant dietary restrictions, a kitchen and ability to buy and cook your own food makes life considerably easier.  It also allowed all 7 of us (my parents joined us on this trip) to have less insane mornings.  We were up early to get to the Disney Parks most days, so it was nice to be able to make breakfast and eat at the condo rather than finding a restaurant to sit down in.  Way more cost effective also.  And when someone needs more time for hair and makeup (not mentioning any names, but suffice it to say it was a teenager), or someone else is done eating and wants to play rather than sit at a table waiting for everyone else to finish, no problem.  After a long day at the park we were all hot and tired.  The kids wanted to hit the pool and the adults wanted to have a cold one and relax.
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    One of the 7 pools at the resort.  It was a mini paradise and the perfect location for a family vacation at Disney World.

    By heading back to our condo, grabbing some beverages and heading down to the pool, everyone was satisfied.  We cooked dinner in our condo each night (except for one) as well.  Kids kept swimming.  Dad and Kevin barbequed on the resort BBQs, and Mom and I put together the rest of the meal.  No worrying about Berrik’s food.  No trying to

    Grandma and Avi #selfie

    round up everyone from the pool, getting everyone dressed up and ready for dinner and then sitting in a restaurant waiting for food with tired kids, tired parents, and tired grandparents.  Our meals were simple, so it wasn’t a ton of work.  Then everything into the dishwasher, youngest kids to bed and everyone else head to the couch to relax on the couch with a movie.  (My parents were brilliant in bringing their Apple TV with them!). From a cost perspective for the accommodations, it was a very good deal.  All 7 of us stayed together (we would have required 2 hotel rooms which would have been similar in cost to what we paid for the condo) and we had the added bonus of having space for all of us to be together in the evenings.  Hotels make that nearly impossible, and certainly not comfortable.

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    These two are almost 6 years apart and don’t get a lot of time together at home so it was nice for them to reconnect.

  2. We packed lunches for the parks every day.  Not only was this necessary for Berrik, it had many benefits for the rest of us.  It was a huge time saver.  No waiting in lines for food.  In fact, at Magic Kingdom (the only park where we actually had to wait more than 10 minutes in line) we ate in the lineups.  As a mom, I was most happy that the packed lunches meant everyone was getting healthy food.  My oldest gets sick with too much sugar.  My middle one gets grouchy with crappy food.  And Berrik just can’t have it.  I think avoiding the deep fried, highly processed food at the parks helped us all have enough energy to get through the long days!  The cost savings is another obvious perk.  A hot dog at Magic Kingdom was about $7 US.  Extra for any sides.  There were options like fruit cups and veggies etc., which was nice to see, but they were also super expensive.   With 7 people travelling, those savings add up significantly.
  3. We used FastPass and timing to our advantage.  STUDIO_JTA2_20170214_398201608439You can pre-book three FastPasses per person at each park.  We got to each park at opening and went to a popular ride that lines up later in the day, first thing.  Then depending on the timing of the FastPasses, we went on rides or attractions that fit in between.  By using the FastPasses for the most popular rides (except one…the trick is to get to one popular ride as soon as the park opens), it almost eliminated our ride wait times.
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    Grandma and Grandpa are such good sports.  Especially Grandma who essentially tortured herself with ride after scary ride! #splashmountain

    I believe we waited about 30-40 minutes for Space Mountain and less than 30 minutes for Splash Mountain, but otherwise didn’t really wait for anything.  Very little lining up and standing around meant an overall happier group of people.  Apropos considering we were at the happiest place on earth!

  4. We rented a van.  Easier than airport transfers with all our luggage (although I must brag that our family of 5 were able to pack everything into 3 suitcases!).  There were shuttles from our resort to all the parks. The resort was not a Disney resort, but it was located within the park gates, so was very close to all parks.  With 7 people, the cost of the shuttle back and forth each day almost covered the cost of the van.  And the van eliminated the need to wait for shuttles and risk not all 7 of us fitting on the shuttle.  We could go to the park when we wanted, and leave when we wanted without worrying about timing.  It costs $20/day to park at the parks.  Additionally, we went  to Legoland which is a 45 minute drive away from Disney.  There were shuttles for that too, but more expensive, less times in each direction (so if you miss one, you could be stuck with an expensive cab ride!), and of course sitting in a bus for an hour both ways wasn’t that appealing either.
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    #legoland plus #ninjago = #happyplaceforthisguy

    Grocery shopping was also simpler this way.  My parents arrived in Florida first so they did the first (and major) grocery shop.  Kevin and I went mid week to grab a few extra things.  And finally, on the weekend when the parks were slated to be the most busy, we took the van and drove a couple hours west to Clearwater Beach for the day.

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    #sisters

    White sand, warm clear water, and a lot of lazing around in the sun.  It was perfect after 4 days of parks and busyness.  Without the van this would have not been an option.  So the van was well worth its cost.

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Mickey on the beach

This family vacation was the best one we have had.  The kids are all old enough that they aren’t much work to travel with, especially compared to the days of car seats, strollers, diapers and all the other baby and toddler related items that one needs – not to mention the need for naps and inability or lack of desire to wait patiently in lines etc.  None of these were factors this time.  Having my parents there was a huge help as well.  With three kids it is incredibly helpful to have extra ‘adults’ to ensure all kids get lots of attention and get to check the ‘must dos’ off of each of their lists.  My kids are very close to my parents and we so appreciate and value the time spent with them. My parents have unending energy and a knack for making their grandkids feel extra special and loved.  I think I speak for all of us when I say we have created a whole pile of ‘happiness anchors’ to keep us grounded when more challenging times arise in the ups and downs of life.

Have a magical day!