We are headed out of town for the weekend to attend the wedding of some very dear friends. We have found that nothing, literally nothing, dysregulates M like travel does. It seems as though he can’t sleep well in any unusual environment. He also loses his appetite. Those two things together are just a recipe for disaster. Of course, it makes him aggressive. Which to me is the worst of the dysregulatory effects. These are the moments I can’t let my guard down for a second. He will do things like push M2 off a bed, or punch her in the face for absolutely no reason. He will scratch and bite and hit and spit me or anyone else he feels safe with. Totally unprovoked, he turns into a tiny ball of angry. One of the worst things about this state, is that he makes a face that looks exactly like the face my Dad makes when he is agitated. Which of course, means that it is the face I make when I am agitated. These kids, even though adopted, are mirrors of my worst traits.
On top of the travel, he has been generally dysregulated for the last two weeks. We’ve had back-to-back visitors. Which is great for me, I love having family visit. When my Mom and Dad come, I literally can relax and let my Mom and Dad take care of me for a bit. Mom helps out tremendously around the house and my Dad is super generous about getting take-out and taking us out to eat. Eliminating the need to cook and clean feels like a vacation for me. G’s brother has been with us for the last couple weeks, the kids love him and he provides an extra set of eyes and hands for caring for M. The change in the routine from visitors has M on a bit of an emotional roller coaster, he has so many good moments, but we’ve had some aggressive days at home as well.
There a few things that I’ve learned about traveling that do make things a little bit better. First, we can’t surprise M with a change of routine. That causes instant/persistent meltdowns. It’s better to carefully introduce the ideas and the plan. At the same time, I started to slowly release the information starting about a week ago that we were going to go on an airplane. This is tricky, as it can go either way, he can obsess over the airplane and want to be there instantly or he can be in a mood where he understands “later” and “next week” as things he needs to wait patiently for. This time, the careful release of details seemed to work well.
Second, we have to bring enough familiar objects from home. His blanket is a must have. It doesn’t matter that we are already lugging a ton of clothes and car seats, he has to have a few favorite items with him. I’ve had other parents of kids with FASDs tells me that their kids don’t care much about toys. M is just the opposite, he has a mental catalog of every toy he owns and he takes great comfort in bring a few key things along with him.
Third, and maybe most importantly, I have to keep my stress levels in check. M tends to pick up on my nervous energy and then multiply it. Then I get more stressed and we snowball into a feedback loop of disaster.
I always have to keep my expectations in check as well. I used to dream about being able to travel and explore new places with my kids before I had a family. But in reality, travel has become something we do only out of necessity. There are virtually no plans that are set in stone, I have to be flexible and focused on M’s needs and emotional state. For us, while traveling, that often means spending hours at a playground or at least spending as much time as possible outdoors with no rules or expectations for behavior. I have little to no expectations for success this weekend, my goals are to keep M from harming/hurting other children as there will be quite a few around. This kind of situation is truly the hardest for him, weddings have behavioral expectations and uncomfortable clothes, food he isn’t used to and maybe the worst, having other people take my attention away from him. God help me if another adult tries to have a conversation with me while he is feeling uncomfortable. I expect that M will be in full anxiety mode and sensory overload and I will do all I can to keep him calm and
happy less angry. Fingers crossed and prayers released.