Even though the economy took a nosedive last year, we decided to take our annual beach vacation with our son, Luke, who has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADD/ADHD). We cut costs by camping out, instead of renting a room. We found a wonderful state park campground right on the beach, just a six-hour drive from our home. It was great fun and a disaster rolled into three days. But during the trying times and the fun times, I learned a lot about my son.
- Fearlessness comes in handy. Luke had a blast riding the boogie board. Although he was upset the first time he fell off and went under, he ran right back to do it again.
- An ADD/ADHD child isn't always fearless. Luke was afraid to climb the lighthouse stairs. I had a feeling he wouldn't go up the towering spiral staircase, so I tried to talk him out of climbing before we went in (shame on me, I know). We got up two flights, and he panicked and wanted to quit. They were scary stairs -- steel treads that you could see through, giving you a bird's-eye view of the floor below. I nearly had a panic attack halfway up. By the time Luke got that far, he was running ahead and cheering me on. I am proud of him for not quitting.
- Determination trumps distraction. Luke had wanted to go fishing for a long time. There isn't much opportunity to fish near home, so when I discovered there was a fishing pier at the park, I took Luke and his sister Emma fishing. I suspected neither had the patience for it, but that was something they had to find out for themselves. I figured we'd work at it for 20 or 30 minutes and head back. We wound up fishing for a couple of hours. Despite not catching anything, Luke sat on the pier, holding his pole, and waited. I was afraid his determination to catch something would keep us there all day, but my little man was finally willing to move on.
- We can live without television and Nintendo for a few days. No, I wasn't brave enough to risk three days without the Nintendo DS. We took along games for the car ride. But after we got to the park, the kids played games for only a few minutes around the fire one night while waiting for dinner.
- Rain isn't necessarily a bad thing. We drove through severe thunderstorms to get to the campground. We put up our tent in the dark, after bedtime, in a thunderstorm. We awoke the first morning to more thunderstorms. When the water started to snake under our tent, we thought we might have to go home. I was determined to see the ocean, though. When the lightning stopped, we walked along the beach. It was low tide, and there was plenty to explore. We found sand dollars, saw crabs, and played in the rain a bit. By the time we finished our walk, the sun came out.
- Hyperfocus has its place -- but not on a beach full of shells. Camping is trial and error, fishing is trial and error, and life is trial and error. You risk making mistakes to discover the good parts.
- Bad times are eclipsed by good times. This wasn't a dream vacation. Mosquitoes swarmed around us. We ran out of clean clothes. And low-country South Carolina in August is very humid. But after waking up in my own bed on the first day back home and looking through the photos from our trip, I smiled and missed our time together. We harvested some rich family memories. ADD/ADHD symptoms took a backseat to activity and exploration. Luke was content and entertained, wild and free, the whole time. He didn't have a single meltdown.
One more thing: After the mosquitoes and thunderstorms, I was convinced that I'd never camp in a tent again. Now that a year has passed, I am considering going on another camping trip…for Luke.
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