This past weekend our niece (my brother’s middle child) graduated from college. My brother and his wife rented a house in a new subdivision near the campus and invited the family to spend the weekend, including me, my wife and our two sons. We had to make a decision.
We all wanted to be there to help celebrate a family milestone. On a selfish level, I usually fight to keep my small end of the family together on holidays and other big occasions. Seems like family members should be with each other at those times, and some inconvenience shouldn’t get in the way. Sometime reality wins out, though. And I have to admit I don’t fight as hard anymore. If we all went, it would mean a high-stress weekend for me, my wife and Clay—and the risk of putting stress on the rest of the family and getting in the way of my niece’s moment. Here is what we faced:
- Eight hours of driving, which always has its ups and downs. (Clay loves car rides, but not for extended periods. We wind up making frequent stops at chaotic “rest areas” with perpetually overflowing toilets. We always push too far and wind up with Clay in tears during the final hour.)
- Two days in a house that is new to the little guy. (He thrives best if he has a quiet area to escape to, set routines and a comfort with his surroundings. Who doesn’t? We thrive best if there aren’t a lot of temptations for a boy who never sits down and has a serious case of the “busy fingers.”)
- Numerous meals to worry about. (Clay doesn’t do well inserted into the noise and chaos of a restaurant. It’s also tough to maintain his gluten-free, casein-free diet amidst the bounty of family gatherings.)
- Taking turns. Clay would not make it through the graduation ceremony, which was in a grand auditorium, or the photo sessions at a crowded brunch, nor would we expect it. So, someone stays back at the house with him or finds another activity.
We lived through this same experience two years ago when my brother’s oldest child graduated, so knew what we could probably expect.
In the end, the decision made itself when my brother let us know that the house they initially rented (which had lots of land around it) fell through, and the new one was much less “Clay friendly.” My wife stayed home with Clay. My older son and I went to the graduation. The rest of my family understood, which always makes it easier on us.
Here’s the thing. Now that Clay is communicating through the keyboard, we managed to stay together in small ways throughout the weekend.
Friday night, my wife sat Clay at the kitchen table for a conversation.
He typed that he was “sad.”
She asked why.
He typed, “We are alone.”
Because Dad and your brother are not here?
Clay missed us. She explained that it would have been too crowded for him in the house we were staying in, which he seemed to accept.
When I checked in on Saturday, I asked my wife to tell Clay that we missed him. She asked if he had anything he wanted to say to me. He typed, “Hi Dad” then bolted for the swing set. After five years of silence, that beats War and Peace.
On Sunday, a sunny spring day, my wife decided to take Clay to a nature center that he likes. When they arrived, he started crying. She got him back in the car and asked why he was upset.
He typed: “Daddy takes me here.”
When he calmed down, she asked, “Do you want to walk on the trails?”
He typed, “Yes” but when she opened the door for him to get out, he closed it. They drove around listening to music instead.
Back at the kitchen table at our house, my wife told Clay that she understood that he missed his father and brother and was glad that he felt so deeply about our family. Here’s his response:
My son has a sensitive soul. No surprise. It runs in both sides of the family.