This winter break, I had five days on my own for the first time in, well, nine and a half years. As a divorced mom, and a mom with a kid on the spectrum, that five days can be both an eternity, a savior, or a sudden source of anxiety… what will I do with myself?! It was a mixed bag of emotion for me. At first I thought this was great, Charlie gets to hang out with his dad, winter break is so long, that would be a relief to the boredom. I felt excited to not have to deal with therapies, driving all over town, and then… what will I do and why would I want to do any of it without the coolest kid there is?
When you have a child with autism, everything is intensified, I guess as it is with the kids, in a funny way. Our children with autism hear more intensely, feel more intensely, and our parenting is also then more intense. Eating is more difficult, learning and school is more difficult, sleep can often be an issue, as well as any self-help such as dressing and grooming or bathroom issues. Most of us take this on with the same intensity with which our children feel it, because we love them for everything they are. A lot of us would do anything for a little relief or help, but we wouldn’t change any of it for the world, knowing this is now who we are. It’s our version of parenting; an exhausting, tiring to your core, intensely-feeling version.
In that, we sometimes forget what we did or what were were before our children had autism, or before they were born. We too often leave jobs and careers, change our entire group of friends, sometimes family fades away. Forget about hobbies or interests! And often our conversations, trains of thought, and do I dare say, free-reading, revolves around autism and what we can do for it.
Before I had my son, I’ve mentioned on my website and on social media, I was a model, I studied architecture, I loved art wherever I could find it, and I lived out of my suitcase. I was traveling everywhere and finding any museum, gallery, or cafe to sit in and pull out my notebook and pencils. I don’t think I’d want to go back to that, but I’d so much rather be sketching than reading behavioral therapy techniques. And as it goes, my son hates art, hates drawing, hates the texture of clay or finger paints, he hates anything remotely related… well, he does love sharpening pencils.
As I was about to pull out my hair at the thought of missing my son for five whole days, as the very thought of the holidays without my child grew nearer, I got online and saw where I could go. Why not be my old self? Could I remember how?! Sure! Everything, after what we do daily, has to be a piece of cake! Charlie hates baking Christmas cookies anyway! So after checking that my family and friends were all tied up with plans with loved ones and significant others, I decided to use my soon-to-expire miles (because I don’t get to use them too much anymore) and take a little spontaneous vacay on my own!
I flew to London the day after Christmas. I was lucky enough to get an aisle seat. How anyone 5’9″ or over can fit their legs in that little space is beyond me. I had my pint-sized meal, also meant for people under 5’9″, put on my son’s earphones (Wow! The Bose are really good!), and went to sleep for the entire red-eye from Los Angeles to London. It is truly amazing how easy traveling without a child is! I forgot! It was actually restful!! I hopped off the plane, flew through customs, and jumped onto the Tube. Yep, no luggage! Again, have you ever realized how much of what we are lugging around everyday is for our children?! I’m not gonna kid myself, I basically wear a variation of one outfit everyday anyway! London is super easy from LA. The flight is non-stop. I am really wishing they would fix that to Copenhagen!! (Is SAS Scandinavian Airlines reading this?! Or British Air?!) The flight is long enough where you can actually feel like you have a full night’s sleep. You arrive in the morning, fresh and ready to start the day. The Tube is also amazingly easy! You can buy an Oyster Card at the airport station, a really inexpensive card that lets you jump on any public transport throughout London with a quick swipe at the turnstile. The only difficult part: avoiding the adorable families and parents as I thought of my little guy’s smile. Ok, onward… I got to my little boutique hotel in Kensington, a neighborhood that I love! Who wouldn’t love crisp white row houses with shiny black rod iron fencing lining the quaint streets?! How do the Brits manage the pristine buildings and streets with their notorious weather? We can’t seem to keep our streets remotely devoid of filth in LA.
I kept myself very busy and perfectly happy while in London. It’s definitely a city I’d like to return to again and again, hopefully with someone special and my little guy, but for now I felt like the old Kris. As I hopped on and off the Underground, roamed the streets aimlessly, looked at maps and stopped in cafes, I felt an inkling if the old model that did that daily in cities around Europe and the States. I felt invigorated and excited, not exhausted and drained. I figured out pence and pounds and ate meat pie with an ale. One night at a truly English pub, the bartender offered me “Mum’s Christmas cookies” while he pointed out good streets on my map. Thanks to Bo at Bokbar in Marylebone, I saw Christopher’s Place and St. James Place and the charming cobble stone alleys adorned with beautiful twinkling Christmas lights. I bundled up in scarves and gloves, crossed three bridges, walked a few embankments, went around Picadilly Circus, shopped Oxford Street, waved at 10 Downing Street, did Kings Road as well as Kensington High Street, had high tea at Fortnum and Mason, pulled up to the caviar bar at Harrod’s, saw the Tate Modern and the Saatchi Gallery, too. At the end of each day, I sat by myself in a little restaurant, had a glass of wine and a nice quiet dinner by myself. Quiet, good food, exciting city. Happiness.
Now I realize what I am always hearing, it is truly important to help yourself, then you will be able to help your child. Feed your soul! “Put the oxygen mask on yourself and then you will be able to put it on your child.” I sort of pride myself on my strength, perseverance, and resilience, but we all need a re-charge once in a while. Our children are the lights of our lives, but stepping away and coming back reminds us of why we do everything we tirelessly do every day. And a little added bonus: the ginormous hug my non-hugging child gave me when we both got home! Priceless!!
One more thing… if you’re hesitant to get away by yourself, here’s a little something to think about. When you have kids or a child on the spectrum, or even just a travel buddy, you always have to consider the other person. Somewhere you want to go may be too noisy (for kids with autism) or too quiet (for other kids), too nice (depending on your usual company) or not nice enough (again, depending on your usual company), doesn’t serve chicken fingers, doesn’t serve the right juice, only serves juice, too boring, too far to walk to… and don’t forget, “Are we there yet?” “Can we go now?!” I was referring to the husbands on that one, haha! Anyway, on your own, it’s all your call. Eat when you want, leave when you want, walk as far or as little as you want, it’s all up to you, to your heart’s content!
Well, I can’t show my pics without a little photography tip, right? So my other lesson of this day is, you don’t need to haul around a big pro cam or “prosumer” dslr when you go on vacation! I mean, if you had the chance to feel as lightweight as I felt this trip, why not?! The photos that our phones take these days are incredible, and they are always at our fingertips! There’s a photographer I admire who says, “The best camera you can get, is the one you have on you!” It’s absolutely true. And I am going to show you my pics as a little proof. In all honestly, I did heft around my big Canon 5D dslr, in a backpack. But then I’d have to take off my backpack on a busy sidewalk, take off my gloves in freezing weather to unzip it, find the right settings… “Oh heck, here’s my iPhone?!” So here they are… I hope you enjoy. (All taken with an iPhone 5S unless otherwise noted).