On Vacation, Just Like Everybody Else

PHOTO: NANCY WALTON

We just returned from our annual family trek to South Carolina. We vacation at a little beach-side place for a few weeks every summer and have been doing so for years now. I don’t foresee us tiring of the fabulous stretch of beach and sun-soaked weather; I suspect we’ll be back for many more years to come.

A friend asked me a few months ago where I was going for summer vacation. When I told her I was going to the same little beach-side place, her response was a crinkled nose and a question: “Hmmph. Sounds nice but boring. Why do you keep going back there?

Well, I’ve read a few ‘helpful’ online resources and articles on ‘traveling with a child with autism’. As with most things about autism, they tend to treat the ‘child with autism’ as if they belong to some completely homogeneous group. Advice such as “Try to seek out fun new routines!” and “Find space and time alone, away from others!” may be helpful to some, obvious to others and completely not applicable to the rest of the families of children with autism.

I have always relied mostly on my own intuition to find a good vacation for Georgia – and one that we’ll also enjoy – it is a family vacation after all. So, why do we keep going back to the same place?

Well, there’s lots of reasons. We love the weather. We love the sun and the Carolina-blue skies. We love the fresh shrimp off the shrimp boats and the watermelon and corn from the farmers’ fields. The boats on the bayou and the salt marshes, full of pelicans and herons. The pastel clapboard houses built up on stilts. The family-owned grocery store with wooden floors where you can walk in barefoot to buy a popsicle or a fresh slice of watermelon. Sandy picnics on the beach where saltwater pools hide, nestled in patches of tall grass. Sitting on the balcony in the late afternoon, with a glass of wine and gazing over a deserted beach, feeling like it’s yours. Lots and lots of reasons, but on top of all of those, there are a couple that really stick out for us.

The ocean. Beautiful and majestic, its lullaby-worthy sound is remarkably novel for Georgia. There is no end to the pleasure she takes in waves washing up on shore. Every day, Georgia wakes up, goes out to the balcony, and gives a little yodel at the ocean – “Those waves are sooooo funny!”

on vacation: georgia stares at the ocean from her deck.

The thing about the ocean is that is has a kind of equalizing effect on people. Everyone is a goof at the beach. People relax intensely and just stop worrying about being whoever they are for a bit. Otherwise private people lie in low-slung beach chairs in the sun, snoring, mouths open. Grandmothers sit in the sand letting the waves wash up over them, with little-kid expressions. Executives pull their toddlers on body boards in the shallow waves, whooping louder than the kids. Everyone, even the most graceful person, eventually gets caught in a wave, tossed around and turned upside down.

The best part is that through all of this lively abandon, no one notices the goofy, giggly kid flapping about in the surf. It’s the one place Georgia is just as uncoordinated – and happily falling down – as everyone else. She capsizes regularly in two inches of surf, but no one cares. Then she trudges back up the beach, puts on her iPod and dances in the sand. No one notices that there’s anything to stare at, other than to smile at her because she’s having so much fun, just like every other kid.

It’s not often that Georgia is ‘like every other kid’ and it’s fascinating for me to see. I notice her differences all the time – and as she gets older, they become more and more apparent when she is contrasted with the rest of the world – and yet on the beach she becomes just another goofy person having fun.

on vacation: nancy and georgia stare at the ocean.

The people in the place where we stay are great. Many Southerners are there, having driven two or three hours from their house to get to their summer holiday place. The people are warm, friendly and chill. From their typical greeting –“heyyyy”– to their common reassurance –“Oh, you’rrre awright”– it is something I like to hear. Georgia quickly picks these greetings up. When she’s in the pool, if you dare to walk by, you are greeted with a series of  “HEY!” then “How are you?” over and over. After the fourth time, when I’m telling her that’s enough, the other person will inevitably say,“Oh, she’s awright….”.  And so it seems, she is.

What’s not to like? Really.

Our front yard is the ocean and our back yard is a pool. It’s hot and sunny. We have patrols of pelicans flying over our place and dolphins who swim by in the afternoon. Lots of people may well notice that Georgia is different, but it doesn’t matter as much as it does in the rest of the world. She’s a kid on vacation, just like everybody else.

On vacation: georgia stands by the ocean with a huge smile on her face.

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