It was December 29, 2015 and we just finished a conversation via Skype with Fox (and his mom Lisa) and Brayden (and his mom Jen) and Ryan wrote: I AM TOO WISHING TO SEE MY FRIENDS IN PERSON. I felt sad. I thought to myself that everyone wants friends, especially ones that they could spend time with. I said to Ryan, “I wish that you had mentioned that before Christmas so that maybe you could have gotten tickets to Canada for Christmas.”
Later that night, I mentioned the conversation to Randy. He said, “Why can’t we do that? He doesn’t ask for anything and we could take a vacation on our own.” I was so surprised that he suggested it and that he was serious about it. It was then when we decided to make it happen.
We chose the summer time because, let’s face it, Canada is cold. I am not very accustomed to cold weather and the summer seemed to make the most sense. The months leading up to the trip, the boys would spell back and forth how excited they were about the trip.
The day before the trip, Randy went to check us in for our flight online. He was prompted to put in our passport numbers. Well shortly before our cruise last month, we realized that the kids’ passports had expired. We did not realize that they were only good for 5 years as opposed to 10 years for adults. We confirmed with the cruise line that we were okay to bring their birth certificates as identification. Well if you follow our blog you know that June was an extremely busy month and I actually did another week of traveling on my own the week of July 4th for my dad’s situation. There hasn’t been much down time since June 1st.
Anyway back to the check in….I had done some investigating online and all of my research pointed to that we could use the children’s birth certificates to cross the border and back again. What I failed to realize is that you can do that by air or land into Canada but to fly back to the United States, you need a passport.
On the inside, I began to panic. On the outside, I kept calm and started making phone calls. I called the airline to see what we could do. My thought was that we could change the flight returning to the U.S. to fly out of Buffalo. I was told that it would be an extra $400 per person to change the tickets. I then called the Dallas passport office. I was told that if we could provide proof of travel and all of the required documents and pictures, that they could possibly get us passports for the kids in a day. Possibly.
Randy came home from work to help and he took the kids to Walgreens to get their passport photos. Let me tell you, the photos reflect the state of Ryan and Grace’s emotions that day. Ryan began crying and slapping his head as he had overheard the concerns about the passports. We explained to Grace what we were doing and she was crying too.
I filled out the passport applications online and got all of the documents and packed some snacks (no time for lunch) and we drove 55 minutes to downtown Dallas, right near where the police officers were slain four days before. The parking lots were closed off and we finally found some parking. We got there at 2pm and the office closed for the day at 3pm.
At 4pm, we all breathed a sigh of relief as we walked out with two new passports for the kids. So here is your trivia fact for the day: It is actually possible to get a valid U.S. Passport in one day.
Now our vacation could officially begin!
We arrived in Toronto on Tuesday morning with no issues. We met Fox, Ruby (Fox’s sister), Lisa, Brayden, Hailie and Alexis (Brayden’s sisters) and Jen at a park.
Our next move was to check into our hotel. We got ready for the evening’s events and headed to Shade’s Mills Conservation Area. Here are some pictures from our awesome inaugural BBQ picnic!
Day 1 was a success. We were tired and we knew that we had another action packed day the next day. Oh but I forgot to mention our rental car.
There is a story behind that but I will spare you the long version. Let’s just say that this was the only car that could accommodate us and our luggage (even though Randy had reserved a big enough car!)
This is what Ryan spelled at the end of the day: REALLY HAPPY TO SPEND THE DAY WITH ALWAYS CARING FRIENDS. PLEASE UNDERSTAND THAT I AM TOO DEARLY HAPPY. IT WAS REALLY THE BEST DAY. WISHING TO HAVE MORE FUN TOMORROW.
The next day, we got up and met everyone at another outdoor park. It was hot again (the two hottest days that we were there were the first two days, both with temperatures around 90 degrees). We stayed at the park a short while and then we went to a local fast food restaurant, Harvey’s, for lunch.
Next up was Rock Climbing! Ryan was excited to do this with his friends. We went to a local place and decided to get the family pass and all four of us got the gear on and we were ready to climb. We hooked Ryan to the auto belay and he started climbing right away! His best climb yet! It was like his coordination kicked in!
Well we moved toward the rest of the group and climbed a bit more, but then I could see Ryan’s facial expression change. It was very warm in the facility because they did not have air conditioning, a man was doing some maintenance/construction on one part of one of the walls and it was loud, and Ryan was wearing gear and shoes that were likely not the most comfortable. I had just read Philip Reyes’ blog post about meltdowns and I knew that this was the perfect storm to trigger a rare meltdown from Ryan. He began crying and slapping his head, so I took him to get a drink of water. I asked him how I could help him. He was able to spell: ARE YOU OKAY LEAVING WITH ME? He knew that I was suited up to climb and that I had never done it before and did not have a chance to before this happened.
I replied, “Of course I am. Let’s go take our gear off and return it.” We went up to the front desk and explained to them that we were leaving and they were kind enough to return some money back to us since we were only there a very short time. Ryan and I walked across the street to Tim Horton’s, into the air conditioning and we got water, iced coffee, and a snack. I really believe that reading Philip’s post helped prevent the meltdown from lasting a long time (Ryan only cried for like 2 minutes as opposed to 30-45 minutes).
We finished off day 2 at Fox’s house for a family BBQ and Randy met up with some VMware coworkers who happened to be in Toronto for a conference. Lisa’s brother, Austin, grilled and prepared a feast for us! The kids got to cool off with sprinklers and they hung out in the trampoline and swing set. It was perfect. As an autism parent, it can be difficult to take your child to someone else’s home. I am on constant alert to ensure that Ryan does not accidentally damage anything. At Lisa’s home, it was very relaxed. I was able to sit and eat and have a Canadian beer (or two).
Day 3 was our day to explore Toronto. Ryan spelled the night before: I BELIEVE THAT AN EXCITING PART OF THE TRIP IS TOMORROW BECAUSE I AM READY TO EXPLORE TORONTO.
We got up and drove to the western part of Toronto and hopped on the Subway.
We really didn’t have a plan. Randy and I were just talking last night about how it is probably okay to “wing it” when it is just the two of us exploring, but we probably should have put more thought into at least some sort of a game plan. Lucky for us, Grace came to the rescue. All of a sudden she blurted out, “Can we go to the Dinosaur museum in Toronto?” So we headed to the Royal Ontario Museum.
We had not eaten lunch so we got off and tried to find a quick lunch spot. That proved to be challenging so Randy suggested eating in the cafe at the museum (which we did). Here are some pictures from the museum.
We had a blast. It was a great museum and we spent a few hours there. Ryan spelled: WE ARE SO AWESOME. MUSEUMS ARE THE GREATEST.
Randy and I knew that this would likely be our only day in Toronto (it was a bit of a trek to get there) so we had to go to CN Tower. We got there (took another train) and saw a pretty substantial line for security. Randy decided to purchase the tickets ahead of time on his phone and we got through the security line.
We got into the line to go up the elevators and we really couldn’t tell how long the wait was. I asked an employee if they did anything for children with autism and she apologized and said that they did not. So we waited in line.
Ryan and Grace were absolutely amazing. We waited about an hour an fifteen minutes before we got into an elevator to go up. Ryan spelled: I AM VERY PROUD OF MYSELF. I was extremely proud of him and so was Randy. They really were so patient.
We walked around and Randy suggested sitting down and having a snack and a drink at one of the restaurants at the top of the tower. It was open seating and we found a seat but as soon as we sat down, Ryan’s demeanor changed. It was the impending meltdown face. I had him spell and with tears in his eyes he said: REALLY HARD TO SIT RIGHT NOW. CAN WE PLEASE KEEP GOING?
I should have realized this. It was a lot for him and to make him sit for table service was not a great idea. We decided to head back down.
The thing that we did not realize once we were at the top was that everyone had to come back down. Randy and I looked at the line and I knew that Ryan would lose it if he had to wait in another line. I found an employee named Daniel and I explained the situation to him. He was so kind and said that he just needed our tickets. Randy had already rounded the corner to try and find the end of the line so I tried calling him and texting him and he eventually made his way back. He showed Daniel his phone and Daniel asked if we had any paper. I always travel with paper in order to write down what Ryan spells. Daniel wrote “Expedited Exit per Daniel.” He told us to show this to the employee running the elevators. I did and we were on the next elevator down. Crisis averted and I won’t forget Daniel’s kindness. He must have seen the desperation on my face. This is the kind of thing that is so touching as a parent of an autistic child.
We finally got back to our car at 8pm that night and went to Canadian McDonald’s drive-thru for dinner in the car on the trip back to our hotel.
Stay tuned for upcoming posts for Best Friends Vacation Days 4-6! In addition, I promise that there will be plenty of Ryan’s insights on the trip on the next post.