One year ago today, we (our family of four) packed up our things and drove to Hershey, Pennsylvania.
The trip had not been easy to plan for a couple of reasons. First, we (I) had waited until the last minute to commit to the plan because I wasn’t sure whether we (really Matt) would be up for a long road trip. Second, Matt was struggling to conceptualize the plan, and that was making him feel—I think—unsettled and out of control. Which was understandable.
I don’t remember packing. I don’t remember driving there. I do remember checking-in to the hotel and being offered, unsurprisingly, a Hershey bar. I remember how happy G and H were to receive chocolate upon arrival, to be surrounded by chocolate, to be away from home and a life full of constant reminders that things were not okay.
The temperature dipped below freezing on November 9, 2017. We bundled up in our winter hats and glove and coats and began our trip. (Matt and I learned early on that traveling with kids was a trip, not a vacation.) We went to chocolate world and made personalized candy bars the size of bricks. We learned how chocolate was made via an interactive experience. We were nonstop for hours. We were almost our old level of normal, if you squinted and didn’t look too hard at the fact that Matt wasn’t the Matt who cracked dad jokes and held the map and figured out where we should go next.
By about 4, Matt was tired. He started limping and grew even quieter. We went back to the hotel room so he could rest. While he relaxed in the room, I took G and H to the activity center in the lobby. Afterward, we went to dinner and called it a night.
When we planned the trip, I knew it would be difficult. Being the caregiver for Matt and the adult for G and H meant playing two distinct roles at the same time. We made it work.
I know Matt struggled with being out of his routine and his familiar surroundings. I saw how he pushed himself, tried to use that amazing brain to be present for every part of our trip—even posing for a picture with the silly plastic shower cap we were encouraged to wear during chocolate making. I know, with complete certainty, that Matt was happy to see G and H happy, that he wouldn’t have traded the day in Hershey Park with his kids for anything.
What I remember most from this trip is an overwhelming sense of needing to prove something. One year later, I’m not sure what I was trying to prove or to whom, but it felt important that we could do this thing, take this trip, just the four of us. Maybe I just needed to prove to myself that we (our family of four) had not changed that much. Maybe I just wanted to make a few more memories. Maybe all you can do when you’re on a full speed collision course with an invisible monster is to keep going as best you can, grab a bar of chocolate and be grateful for the silly shower cap that makes everyone smile.