Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Ride

A few days ago we went to Busch Gardens with our friends, the Rs.  Jason wasn't able to go on a weekday; we were lucky that Annette could come with us.  It was our last big "hurrah" before the start of school.

I expected a hot day, and since the park is expansive, I brought our double jogger stroller.  I figured both Elena and Vivian would be get tired.  I had decided beforehand that Elena wasn't going to wear a handicap bracelet (which would let her skip to the front of the line).  We found out the hard way (last year) that the h-cap status trumps the height requirement, so she would not be allowed on certain rides, even if she was tall enough.  If I had any reservations regarding Elena's safety on a ride, of course I wouldn't let her on it--but that's just not the case.  I figured the most important thing I could do was to have Elena conserve her energy by offering her a ride for most of the day.

I was in for a pretty big surprise.

For starters, once we arrived at the park and set up the stroller, I asked if the girls wanted a ride.  Viv hopped in.  Elena didn't.

"I'll walk."

So she did.  She walked the length of over a football field, in a crowd, up long and steep hills, until she wanted a short break.  Fierce.  Then she got out again, and walked some more!  When it came to the rides, Elena is tall enough to ride the next "tier" of attractions--which, I have to admit, is pretty cool.  And E is super adventurous, too.

E's choice:  Front row seat

Vivian loved riding with the big kids!

Riding the Balloons

The Rs know there way around the park extremely well, and knew how to time things *just right* so we would have short lines and entertainment during mealtimes.  The kids LOVED the shows!

Viv (4th from left) is spellbound

Elena rode as many "grown-up rides" as she could, with me or Annette by her side.  We waited in line together, she walked through the lines herself.  We went up and down steps and ramps to wait our turn.  We went through turnstyles (that was a challenge) and found our seats.  Elena tried to stop without using people as "handles", trying to not lean on them for support (and did a fantastic job).  Elena rode kiddie rides with Vivian, and Viv waited for Elena to catch up to her on playgrounds.  Annette and I tried to keep the kids cool and hydrated--and we even got to ride a few rides, too!!  (But I don't have pictures of them!)
Spray Ground.  I didn't want to get wet, but Viv and E wanted to there you go.

E loved this (she's right of me in the pic) (Thanks Annette for getting this picture!)

Carousel Kids

Viv loves Elmo!
Big Bird

And you know what else?  Elena never lost her form.  She never crumpled in a heap on a chair, or fell over in a large seat that was made for bigger people.  She always sat up, no matter the time of day.  She was alert and focused.

Elena used her crutches to get to different rides within a reasonable radius--and other times, she just walked there without them.  There was a kiddie roller coaster in Sesame Place that Viv could ride with me  She was SO EXCITED!!

Viv's First Roller Coaster!

Elena waited in line with her friend A.  And for the first time EVER, she rode a big kid ride with a friend--NOT a grown-up.  They waited in line together--E even got in the car by herself.  

This is a big deal

I saw the roller coaster take off--and both of them looking at each other...just two friends, on an adventure.  The most ordinary thing in the world, right?  Not for us--it was extraordinary.  And that wasn't the only ride, either, that they rode together.  I almost cried.  

What a farewell to summer vacation.  To the R family, and Annette, thank you so so very much for making this day possible for our family!

Friday, August 3, 2012

Family Camp at Camp Holiday Trails

I've written before about Camp Holiday Trails, the local camp for children with special health needs. We've had a blast attending Family Day in the past, which is a single-day event.

This year, we decided to do Family camp!  Since we just had a beach vacation, Jason and I didn't have lots of time off work...Annette came with us, and I left during lunch and rest time and Jason visited when he could.  We got around the camp by golf cart or E used her crutches.

There were several other families (six?), all with children with different needs.  Again, Elena was the only one with an obvious motor impairment (although, not the only one with CP).  I am constantly amazed at the staff--the counselors are always ready to help, always ready to involve Elena, and everyone has a fantastic time!  Even in the summer heat, or the sudden rainstorms, or with challenging events--nothing seems to intimidate this camp.  They are incredible.

Challenge course!  Elena decided to try the rock wall on her own this year.  In years past, she's had someone right with her during the climb.  She was the only kid in a full-body harness (with the exception of Vivian and her friend A, both of them 3 yrs old).

E on the way to the top

She did it!

Vivian is ready!

Vivian made it a short way--her feet slipped, and she didn't like being suspended by her harness.  She was DONE.

After that, the kids made up their own carnival games. They used cardboard, paint, cups, ramps, dress-up clothes--anything they could find.  At Elena's suggestion, we made "Pirate Golf", where you try to putt a ball into a pirate ship.  At the end of the day, there was a great carnival celebration!   The kids got tickets for playing in each other's games, and they could redeem these tickets for cool prizes.  Everyone LOVED it!

Stephen came to the carnival!  WE LOVE STEPHEN!

Viv playing Pirate Golf
We also got to tie-dye shirts for our family.  The girls enjoyed picking their own colors, and we got to wear them home on our last day at camp.

We had a waterfront adventure--both girls liked riding in a canoe!

E's ride

"Fearless" Vivian at the front of the boat

 We went fishing!  The girls weren't patient enough to catch one, but I did!

Catch of the day
We also used the paddleboat.  E was disappointed that she couldn't reach the pedals...she was looking forward to helping me power the boat.

one more ride

Every day there was also a free swim time in the pool.  Both girls swam every day.  Vivian preferred her swim vest (she was the only one to use one, besides E) and Elena ended up ditching hers after the first day.  The shallow end of the pool was only 2 feet deep, so E could touch the bottom.  That didn't mean she was safe--if she slipped, she didn't always remember to put her feet down or try to swim up to the surfact, so I had to be right next to her and extremely attentive.  She made a HUGE amount of progress in those three days--from needing a Mommy rescue every 5 minutes or so to only needing one or two every half hour.  She also did a great job swimming for a few feet (her version of doggie paddle)  while wearing goggles, and enjoyed doing this back and forth across the shallow end without drinking too much of the pool water.  (I need to get the kids swim lessons, but I haven't been able to fit it in yet this summer.)

Both girls got to try archery!  Here is Dustin helping Elena.  I assumed I'd be holding her waist, but instead they grabbed a chair for her--it was a great idea.  Elena had a hard time pulling the bowstring all the way back (lots of kids did), but she was able to hold the loaded bow and release the arrow, hitting the target!

Archer Elena

Vivian needed more help, but still she loved the experience.  She was SO proud of herself!

Archer Vivian

We all sang silly songs, and enjoyed a last campfire.  We sang silly songs, and made a "wish boat" where we had to whisper a wish into the boat.  The boat had a candle, and we lit it and set it free.  We had lots of wishes...Elena wished she could be in the olympics, Viv wishes she can swim fast and that she is Spider-Man, Elena wanted to swim without a vest, and all of us made a wish to come back next year.

Campfire Cutie

S'mores with Katie
Huge thanks to Katie, our family counselor, and to the rest of the CHT staff.  Katie helped take care of E and Viv, especially when I had to be at work, or in the pool, sometimes even at bedtime.  And thanks to Annette, who joined our family for camp days, even though the summer heat isn't her favorite thing!

E, Viv, and Katie