Traveling With Autism: Mini Vacation Grand Forks 2018

Summer Mini Vacation in Grand Forks, North Dakota

(This is not a paid for article, we paid for our stay at the Canad Inns Grand Forks.)

 

Day In The Life

In the past I avoided doing a lot of “Day in the Life” of aka DITL. But then I started to think about this blog, and what I want from it. My blog is a place for me to share my journey. The regular DITL stuff is part of my journey. I learn so much about myself, my kids, autism,and what life means to me during those regular days.

I also learn a lot about my family and myself when we go away together. By blogging about this trip, it allows me to go back and see how far we have come. I hope to share more about our journey. I also hope by sharing I can help other autism mom’s along the way. Even if it is just seeing real life struggles happen to other mom’s and that your not alone,

Mama Can’t Stand When People Stop Her From Preparing

Wednesday we were suppose to spent cleaning the house and getting ready to leave for a long weekend away from home. But Wes and my dad went back to the hubby shop to get a part for his car then we went back to his place to hang out. Travis and I drove around and went out for lunch. Then I had to do some last minute running around. You know, make sure we had enough gluten free snacks for Z, pick up some raw cat food for my dad to feed the cats while we were gone, etc. We came home in time to make dinner. Next thing I knew my parents dropped Wesley back off at home and we had to leave to go pick up my stepdaughter.

I’m the first to admit I was stressed out. I wanted to have everything done early on and get to bed early. But as we came home from getting Chloe, it was time to get Z to bed. I was frustrated and anticipated a long night up finishing up the house. But while I did bedtime routine with Z, Travis and my big kids made sure the last bit of the house was picked up, which left me with only a few small things to do. I love that they are old enough to help out more. This meant I was able to get a good night sleep which I was so grateful for.

Mini Vacation: Grand Fork, North Dakota Here We Come.

Thursday morning we all piled in the van, made a pit stop at Tim Horton’s for coffee and headed south to North Dakota.We listened to an awesome Spotify playlist hubby had put together the night before. While waiting at the border, I’m sure the people waiting in line next to us must have thought we were crazy while we danced to the Village People’s YMCA.

After we crossed the border we stopped in the border town of Pembina, North Dakota. I had to stop at the parcel pick up service and get all the homeschool materials I had bought on eBay and some Facebook Homeschool Buy & Sell groups. It saves me so much money having them shipped there instead of to Canada. Look for a post in the future how I save money on curriculum this way.

We of course had to stop at the truck stop in Pembina for a washroom break. There my hubby with his sweet tooth grab us some American treats. Even though I am following Weight Watchers, I allowed myself to enjoy a few treats here and there. The big kids chowed down on some candies and chocolate while we jammed out to Disney Music.

Are We There Yet? YES!

Finally we made it to Grand Forks. We were too early to check in to the hotel, so we stopped in at Walmart.

School Supply Shopping

After we picked up some food for the hotel, I brought the kids to the school supply section. I had done most of their supply shopping the week before, there were a few things I knew I could get for cheaper, or better quality on our trip. The kids picked out there zipper binders, and I was sure to grab an extra to keep as a backup should one of their zippers break. They both wanted the fancier, aka more expensive ones. But they both managed to destroy their binders last year, so they got the cheaper ones with the promise if they take better care of their supplies we could splurge next year and get the fancier ones.

It is Just a Pencil… NO! Its a Ticonderoga

I was also able to get some My First Ticonderoga pencils for Zakari. Last year I based on a recommendation from Erica at My Busy Bees and Me, I order a box of these pencils. I searched high and low, at every store in Winnipeg, Canada I thought might carry them. But I came back empty handed. So I had to turn to the internet. They were expensive and the cost of shipping nearly put me in cardiac arrest. But in the end they are worth the cost.

So this year I decided I was going to look in the USA and try and avoid the extra cost if possible. I was able to find 2 packs for $1.50 a pack. Since I had paid over $1.50 a pencil last year, I bought a case at this price. For kiddos like little Z who have fine motor skill issues, these pencils are worth the cost. He has a much easier time keeping a proper pencil grasp with them.

Can You Say Chick fil A!!

It was still too soon to go check in, so we went to get lunch at my favourite American Fast Food joint Chick Fil A. Honestly it’s a blessing to my waistline and wallet we don’t have a location in Winnipeg. Little Z loves the fries and grilled nuggets there too. I swear I do the happy dance anytime I’m waiting in line at Chick Fil A. We also have to plan ahead for Z. He really can’t have many proteins at other restaurants when we are on the road. But of course it is closed Sundays. So we have to buy extra grilled nuggets on Saturday to put away for the next day. When we got to the window, I indulged in my Spicy Deluxe Chicken Sandwich and waffle fries. When it comes to Chick-fil-a I forget all about Weight Watcher. Afterwards we headed to the hotel.

Check In & Tim Horton’s

We arrived at the hotel 20 mins before check in. We decided we would try and check in on the off chance our room was ready. Of course it wasn’t, but they had us choose which theme room we wanted. Travis picked out the Circus room. The front desk staff said they would call the cleaning staff and have them clean that room next. After waiting for a few minutes we decided to go get some coffee at the American Tim Horton. They sure know how to roll out the red carpet for us Canadians in Grand Forks. Bringing us the comforts of home.

We came back about 30 mins later, and now it was after our actual check in time and our room still was not ready. Before I could even say anything, she handed us 5 free vouchers for the breakfast buffet. We waited about 15 or 20 more minutes and then we were give our key, and our package (3 pizza vouchers and passes for the water park). We made our first trip upstairs with our luggage, and the kids. Afterwards I went back down with the luggage cart and brought up all my parcels.

Box Day! Homeschooling Mom Simple Joys

While the kids picked their bunks, and Travis relaxed, I got down to business with all my boxes. I wish I had taken a picture. It was quite ridiculous actually. 16 packages, 3 were full curriculums(Two levels of Bookshark and 1 Calvert). I had to load up one of those luggage carts to get it all up to the room in one trip. The boxes had taken up the whole back trunk of the van and I knew it could be condensed into fewer boxes. I even brought a large clear tub to package all the chapter books I had purchased. Apparently I purchased more then I thought, because the container didn’t hold them all. Nothing is more fun for a homeschool mom then going through 16 packages of new curriculum and read aloud books.

Wishbone, Magic Tree House, Puppy Place, Kitten Corner, Bailey School Kids, Usborne early chapter books, the list goes on. It was so nice to be able to get all those books for a fraction of the cover cost.

Pool Time!

Soon all the new and wonderful homeschooling materials were all packed up, and everyone else was rested up. Z was standing at the window that looked out into the pool area longingly, ready to get going. So once everyone was in their swimsuits we headed downstairs to explore the pool. We were just outside the pool doors when I was stopped by a woman. She asked how long we were staying and I told her till Sunday. She then handed me 2 free pizza vouchers that were to expire on the Saturday and asked me if our family would use them. They were leaving and didn’t want them to go to waste. We thanked her and told her we would make sure they were used.

We continued to head to the pool area. For being a hotel pool, it was awesome. There was a large climber with a huge bucket on the top that poured down on the kids every 10 minutes or so. If you were brave enough you could climb to the top of the structures and slide down one of the 2 fun slides, But not without the risk of getting doused in gallons of water. The structure also had switches and valves that allowed you to adjust the water flow from all the fountains and spouts.

And Then We Were Flushed…

Then there was the huge toilet bowl style water slide. Riders jump on a tube (either singles or pairs) and blast down a dark tunnel. In the middle of the slide you would go around and around like your being flushed down a toilet. After each round your tube gets turned this way and that way. You never know if your going down the bottom forward or backwards.

Once your sucked down the bottom you come splashing down into the lazy river and float off. Travis and the big kids loved this slide. I couldn’t even tell you how many times they went down.

Zakari on the other hand was not crazy about it. Travis took him down once and then he refused to go again. Whether this was a sensory thing because of his autism, or just a typical fear many kids his age have I don’t know. However our method stayed the same. We gently help him get out of his comfort zone. If afterwards he is still uncomfortable with it, we accept it and move on.

So every once in a while Travis or one of the big kids would come and watch Z for me so I could go down could enjoy the slide and lazy river too. I think the kids thought it was entertaining when I would scream while going down the dark tunnel to enter the toilet part of the slide.

Kids…. Enjoyment at their mother’s expense.

Kiddie Pool, Learning to Swim with Autism

The kiddie pool was beach entry style. It had a double slide, 3 spraying fountains, teeter totter and a single baby swing/jumper. This is the pool that also leads to and from the lazy river.

Zakari spent hours in this pool floating, sliding and playing on the other pieces available. Because he was able to touch the bottom of the pool, he felt comfortable practicing floating.

When it comes to learning to be comfortable in the water, I find that with Zakari, he needs to be in a safe zone where he can gently push himself. If we try to push him he panics. But if he is allowed to his own devices, in a safe and supervised manner, great things can happen. While we have to sometimes push our children with autism, we also have to allow them time to explore and discover on their own. This method doesn’t work so well during a 30 minute swim lesson, and the instructor does have to push him along a bit. But we do our best to give Z lots of opportunities to have free time in a pool where he can touch the bottom.

The Big Kid Pool

Finally the slightly deeper pool was the pool my oldest hung out with other kids he met. It was about 4 feet deep, and the big kids enjoyed meeting people while playing water basketball in it. Next thing you know the group of them were going down water slides together and running under the huge bucket of water and getting soaked together

Traveling With The Big Kids

After a few hours of swimming we all started getting hungry. I ordered the big kids a pizza from the hotel by the pool and we went upstairs to get changed. By the time we got everyone sorted out, I ran downstairs and picked up the pizza. The big kids hung out in their room playing video games, and listening to music while Travis, Zakari and I headed out. I love that my big kids are old enough to stay back and hang out if they want. Sometimes they just want to relax while we have running around to do and we don’t have to drag them against their will with us.

Walmart and Supper Run

First stop for us was back to Chick-fil-a to get Z some grilled nuggets. Then we went to Walmart to get some snacks for the hotel. We did not want to have to spend too much money poolside on snacks if we could help it.

I just about fell over with how expensive produce was. It seemed that fruit cost the same price at home, but you have to add 25% to that price for exchange. Cereal, candy, junk food, all seems to be so much cheaper in the USA, but produce is another story. Yikes.

We grabbed a few things we needed, and then went across the parking lot to the Panera Bread drive thru. We had eaten at Panera Bread once when we were in Philadelphia and really enjoyed it, especially my husband. After we were served we took our dinner and Walmart purchases back to the hotel. Once again the soup and sandwiches were delicious. We both really hope Panera decided to start opening up shop in Canada some day.

Magic Tree House. The Perfect Book

Reading as always been a great way to get Z to relax. It also helps him fall asleep. So when we travel I always bring some books to read aloud. Zakari loves the Magic Tree House, so it seemed like a no brainer to grab the next one in the series to read. I didn’t even look to see what the next book was about.

When we started to read Buffalo Before Breakfast (Magic Tree House 18), I realized that it was about the Lakota Native Americans who lived in North Dakota in the 1800’s. I could not have planned that better. We were able to talk to Zakari about how this story took place in the same location we were, but hundreds of years ago.

As I read he drifted off to sleep. Honestly having my child fall asleep in my arms while I read to them is the best part of my day.

Rough Early Morning Wake Up

Around 4:30 am, Little Z woke up and had no idea where he was. He was in one of those startled states, where you cannot console him. After about 45 mins of trying to settle him, I was scared the big kids would be woken up, or the people in the next room could hear him. I did not want to be kicked out. So I quickly threw in my contacts, grabbed my purse and took Z to the van. As soon as we hit the fresh air, he seemed to snap out of it. He settled down, and I drove around, not sure what to do at 5:15 am.

For a little while drove around parts of Grand Forks I usually don’t travel. During that little journey I found a thrift store I never noticed before. Mental note, find time to go check out the books there… While I was in the parking lot checking out the times, I text my mom, and told her to call me if she was up. She’s one of those crazy people that choose to wake up at this time, ON PURPOSE!

Mom To The Rescue & Walmart Therapy

But Grand Forks is not very big, so that did not take me long to drive around. Finally I decided to take the long way to the new Walmart that is a bit further from our hotel. I stopped to see what time Kmart opened at, and drove through the older area of the city. This whole time Zakari was completely content. I hoped my family was getting in some good sleep.

As I pulled into the Walmart parking lot, my phone rang. It was my mom. Such perfect timing, she had wanted me to look for some American groceries for her. I figured now was the perfect time, since Z and I were just killing time. Before I went into the store, it was great to just vent to her. I’m not naturally an early riser. I’m also not always the most pleasant person when I’m awoken before I’ve slept enough. So it was nice to talk to her and get my frustration of my chest. I was able to get back into happy mama mode.

School Clothes Shopping

We walked all of Walmart, and got my mom’s shopping done. While looking at the boys section, I found some fresh t-shirts for Wesley’s back to school wardrobe. Before leaving I grabbed some stuff for Zakari and I to eat for breakfast. I’m love to say I bought some health fruit for myself, but that would be a lie. Besides like I said before fruit is SO expensive here. I had a delicious glazed yeast doughnut. You know what, I don’t even feel bad. I was tired and needed a sugar rush. Good Old Weight Watchers got kicked to the curb. Well not completely, I only bought one doughnut. Before Weight Watchers I would have bought a package, ate a few, and brought the rest back to the hotel. Not this time.

Pumpkin Pie Pop-tarts to the Rescue

I was about 6:50 am when we had seen all there was to see at Walmart. So I googled Targets hours and was surprised to see they opened at 7 am. I knew it would take me about 10 mins to get there. So we checked out and took off.  At Target I was able to find a few school supplies that were a good price. I also once again smacked Weight Watchers in the face. I mean come on, who can turn down Pumpkin Pie Pop-tarts.

It was still early, and I didn’t want to head back to the hotel yet, so Zakari and I went to a grocery store and did the aisles. When we got back to the car Travis called me to check to see if we were OK. The kids were still sleeping, but by now it was almost 9 am. So we hit up the Tim Horton’s, (because that’s what a good Canadian does when they need coffee)and head back to the hotel.

Traveling with Autism

Mr Zakari seemed to be in a much better mood. It is hard traveling when your little one has autism and anxiety. But setting realistic expectations is so important as a parent. It is hard when you have all these big plans and sometimes they are too big of plans for our special kiddos. Thing is to go in baby steps and that with practice it will get better.

Roll With The Punches

Even traveling with neurotypical children can be a challenge. I have learned we just need to roll with the punches. Some times I just want to lock myself in our house where it is safe. But that is not what is best for our family. Zakari needs to learn how to go out in and deal with the over stimulation the world has to offer. But we have to help him him learn to cope. These experiences mean so much to him. Even though he doesn’t talk about them, we know it is meaningful because of how he behaves after. He loves looking back at pictures of himself weeks and even years later. Or when we return he asks to do things we have done before there.

No matter how difficult it can be sometimes to travel with a child with autism, the life experiences are much more important. Both to the parents and the kid.

What We Bring To Help Our Son With Autism:

  1. Ear Defenders: When things start to get too loud, we can easily help him block out some of those noises by putting on a pair of ear defenders. I know some kids wear them a lot, but Zakari just uses them to regulate himself and then he takes them off.
  2. His own blanket and pillow. The comforts and smells from home helps my son relax and eventually fall asleep.
  3. Books: As mentioned above this is a great coping strategy for our son. I cannot encourage people enough to read to your child with autism. Even thought they may not seem like they are listening, they really are.
  4. A fully charged iPad & Leap Frog Epic and chargers
  5. Catnip Fennel. Now I take this with me everywhere we go. It is so helpful for dealing with upset tummies and it helps calm the nervous system. It is a product that has helped us so much over the years. During those meltdowns that we cannot figure out the cause, a lot of the time Catnip Fennel is able to help defuse the situation.

Breakfast Than Back To The Pool

We came back into the hotel room and I got the big kids up. Zakari looked out the window longingly at the pool again while every got ready.

Friday was an awesome day to spend by the pool. The kids swam their hearts out. When lunch time came around we ordered pizza, fries and chicken strips by the pool for lunch. The kids waited for the bell to start ringing so they could run with the other kids under the giant bucket and get soaked. Everyone had so much fun.

At dinner time the kids wanted Pizza, so seeing we still had the free vouchers we had gotten at check in and from the woman in the lobby we didn’t see any problem with that. Travis and I ordered Buffalo Wild Wings. It was so yummy. I just love their food. Another restaurant that we don’t have in Canada.

Little Too Busy Saturday

We woke up Saturday morning, and after lazying around we decided to head down to the pool. Before we left we noticed the lazy river and the kiddie pool were taped off. I called the front desk and there had been a pool fouling, so we needed to wait till it was properly treated.

Finally after an hour or so the pool was reopened. We went down and it was BUSY. Thursday and Friday we had been so spoiled. There was a good amount of people at the pool. Today the pool was swamped with people. Zakari was not having it. Several times he asked to go back to the room. So I decided to take him back and we went shopping.

Thrift Store Shopping

After we went back to the hotel to change, we headed to the car. I wanted to check out the thrift store I had seen on my early morning travels the morning before. We arrived, and of course I went straight for the books. Sadly I was only able to find one book we were looking for. I was impressed with some of the toys they had. They had some real classics from when I was a kid. But I knew we didn’t really need them, so I left them behind.

Little Z was tired. Of course when I had suggested a nap in the hotel, that was met with him jumping on the bed and running around like a crazy head. I really could have used a good nap, but now that we were out I wanted to at least check out Kmart. Sears was the last stop I made. They had just 8 days before they closed their doors for good. We looked around a bit, but Zakari was just not having it. So we headed back to the hotel.

Supper Plans

This weekend was just meant to be a get away. Get in some swimming, eat some good food and hang out as a family. The kids were not hungry yet, and we wanted to take them to the arcade at some point in the evening. So Travis, Zakari and I went out on our nightly supper hunt.

We stopped at Chick-fil-a because we needed to get Z chicken for that night and Sunday because, they are not open on Sundays. Then we tried The Noodle Company. It was just OK. I’m not sure I’d go back again. But I’m glad I tried it.

Arcade & Dippin Dots

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The one thing Chloe wanted to have while we were in the USA was Dippin’ Dots. So when we got back we went to the pizza place/ arcade. We had two vouchers left for pizza, so the kids each ordered one. While we waited we loaded up the arcade cards and the kids had a blast playing all the games.

 

We got Chloe some Dippin Dots for helping us out so much with Zakari at the pool. She went up the play structure with the slides and huge dumping bucket all weekend to keep an eye on Zakari. With my contacts I couldn’t keep up with Zakari and not get chloride water in my eyes. I did not want to lose a contact, nor do I like water that much.

When the pizzas were ready, the kids cashed out their tickets, and we went back upstairs.

Packing Up To Go

When we got back I started packing and organizing our stuff. We wanted to be up early and be able to try the breakfast buffet we had free passed for. The big kids ate their pizza and enjoyed one last night of snacks, video games and movies.

Sunday Rough Morning

Zakari had a rough night. I almost wanted to pack up the van and head home in the middle of the night. But Travis talked me out of it. Luckily we got him settled and he finally fell asleep. Only to wake up again at 4:30 am. He wanted me to take him to Walmart again. Of course I didn’t want this to be a habit he got into. But even if I wanted to take him, I couldn’t, Walmart was closed until noon.

Once I read him a few chapters I was able to get him back to sleep. But now I’m worried. Travis and I have not slept well enough to be driving him as safely as we would like. Travis had a pounding headache at this point and needed time to sleep it off.

Late Check Out

I called the front desk and explained that our son had a rough night, we were not sure if he was feeling well or not. We ask for a late check out. They were amazing, they said that even though they don’t do late check outs, they would give us an extra hour or two. We were so grateful, so even though we slept through the breakfast buffet, we were all well rested.

We packed up the trolley, brought all our luggage and my packages to the van, and then checked out. Overall I was very happy with our stay. 3 hours away from home and the kids had a blast. Perfect mini vacation.

Last Minute Shopping

Once again I’m so grateful for big kids who are old enough to babysit. I wanted to run into Sears and have a better look. Travis was not with me the day before so he wanted to look around too. But Zakari was NOT interested in shopping at that moment. So the big kids babysit him in the van. We of course left it running and they locked the doors behind us. All of them were happy playing on their iPads while we spent a few quick minutes looking around. We stopped at the candy store in the mall and went back to the kids.

Afterwards we made one last stop at Walmart. Of course Zakari loves Walmart, so he insisted on coming with us. We grab a few snacks for the road and some more Tylenol to keep Travis’s headache at bay.

McDonald’s, Worst Service EVER

My big kids wanted to have McDonald’s for lunch before we left the states. I swear that was the worst managed McDonald’s in North America. They messed up our order twice, over charged me, and when I asked for something for compensation for our wasted time I was offered 3 free coupons for ice cream or cookies. Offered might now be the right word. The manager rolled her eyes at me, then said she guessed she could get me some coupons. A few weeks later when I went back down to the USA with my parents, they stopped their for coffee and they had an equally terrible experience.

Plus I had a ridiculously hard time cashing in those coupons, they tried to make me wait for a manager to get off their lunch break which would be in 30 mins. I explained that these coupons were given to me for wasting our time. He was able to get us the cookies. At least they were good, but I refuse to ever go to that location again. I will drive down the road to get coffee from now on.

Last Supper Before Heading Back to Canada

Travis and I decided, after long, and painful deliberation we were going to try Erbert and Gerberts. I’m so glad we did! It was so much yummier then Subway.

We ate, filled up our tank and hit the road home. All I could think was, well the moment of truth is coming up. I have to declare what I spent to the border patrol. Which means I have to admit to my husband how much all those boxes cost.

Back Home Again

We landed up making good time, and getting home safely. We were all glad to be able to sleep in our own beds that night. It was so much fun being able to spend time with our kids.

What We Would Do Differently

This was a learning experience for us. We want to take a trip to Great Wolf Lodge next summer and this trip was a great practice run. This winter though we might head back to Grand Forks Canad Inns.

However we will be doing a two things different.

  • Going for 2 nights instead of 3. I think we all had our fill of swimming after the second night, and the money we save in hotels can allow us to do this trip more often.
  • I would not go on the weekend again. Saturday was WAY to busy for Zakari. Looking down to the pool on Sunday, it also seemed crazy busy.

What is your go to tip on traveling with a child with autism?

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