I am guessing you weren’t anticipating seeing the guts of our inner family life when you made your decision to visit the Lincoln Memorial that one evening last week. But, lucky you. You got to see it.
You got to see Chimp, our 4-year-old, climb on things he wasn’t supposed to be climbing on. You got to see him when his listening ears seem plugged with his own self-determination and overwhelming psychomotor intensity. You got to see him pulling and tugging and trying to break free, all while talking or whining non-stop.
You got to see KBear, our 9-year-old, in all of her autistic, sensorily overloaded glory. You heard her loud vocalizations. You heard her defiant and aggressive spewing of rageful words. You got to see her pulling and tugging and scratching to break free so she could flee across the national mall to god knows where.
You got to see Cub, our 12-year-old, horrified by the spectacle of these people he just happens to be related to. You got to see him try to slink away, head downcast, frustration building up and eeking out as he created as much distance as possible. You got to see his default strategy to throw in the towel, acquiesce to the insanity that is his family, and beg to end the tour early and retreat to the hotel to avoid further social mortification.
You got to my husband’s angry face. All six-foot-four glowering irritation. You got to see his empathy for his 12-year-old and his frustration that our life can’t ever be simple hijack the more sensible and compassionate part of his brain. You got to see the last thread of his patience fray away. You got to hear him complain about the clusterf@%k our children were creating and hear him faithfully vow to “Never leave the house again, because obviously these kids can’t handle it!”
And you got to see my desperate attempt to hold it all together. You got to see me grab at my daughter, wrestle her into her nesel pack and then wrestle her out of it and back into it backwards so I could use my calloused, steel-gripped hand to cover the buckle so she couldn’t escape. You got to hear me yell at Cub to choose his attitude, please! You got to hear me snap at my husband that he was making things worse and he needed to just take cub and go on the flippin’ tour and I’ll find our way back to the bus, Dammit! You got to hear me shout Chimp’s name more times than any of us wants to remember. And you got to see the tears silently fall down my cheeks while they simultaneously, and not so silently, fell down the cheeks of my kids.
Here’s what you didn’t see. This was one of the smoothest family trips we’ve taken. You didn’t see all of us smiling and giggling just thirty minutes later as we cruised down the twilight streets of Washington DC on top of an open-air tour bus. You didn’t see my daughter sit in awe as she saw the monument to our longest serving, differently abled, president, FDR. You didn’t see my oldest son proclaim (several times) in the midst of our 16 hour van drive that he was having so much fun, nor did you see his repeated hugs of gratitude to my husband and I. You didn’t see my youngest son learn about homelessness and show empathy for the man who had to spend his night sleeping on a bench. And you didn’t see my daughter look at the back of a 5 dollar bill, just today, see the Lincoln Memorial, and proudly proclaim, “I’ve been there!”
See, us fringy families know how to do awful. But we also know how to do forgiveness and grace and mindfulness. We know how to move on and let the past be in the past. And we know how to not let a full on fringy family flip out ruin an entire trip of memory making.