Hard to believe I took a 16-day vacation with my husband, while Samantha—our 27 year-old daughter with autism—not only survived, but thrived on her own at home. As far as I know, Samantha continued enjoying her life: going to rehearsals for her theater groups, exercising at the gym, working with her new life skills coach, her job coach, her psychiatrist and her singing teacher, in addition to socializing with her many friends. No emergency calls, no melt downs or ugly confrontations (at least none that I’ve heard about). Our apartment was as neat and clean as when we left for the airport. Bravo Samantha! And thank you from the bottom of my heart to all of her friends and mentors who supported her while we were away. This momager and bedraggled bedbug warrior desperately needed a rest.
We started in Amsterdam (always on my bucket list) where we visited the Anne Frank House, the Jewish Quarter, the Reichstag Museum, and the Van Gogh . Our wonderful guide, Rolf, walked with us for many miles through this charming city of canals for two full days, dodging bike riders while we learned about Amsterdam’s architecture. During that time, we learned loads of history interspersed with stories about Rolf’s previous career as a professional backgammon and chess player. We also visited fishing villages, saw windmills, and bought fresh cheese at Edam’s Wednesday market. On our own, Howard and I walked through the Red Light District and visited the Green House, one of the many cafes that sell some of the world’s best marijuana. George Clooney’s picture was up on the wall among other notable celebrities, so I knew it was a special place, before I puffed a single cigarette or purchased one of the many vending machine lighters.
Our next stops were Paris and Versailles, where we gorged ourselves on gastronomic delights and a few of the all-you-can-eat breakfasts. Howard and I also returned to Montmartre, where artists had drawn portraits of me and our twins in 2007. We managed to find one of the same artists, Christophe, who eagerly painted my portrait again.
“Realiste or romantique?” he asked.
“Romantique.” No way I was looking better eleven years older.
We also indulged in an entire afternoon of his and her facials and massages. Beyond catching our breath from all of the sightseeing, the spa experience at the Hotel Trianon in Versailles was truly paradise, relaxing, revitalizing and totally awesome.
Thank goodness for that restful experience, because our next excursion was a full day trip to Normandy (on Howard’s bucket list). Our “full-day” began at 6 am and ended at 9:30 pm back at our hotel. Cold and raining all day, we bundled up in every bit of warm clothing in our suitcase, probably four layers each, including tee shirts, sweatshirts, windbreaker, denim and down jackets in any order they fit. Our guide Danielle (VERY different from Rolf but also delightful) was a peppy woman in her 70s with multi-colored hair who picked us up at the Carentan train station. With Danielle, we saw Sainte Mere Eglise (complete with an American paratrooper’s parachute caught on the steeple), followed by Omaha and Utah Beach and the American cemetery. Over lunch at a restaurant filled with veterans’ inscribed photos on the walls and war memorabilia, Danielle told us her personal connection to World War II. Born in Normandy, her grandfather was part of the French resistance and escaped from a German prison the night before his execution.
By the end of the day, we were steeped in war stories and history. After seeing all of the vivid remainders of war, the thousands of white crosses and the occasional Jewish star at the American cemetery—along with bunkers and deep gouges in the earth—the gloom of the weather meshed with my gratitude and sadness for all of the brave and determined young men who lost their lives fighting for our freedom.
After Normandy, we spent the rest of our vacation relaxing by the pool in Beaulieu sur Mer, at the small but wonderful La Reserve, overlooking the Mediterranean. Six days of (mostly) beautiful weather, strong coffee and amazing food at romantic restaurants on the water made a perfect ending to our vacation celebrating our 30th anniversary. Hard to believe we’re married that long, and even harder to believe that our ages are approaching, well, yes, old.
Time grows more precious as we have less of it. I hope Howard and I will be able to take more vacations with (and without) our children. In the meantime, I’m both relieved and proud to know that our adult daughter on the autism spectrum is becoming increasingly capable of living independently. Although we talked to Samantha every other day and texted often, I no longer have to worry quite as much how (and whether) Samantha will survive without us. Sixteen days is not a lifetime, but it’s a very hopeful beginning.