My brother says I have mild anticipatory anxiety.

It’s ok, he’s a psychologist so he’s allowed to say that.  Mostly because it’s true.

I found many random websites with definitions of anticipatory anxiety, but the most straightforward one was this one : anxiety that one experiences before starting a challenging activity.  Most often, anticipatory anxiety is a lot higher than what you actually end up experiencing.

I’m sure my brother has a better definition, but this one sums it up for me perfectly.

I was definitely in high anxiety mode before our Thanksgiving trip last Thursday.  I usually starting panicking about two days before the trip as I start to plan to pack (note I didn’t say actually start packing, because I can’t seem to get to that point until the night before we leave).  I start making lists of how many shirts for each person, mapping out our route and departure time, and I start shopping for all the food we’ll need for the trip.

Now remember, it’s only a 250 mile trip to my mother’s house.  And we’re only going to be gone two days.

But in my head I start working through what I need to do to make the trip successful – there and back.  Extra clothes.  Snacks.  DVDs, books, games.  Heck, I even wrote a post about everything we have to bring with us.

I’m not sure why I get this way.  Well, actually I do.  Over the past two years I’ve become quite a control freak.  I know it’s all tied to my son’s sensory issues and his spectrum diagnosis.  In our house, I can attempt to control how he behaves and I have all my “tools” at my disposal.  Timers, schedules, sensory breaks, quiet time for Lewis’ nap – I can do all that in the house.  In the car with all five of us, it gets harder to manage.

Plus, I have past experiences to pull from.  On one car ride, Howie asked for a hug for one hour straight.  On another, his car seat was uncomfortable so he yelled for a good portion of the trip, just as the baby had fallen asleep for his nap.  Then Gerry will chime in that Howie’s being too noisy, and a five hour car ride ends up feeling like ten.  Or more.

Add in that we were traveling for Thanksgiving – my favorite holiday but not the easiest one for the rest of my family.  I’m the only turkey/gravy/sweet potato eater of the bunch.  Past Thanksgivings, I’ve spent the whole time either convincing my kids to try the turkey or chasing them out from under the table after 5 minutes of sitting.  My vegan husband would eat the rolls and carrots. For the last eight years, my favorite meal of the year was inhaled in 3 minutes so I could retreat to another room with my kids.

So yes, I was panicking about this trip.  All parts of it.  In my head I got so worked up about the trip that I thought we shouldn’t go.  Or couldn’t go.  My anticipatory anxiety was leading me to think we should just cancel the whole thing and stay at home.  In other words, go back to the definition above.

But I couldn’t listen to it.  This time, I was determined to make things different.  So we made some minor adjustments to our travel plan.

Instead of our usual departure day on Wednesday, we decided to drive up on Thanksgiving morning.  The weather was perfect and the roads were empty.  There was no eight mile backup on the Massachusetts Turnpike like the day before.  And because we left on Thanksgiving when nothing would be open for lunch, I packed us each a picnic for the car ride instead of our usual hour long stop along the way.  We had a total of three bathroom breaks and one 15 minute stop to eat our lunch in a parking lot.  What was usually a five and a half hour car trip ended up being four and a half.  Perfect.

I did have a few moments of panic on the way there.  Howie’s headphones didn’t fit just right and he got frustrated immediately.  Thanks for some maneuvering, I got them to sit properly on his head so he could listen to “Soak Up The Sun”  by Sheryl Crow 30 times in a row.  I was afraid that Lewis wouldn’t nap on the ride because he woke up  later than usual that morning, but he slept for an hour.  And because of some advance planning with a new DVD and a organic lollipop, Howie stayed quiet long enough for Lewis to sleep.  Gerry had a pile of Star Wars books to read for the ride, so we didn’t hear from him at all.  We arrived at my mother’s house around 2pm, just in time to unpack and get ready for dinner.

As we sat down for “feastThanksgiving” (as Howie called it), that anxiety set in again.  But there were fewer guests at dinner this year (13 instead of the usual 30) so that helped with the noise level in the room.  We had turkey from Panera Bread for the kids to eat, since it’s the only turkey Howie likes.  My mom’s friends are vegetarians, so they made several vegan dishes that Tim could eat.   And suddenly…we were all sitting down quietly and eating.

Let me say that again.  ALL FIVE OF US WERE QUIETLY EATING.  For more than 5 minutes.  And I enjoyed not one, but two helpings of stuffing, turkey and sweet potatoes.  And it was all hot.

Howie said it was the “best feastThanksgiving ever!”.  Tim said it was the most he had ever eaten…ever.

Our ride home on Saturday was the same as our ride up – no traffic, no long lunch stops, no meltdowns.  Just a regular road trip.  Dare I say, a “typical” family road trip?

Clearly, my anticipatory anxiety worked to my advantage this time.  By panicking ahead of time about all the things that could go wrong, I worked out a plan to make sure things would go right.  I’m not sure that my brother would agree that this is the best treatment plan for my anxiety issues, but when you’re not paying for the therapy you go with what you got.

Maybe next year, my anxiety level won’t be so high.  But if it is, I’ll be calling my brother for more free advice.

We can never know about the days to come
But we think about them anyway
And I wonder if I’m really with you now
Or just chasing after some finer day.
Anticipation, Anticipation
Is making me late
Is keeping me waiting” – Anticipation by Carly Simon

Every year at Thanksgiving, we go around the table at my mother’s house and say what we are grateful for.

My usual answer is, of course, my family.  This year is no exception.

Except this time,  my family has expanded quite a bit.  It hasn’t been an easy year.  But in the 11 months since my son’s autism diagnosis my family has grown to include this wonderful and welcoming community of fellow parents with children on the spectrum.  I truly feel like they are all part of my inner circle now, because without them to lean on, I’m not sure I would have made it.

So forgive me if I forget a few names in this list – know that if you are out there and I’ve “met” you, you’ve helped me.

This year, I am thankful for:

– My friends from Spectrummy Mummy, Welcome to the Mad House, and I Should Have Called Him Calvin, who dropped everything when I was having a crisis of confidence to help me through it via e-mail exchanges, even in different time zones across the globe;

– My SibShop mom friends, who have shown me a path to being a better mother through their grace and humor and tireless dedication to our amazing community (I won’t “out” you here but you know who you are);

– The three moms who welcomed me immediately at my son’s school after his diagnosis, and who instantly invited me for playdates without hesitation;

– My support group, who without even knowing it have changed my life;

– My fellow writers Hartley, Caitlin, Patty and Michelle, whose amazing talents have pushed me to be a better writer;

– The writers in the SPD Blogger Network, who were the first people online to show me that I wasn’t alone;

–  The high school and college friends that I have “rediscovered” here through this blog, who have encouraged me to write my story and who have been brave enough to share their parenting struggles with me;

– The moms of my kids’ best friends, who have become my best friends as well;

– My friend N., who while constantly crushing me at Facebook Scrabble still manages to make coffee squirt out of my nose with her hysterical instant messages; and

– The unbelievably honest and warm community of parent bloggers that I have grown to love and trust.  There are too many to mention, but click on any name on any of the comments on any post in this blog and you’ll meet an amazing person doing heroic things every day.

Of course, I am also eternally thankful for my actual family this year too.  My extended family of aunts, uncles and cousins chose the path less traveled by opening their arms and hearts to us to embrace our family, when they could have very easily turned away.  My brother and sister-in-law have continued to be beyond supportive and helpful, even from across the country.  My sister, of whom I am so proud, has asked me for a blue puzzle piece on her coat this winter.  My mom, a special educator herself, has gone above and beyond what is expected of a grandmother.  And she gets a huge thank you for staying with Tim and the boys when I went to see the Glee tour in New York City.

And just like every year, I am most grateful for my boys and for my husband Tim.  Every day they make me thankful that I am a part of this family.

Howie came home yesterday from school with a drawing of me.  His teacher asked him what he was thankful  for and he said “my mom”.

Right back at you, little man.  Right back at you.

Happy Thanksgiving!

I got all my sisters with me
We are family
Get up ev’rybody and sing

Ev’ryone can see we’re together
As we walk on by
(FLY!) and we fly just like birds of a feather
I won’t tell no lie
(ALL!) all of the people around us they say
Can they be that close
Just let me state for the record
We’re giving love in a family dose” – We Are Family by Sister Sledge

I’m over at Hartley’s Life With 3 Boys today getting ready for Thanksgiving.  Come read my packing list and see how it compares to yours!

813 Mile Car Trip