I considered murder, but only in my mind. It was supposed to be a great family trip. I packed the kids up for a vacation in California. We’d visit my family, hit the beach and RELAX. We’d anticipated the trip for months. Porter, age 4, was especially excited to go.
“Fly! We go fly!” he said for the hundredth time. I imagined strapping in, sipping mineral water and reading People.
After hustling the kids through security and settling into our seats the waiting began. The weather was bad, and the wings were de-iced. The snacks ran out. Then a delay. Then more de-icing. Porter lay under my feet, and I pulled him back to his seat. An hour later we were still on the runway.
“We are ALL DONE with this!” Porter announced to the plane.
“We aren’t done!” I said in a chipper voice. “We are just about to fly! You are going to love it!”
“Don’t you want to fly?” I asked him.
Porter kicked the seat in front of us. I grabbed his foot and he pulled my hair.
It was fun.
By fun, I mean that I tried to act nonchalant.
“Is he dangerous?” The woman next to us asked.
“Only mentally.” Tyler responded.
“Don’t you want to fly?” I couldn’t stop myself. “YOU ARE GOING TO HAVE FUN!” I
said to Porter in my best stern voice.
He burst into uncontrollable hysterical laughter. The woman across the aisle covered her ears.
“We’ve been excited for this plane ride for months! We are on the plane—isn’t it great?” It is mysterious why I thought this was compelling to an autistic child.
“No more plane. We go HOME!” He announced unbuckling his seat belt.
There is a hardwired part we all have that believes when we reach a goal we will be happy. We assume that when I have this thing, or get to that place, all will be well. In psychological terms, this is called the “arrival fallacy”. In his book Happier, Harvard professor Tal Ben-Shahar defines it as:
“The false belief that reaching a valued destination can sustain happiness.” Anyone that ever had a baby or got the bigger job knows this perfectly. When it happens, we do feel happy, but we also find a whole new set of issues. On top of that, our expectations keep drifting up. We anticipated the good parts, and missed the new challenges they bring. Net, net, it isn’t as continuously thrilling as we thought.
The arrival fallacy was in full swing before we knew the extent of the disabilities. I imagined the ACT scores, graduations, and jobs. These fantasies ended in happiness. But each time we aimed, we missed. Our life was stuck in subtraction: Missing home runs, term papers, and prom dates. Waiting to arrive, we never made it.
And then I learned something different. Porter’s disabilities taught us to shift from the destination back to the journey. We made plans that rarely worked out. We’d aim for a day at the park, but instead spend an hour smelling dandelions. Often a few feet from the front door. Porter knew intuitively what Ben-Shahar said was most important: To stop aiming for the lottery win and start noticing the small joys right beside us.
Disabilities teach us that attaining things don’t matter nearly as much as we thought. We may or may not reach the destination, but we won’t care when we stop and smell the flowers along the way.