Family Vacation

Growing up, I sometimes got a little bummed that I was born five days before Christmas.

It felt like my birthday, compared to my brothers, was rushed and forgotten. I was never in school around my friends because it was already winter break. Often, we’d be on the road driving to see family on my big day. Then there’s the inevitable “combo” birthday presents wrapped in Santa Claus paper while “Jingle Bells” plays in the background. Having “Happy Birthday” sung to me kind of felt like an afterthought.

Then, 11 years ago, my son was born on Christmas Day.

My wife was also born in December, so we’re both sensitive to ensuring our son still has his own special day. We know it’s a busy time for most people, so we never want his birthday to get lost in the holiday shuffle, or as we like to call it: Decemberfest.

On Christmas morning, we open presents and then celebrate our son’s birthday in the afternoon. We try to keep things fresh. Turkey, stuffing and gravy for dinner? Bah, humbug–how about homemade pizza instead?

This year, we decided to go on a family vacation to Colorado. It was a week filled with fun, laughter, plenty of Decemberfest-worthy activities and even a few snow flurries!

But something happened on our trip that I didn’t expect.

I couldn’t hide it. I tried.  But, on this trip, I just couldn’t hide my MS from my kids.

And that really sucked.

When I’m at home, I feel protected by familiar surroundings and if I’m ever not feeling well, my bedroom is never too far away so I can slip off for a private break.

But in Colorado, as our family shared one hotel room, I felt like all my magic tricks were exposed and my kids saw clearly what I normally try to keep hidden—my MS veil had been lifted.

It started with sleeping.

Bedtime is always difficult for me. I find myself in the frustrating paradox of being completely exhausted, yet unable to fall asleep.

So, my regular nighttime ritual is to read, hoping to make myself drowsy before I drift off to la-la land.
And that’s what I did in Colorado. But… I had an audience. I’d catch my son, in his adjacent bed, watching me struggle with restless legs and cold, achy limbs.

In his innocent eyes, I could see equal parts curiosity and concern. I realized he’s not six years old, anymore–I knew I couldn’t just say it’s an “adult thing” or gloss over my aguish. It had become obvious to him.

In the morning, a new struggle began as I attempted to get up. But again, it wasn’t the private experience I’m used to; rather, both of my children were watching, hearing how sore daddy was, seeing my lack of energy and struggles with numbness, spasms, tightness and even vertigo.

There I was, at a beautiful resort, surrounded by the majestic mountains–my spirit pleading to go outside and savor the crisp air, but my failing body was begging to rest.

Naps during the day became a regular necessity, except I didn’t actually sleep. I just collapsed on the bed, exhausted. I’d recover hours later, opening my eyes and wondering if I was asleep for days or even weeks.

The entire trip I felt like I was under the microscope of my children’s sweet, beautiful and watchful eyes. I could sense their confusion and concern; I hoped they weren’t disappointed.

As they get older, they are becoming much more observant and it’s becoming harder to hide my MS.
But overall, I’m ok with that reality.

Decemberfest is more than just a month-long celebration. It’s a culmination of all that we’ve been blessed with each year; a reminder to live each day with love, purpose and passion.

MS isn’t my dirty secret, it’s part of my complete package. Our trip to Colorado was a rude awakening of just how quickly our family dynamic is changing.

But I’m ready for it, because my two kiddos are the best combo gift I could ever ask for.
Tags Parenting, Symptoms      1 Appreciate this

Michael Wentink, Blogger

In 2008, Michael Wentink was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. At 31, he was a new father, a recent MBA graduate and a Director at a Fortune 500 company. MS altered this path and after an early retirement, Michael is now navigating life on a road less traveled. A native of Northern Virginia, Michael currently resides in San Antonio, Texas with his wife and two young children. Read about his journey with multiple sclerosis at and follow him on Twitter.