Part 3.

In May I got to visit my sister. In order to meet my parents at the airport, I had to fly out of Salt Lake at 12:50am. Which meant I didn't go to bed. Sacrifices.

It was a surprise visit for her birthday, and I was so excited! I got her an expansion for the popular card game, Dominion. Just so happens that cards in a box like that apparently scan as C4. T_T Awesome... no, not really. That landed me in a security hotseat, though once they unpacked everything and explained it, I was sort of laughing inside. I mean, I guess if they packed with C4 and shrink-wrapped it BEFORE I bought it, then yes, it legitimately could be C4. *shakes head*

Since it was like 1am, I hoped to get some shut-eye on the way there. And then had to have the ONLY person on the entire plane sitting next to me who decided they weren't tired and wanted to read. Serious? Oh, and the row right in front of me had the only baby also. SERIOUSLY?! Why do I have such rotten luck with planes?!

I finally drifted off at some point, for which I was thankful. With 127mph tailwinds, we had an impressively fast flight. I got to my next airport way early, so I took a nap on the floor. Kinda. I decided to get breakfast and ordered some biscuits that ended up not even being the size of my fists. And they were freaking $10! Ridiculous.

My flight to Missouri was uneventful. When I landed I met my parents, little bro and my other sister. Party! We rented a van and set off on the 3-hour drive from the airport to my sister's school. My parents were required to visit every 6 to 8 weeks, which they tried to plan around retreats. The van was cramped and it was hard to sleep (though I desperately needed/wanted to).

When we got to the city we did some shopping at the outlets, then checked into our hotel which has the pungent odor of baking soda. And trace amounts of vomit. Ew. My sister knew my parents were coming, and they had to do a session with just her, so we chilled at the hotel. Which ='d naptime for me.

Then then my dad "forgot something at the hotel" and came back to get us. I was so excited to see my sister! We had devised a devious surprise plan. My dad went in with my brother and sister. Surprise! After a few minutes, my dad said that he "forgot something in the van" and came back to get me. I was practically bursting from the excitement! SUPER SURPRISE!!!

When we got inside, she was up in the loft, so we snuck through the main room and up the stairs, then down the hall. When she saw me, she cried out and jumped up off the couch and bolted over to me. Hugs all around! She showed us Toby (who didn't seem to know how to listen, but that wasn't stopping my sister!), and then wanted us to see the puppies. We went down to a lower level and it smelled AWFUL. SO TOTALLY LIKE DOG. Not my thing, sorry dog-lovers. It made our hotel smell like fresh flowers.

Then she showed us her room before we went to dinner with the rest of the girls. Some of the girls got into a fight while we were there - obviously some felt the need to put on a show. My sister may have even been part of the fight... none of us can remember now for sure or not... (that's what I get for waiting 9 months to post this...)

My sister wasn't allowed off campus with us that night, so we said goodbye after we ate. Then we had some free time, so I convinced the other four to go laser tagging. I rocked the first game. The second game we played teams: my family against some other people. My family rocked! We teamed well, we helped each other, covered each other while attacking bases... if some post-apocalyptic invasion happens where we have to fight to survive, I totally call my family as my team. We ended up losing at the very end, but one of the guys on the other team played cheap and just sniped us along a hallway - honestly, I don't even really know HOW we lost. We were doing so good! And we totally protected them from getting our base... anyway. I was sad we lost, but will always have fond memories of us being such a team.

We went back to hotel and I went swimming with my little bro before it was time for bed.

The second day we went back to CALO and got my sister. This was her legitimate birthday so we opened presents. Since it was her day, she got to pick the schedule. The first item on the list was to volunteer at an animal shelter. She had been there with the school and really loved it, so she wanted to do it again. The moment I walked in, I couldn't handle the smell. WHY DO ANIMALS SMELL?! SERIOUSLY!!! I decided that I didn't want to just cop out though, so I hung out with the cats. Outside. Their enclosure had an inside room and an outside. I got a brush and tried to brush any of them that would let me. One of the cats was WAY touchy-feely and a definite lap hog. My sister took my dad and walked dogs. After an hour or so, we were ready to move on. We headed back to the outlets and shopped some more. I went to Harry&David and bought a soda and some candy. Nom nom nom. Did some clothes shopping... didn't really see anything I liked. Then we saw a movie all together. The selection: Iron Man 2. It was okay. We had lunch at Subway, then hung out at the hotel for a while. I think I threw a frisbee with my brother. At some point, I got sick. Violently so. I'm about 95% sure it was from food poisoning. Either my hotel breakfast, the soda and candy combo, or my lunch. By the time we went to dinner at a nice Italian restaurant I was sick, sick, sick. Literally in and out of the bathroom every five minutes. I went back to the hotel and tried to play cards, but mostly slept. I was so upset that my trip was being ruined by something attacking me from the inside. I mean, how often do I visit my sister far away? UGH.

The third day we picked up my sister again and we all went to church. Then we went to the park and had lunch and played with her dog. I was feeling much better (again, I believe it was food poisoning of some sort... soon as it was out of my system, I was fine). Little bro and I played frisbee the whole time. Toby even tried to play some too, which was entertaining to say the least. A neighborhood kid was there, and clearly lonely; he latched on and wouldn't leave us alone. We tolerated him.

It was over far too quickly. We took my sister back, drove the 3 hours back to the airport, and parted ways to go home.

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A week later my parents returned, once again surprising my sister. She hadn't thought they'd be able to come twice so soon. But the miracles didn't cease, and it worked out. This trip was for a parent's retreat. It ended up being cold and rainy, but still very helpful. The second retreat my parents attended was in September, and it was much better weather, so they enjoyed more outdoor activities.

My parents maintain that the retreats were amazing; filled with quality activities, and helpful direction. CALO is just starting to do retreats, so they are learning as well how to do them efficiently and effectively. There's a parent breakout session where parents meet with other parents and the therapist and just talk about the kids. My parents said it was very reassuring to see you're not alone in this - that there are other parents who are struggling with you.

Some of the activities were: everyone was blindfolded and had to put a rope in a square, the students were blindfolded and had to be led through a sea of mousetraps by the parent, another was done at the lake with a pipe full of holes and they had to figure out how to plug all the holes and float a ping pong ball to the top. But for my mom she felt it was really good to be with my sister and be focused totally on her and no one else.

Another time they made masks by putting goo on their faces to make a mold. This activity was especially hard for my mom. She's claustrophobic, and has never had any good experiences with lying down and having people work on her (c-sections, surgeries, etc). She especially hates things on her face. The masks were decorated on the outside to express one's personality style; my mom made hers up of different experiences like a patchwork quilt. She says the pieces come together to make the person that she is. On the inside they wrote secrets about themselves they keep hidden or people wouldn't know about them. Then they went around in a circle and shared them so other people could see how the inner person blended with the personality on the outside to create a more holistic understanding of who people are.

The retreats were helpful, and my sister was making rapid progress. She found out she might even graduate early if she stayed on track.

11 months and 3 days later, this was to be the case. But not without a bump or two, and some difficult challenges to overcome, along the way.

Stay Tuned for Part 5: Leap of Faith and Graduation I

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