When I think of family holiday Car trips what springs to mind are the endless echoes of “are we nearly there yet?”, sung in an annoying repetitive tune and constant complaints of boredom. If your family is anything like mine, then poor Mama will have the job of organising every last detail, packing clothing, food, entertainment and every other “important” item that could ever be conceivably needed,and probably not needed, on a short family holiday. For us, the organiser is 100% me.
To start with, we call our eldest who,in 2015, is 10, “The Enforcer”. This is mainly because if there are any kind of rules, he will enforce them regardless of the situation, need or even instructions by us to just leave it alone. When he was younger, we went on a lot of holidays and he was never really a problem. Ok, perhaps the time I flew to the US with him on a 13 hour flight and he didn’t sleep, the full nearly 24 hours, that wasn’t too nice, but overall he was amazing and really a ‘model’ child. However, the same cannot be said for our 6-year-old, the little one, who called, “The Bear”. We call him that because when he isn’t happy he can roar and everyone knows all about it but he also loves big squeezy hugs, playing rough and tumble and saying the most sugary sweet compliments to us all. The Bear loves his space, his things and his familiar routines so much that we really weren’t sure how a holiday would all pan out. We tried “sleep overs” between the boys in each other’s bedrooms as a starting point, which to be fair wasn’t too bad. The Enforcer wasn’t as overly keen as The Bear, as the little one loves to talk to himself to get to sleep. The Enforcer found it hard to sleep, but as you will read later, this “talking” is actually a great and amazing thing.
Our first trip was planned for spring time and we prepared for our very first single overnight trip. Surely one night couldn’t be too bad, right? It was certainly an experience to say the least. We stayed at a chain hotel and luckily the telly in the room had some programmes The Bear liked and with his nintendo DS he was in his litle happy place. The Enforcer was fine snuggled in little corner bed just enjoying the change of somewhere different. Adam and I, however, were absolutely shattered. It was only a 4 hour drive, however between the “are we nearly there yet?” comments every (and I do mean every) minute, trying to stop the children from annoying each other constantly, the repeated kicking of the backs of the seats in the car and constant demands for food; we were emotionally and physically exhausted. Ok, I accept and agree that annoying your siblings is exactly how we all grew up. That bit is part of being a child, ASD or not. I mean, what better way to pass time than to poke, lean on, punch, throw crisps at and generally test the anger of your sibling(s) when on long journeys? The only other option is the collective sibling goal of come up with a secret plan to annoy “the parents” at every opportunity, like some tactical parental take down move and our boys were going for gold. Luckily for us however, once we got a bit settled in, overall it went well.
The restaurant, only a 2 minute walk away, from the hotel, and had a great table in a corner where we could strategically sit to prevent The Bear from a great escape. As a bonus the menu had garlic bread which The Bear loves so things were looking good. The youngest did struggle a little bit with the smell in the restaurant, at first, but we managed to distract him by looking at the kiddy colouring book provided by the staff. Crayons, paper and food, sounds like a good plan! Apart from The Bear secretly removing his shoes and then demanding to use the loo, which consists of him removing all items of clothing from the waist down in a public toilet; but meh…can’t have it all, right? The evening routine was a little bit changed, but because I had all of the little one’s necessary items, like a bath, his toothbrush, his story books and his music machine, he was able to relax better than I was expecting. Now our big night highlight was The Bear and what has now become his infamous “Random Phrase Selector”. His “RPS” has had us in stitches, almost always in tears and that is one of the many ASD qualities we love about him. His fantastic ability to make up random unconnected words and phrases in such a way that really causes all of us to double over in laughed to point of almost wetting ourselves. Great phrases like “ Curry & Tennis”, “Butt Crackers” and “Mint Poo” all come to mind when I think about the things he says. Yes, he is 6 so perhaps all the phrases are quite childish, but he is a child and well…you can’t help but to laugh. It’s a bit like still laughing at farting, anyone who says they don’t as an adult is either not telling the truth or needs to lighten up. The Curry and Tennis phrase made us all cry with laughter as we weren’t sure if he was saying “Curry and Tennis” or “Korean Tennis” but either way it was funny. Well maybe only to us but that was enough. After 30 minutes of random phrases, our stomachs aching from laughing and trying to catch our breath, we all went to sleep and had to do the journey home again the next day.
The reason for the trip was not only the see how The Bear would take a night away, but also because we wanted to take the boys to a science fair as we are also Home Educating them. We wanted to see what took their interest and it was our first big Home Education exhibition. This, of course, was in a very public arena and with thousands of other school children, immense noise, intense smells and some hands on things to do. Since coming out of main stream education, The Bear had not really used his “chewelry” to help with his stimming and chewing when he is anxious, as at home and where I take him, he is usually quite relaxed for the most part. However, the change in only a matter of minutes, for him, was quite acute. As we were walking to the venue he was holding my hand, I had him tethered to me to ensure he didn’t bolt away and he was chewing on his “Mr Squidgy” like there was no tomorrow. He was almost drooling, in fact. There were hundreds of children everywhere, the noise was like a loud roaring from all the chatting, sharp loud sounds from moving of objects/furniture and all I could smell was the various deodorants, perfumes, colognes, flowers and car fumes in the area, so I knew both my sensitive boys would be doing the same. Sadly, we didn’t stay long as all of us were suffering, in one way or another. The Bear wanted to touch everything and do everything, however he was too young. He seemed to enjoy things inspite of trying to deal with “not getting a turn” and others being far too close to him. The Enforcer was getting increasingly anxious about all the people and the loud noises too, which put any interest, even in things I knew he would like, all on the back burner. I was highly anxious as well, as people were touching me all the time, the smells too much and the noise too loud. I spent all my energies, trying my best to ‘appear normal’ to my children as to not alarm them, in any way, of my discomfort. Adam…well he looked like he just had enough, very much the same as me, too much of everything and all at once.
Out of this trip a big highlight, for the boys, came once we decided to leave. The boys love the Cbeebies and CBBC websites and watch a programme called “How to be epic at everything,” that they show on the site. One of the hosts is called “the blowfish” and he is a marine biologist. It was because The Enforcer mentioned that a man he saw inside looked like him and he was now walking outside, that perhaps it was in fact Mr. “the blow fish”. To the boys’ great surprise it was! I managed to stop him to ask and the boys looked like they had just gotten a chance to speak to Santa Claus out of season, as they were both standing in front of him in awe. So, in spite of the discomfort, it was all worth it in the end for them both.
Our lovely first night way ended on a high for us all. The Bear, having only just become fully potty trained 6 weeks before this trip, managed to go the full way home without a single loo break. The Enforcer, on the other hand, had suckered his father into allowing him a soda, which made for several “bottle” stops and one real stop on the 4 hour trip back. Yes, it was a long way home, but the success for us was a wonderful step forward into a bit of family freedom that we weren’t sure would ever really come. Yes, it was a bit of the unknown for all of us, a change in our routines but new experiences were had by all and certainly gave a point to work from. The only way is forward from here. Roll on Trip two.
Important things I feel helped:
- Bringing food items I knew my little Bear would eat, just in case going out for dinner was not an option.
- Ensure that same bed time routine was followed as much as was possible and bring familiar items that the boys use for sleeping.
- Bring something new for the kids to focus on, this time we brought a DS XL that I got from a friend that The Bear had never used before and that gave him something “new” to play with.
- Things that didn’t help:
- I didn’t speak to the boys much about the trip beforehand as I know that they are both are impatient and didn’t want them to constantly ask when we’re going to leave.
- I didn’t show The Bear on a map where we were going. I must do that next time.
- No real sensory items for The Bear to get out some of his energy. I should have thought more about this but it was a learning experience.