We used to go on holiday, once or even twice a year but it was nothing special that involved a trip abroad. Trips abroad were a no-no, not just because of difficult and unpredictable behaviours but also because of our children’s asthma which was quite hard to manage when they were younger. It seemed too risky to be away from healthcare that we were familiar with so we stuck to stay-cations which were usually spent in a tent.
Occasionally, when we could afford it, we even hired a cottage but even that was out of season when the resorts were bereft of tourists and the weather was usually damp and gloomy. But still we had some good times like the time we went on holiday to North Yorkshire for my birthday. We rented a cottage, one of several on a small working farm out in the sticks and where the only noise (if you can call it that) came from the grazing animals in the adjoining fields. We were lucky weather-wise too. That October was warm and sunny and we were able to get out to places such as the seaside town of Whitby and the North York moors. I hold that holiday close to my heart because it was one of our better holidays when we were altogether and where our son’s behaviour was manageable.
However, it was more luck than judgement that our son coped with that holiday because most of our holidays weren’t like this. Often we had to deal with difficult behaviour that made holidays so stressful that we often wondered why we bothered going away in the first place. We couldn’t go and do something on a whim and we couldn’t visit places like an adventure park or a museum because they were often crowded and noisy and my son would soon become overwhelmed. Even going to a beach was a fraught experience. Crowds, noise, smells, hot weather and the sensation of gritty sand on sensitive feet was often too much for him and he would meltdown in front of lots of staring onlookers. We soon realised that if we wanted any sort of a holiday that we had to go somewhere less touristy and to stay on a quiet site that had enough to interest our children that meant we didn’t have to venture out so much. This approach had some success and we were fortunate to find campsites that had a play area and a swimming pool which seemed to be enough for our children when they were younger.
Though we tried our very best to make sure our children experienced a happy holiday, for me holidays became so exhausting that it got to the point when I secretly didn’t want to go anymore. My husband didn’t understand my lack of enthusiasm. He was happy to stop work for a week or two and have a change of scene but for me I never really got a break from my ‘work’. Instead I just moved my work two hundred miles away and to a campsite where I had even less facilities than at home which was difficult when you were potty training one child and dealing with nighttime wetting of another. It’s not that I didn’t like camping, I did. I loved the outdoors and being close to nature (I still do) but getting organised for a camping trip was hard work and coupled with looking after three children, two with special needs, made the experience tiring and stressful. However, I was quite happy to put aside my needs because living under canvas for a week was, on the whole, a good experience for my children and if they were happy then so was I.
That was my philosophy for many years and for a while we managed but as my son got older and his autism became more pronounced things became more difficult. Reaching the age of 9 was a particular turning point when the onset of his anxiety disorder meant that holidays became impossible. For a while he was so gripped by agoraphobia that venturing out of the house was a huge challenge for him. Eventually he recovered but even now my son still refuses to go anywhere that is beyond a two mile radius from our home. For a while we didn’t know why he couldn’t travel far and just assumed it was connected with his agoraphobia but recently he has started to explain to us that if he goes on holiday he cannot come back home because he can only stay in one place. We have listened to our son and respect what he says. If we were to push him to go on a holiday beyond his coping limits then we risk challenging behaviour which for a strapping 14 year old is now becoming more difficult to manage. It is one thing dealing with a 5 year old having a meltdown; it is an entirely different matter when they are bigger and stronger than you and when you can’t keep up with them when they do a runner.
And so it is that family holidays have come to an end. Well, in truth, they ended 5 years ago when my son first became unwell but I always hoped that things would improve and that we would get a holiday together but that hope has all but gone now. My eldest daughter doesn’t want to go way with us which is sad because I was hoping to have the last family holiday together, somewhere special like Centre Parcs, before our daughter goes off and does her own thing but it is not to be.
It is something both me and my husband are struggling with; the lack of holidays and the memories that are built up over them. We miss our holidays, even if they weren’t without incident. We miss the opportunity of showing our children other places and spending time together away from the hustle and bustle of suburban living but what pains us most is that our youngest daughter still wants a holiday by the seaside, a holiday that we can’t seem to provide her with anymore. We have thought of no end of possible solutions but we can’t think of anything that will work. Finding respite for my son is not an option as we are not comfortable bringing in strangers and neither is he happy with the thought that we are abandoning him. Nor do we have any relatives that are willing to stay with him overnight. This leaves us with only one other option – a day trip which will mean a long jaunt there and back from the landlocked Midlands but if it means my daughter will get a taste of the salty air and sand between her toes then it just may be the answer.