Telling It Like It Is......Going Pottery On Holiday
Taking children on holiday who are adopted and/or who have trauma or special needs can be a very different experience than going on holiday with children who are neurotypical. There are obviously lots of similarities and I know the parents of neurotyoical children also have the stresses of overtired and whingey children; all the “are we there yets” on the journey; the “I’m bored” when you’re not meeting their every need; the “can I have” for every single thing they see. Just the intensity of ensuring you know where they are and what they are doing is stressful for most parents. Holidaying with children (unless you are very lucky) rarely involves sitting by a pool, sunning yourself and reading a book. Holiday clubs aren’t always an easy option when travelling with adopted children because trust isn’t something that can be conjoured up with a magic wand in an instant. The reality of taking adopted children on holiday generally involves preparation - explaining about where you are going, what it looks like, what it might feel like, who will sleep where, what you will be doing. You anticipate anxiety about sleeping. You expect to experience controlling and sometimes unreasonable behaviours; challenges around eating; arguments about what is fair and what isn’t because you know the children will be on higher alert and over stimulated. All this before you’ve even packed a suitcase.
For some people going on holiday isn’t an option because the stress on everyone is just too great. For our family we are lucky that we can take the children away as long as we are prepared for what we call “bonkers behaviour”. I often take the children for a few days to visit my friend in Hereford so we can manage about 4 hours in the car without too much stress if there are iPads available, as long as we anticipate Pip asking every 5 minutes how long it is until we are there or needing the loo at least 4 times. We’ve never been away for more than a few days since we adopted Pip. That has been more due to circumstances such as our house build and lack of funds, taking care of Nana after Pops died and the issue of who will look after our 4 cats for a longer period of time than because of the children. It’s been a summer of significant birthdays for TCM and I so we decided to take the children away for a few days in Devon to enjoy some of the glorious weather the UK has been experiencing this summer. Actually the weather is to blame for the main problem we’ve experienced with the children this summer, that of being overtired and all that entails. The children are exhausted. It’s been hot and sticky at night for an unprecedented amount of time here in the south of the UK. We Brits aren’t used to lots of hot weather. After about a week we’ve had enough. We are currently experiencing one of the hottest summers during my 50 years on the planet which is lovely but also exhausting as a parent (plus the whole worry mounting about global warming). Because of the additional heat in Europe we decided to have a few days away here in the UK. I’ve wanted to go to Woolacombe for a number of years, because the beach is one of the best in the country, so we decided to go for a long weekend over TCM’s birthday. As well as the possibility of a few days enjoying the beach and pool it also provided a nice distraction for TCM’s birthday because Katie has a tendency to ruin other people’s birthdays (my 50th included this year). So off to the Golden Resort at Woolacombe we went.
I will start by saying the weekend away was wonderful. Now, I am aware that my version of wonderful might differ from other people’s. My interpretation of wonderful means the children were relatively happy and enjoyed themselves immensely and meltdowns and challenging behaviour were minimal. They spent each afternoon in the swimming pool, sliding down the water slides and swimming. We spent a morning at the gorgeous beach riding the waves on body boards and in our inflatable dinghy. We wasted money in the arcades. We painted pottery, although why is it that the children choose the designs they want to paint and then get bored leaving the parents to spend hours painting intricate designs (see pic above). We had two enjoyable meals out (by enjoyable I mean the food was lovely and I actually had decent and well cooked gluten free options). We had two games of bowling and played air hockey. Way too many sweets were eaten. The children were happy, mostly because their every whim was mostly catered for and there was lots of stimulation and adult focussed attention. We mixed in a bit of quiet time back in the lodge in between activities to regroup and calm things down and have the occasional cuppa. It’s fair to say it wasn’t a holiday with the emphasis on the grown ups. It was more of a “we were happy because they were happy” sort of thing. I researched a good place to eat for TCM’s birthday meal and the food was fantastic but Pip wasn’t the best behaved that evening it has to be said because sitting still is a challenge for him partly because he’s 5 and partly because we are starting to query whether ADHD/FASD is an issue for him as well.
The Golden Coast Resort itself was really good and we would definitely return. There was plenty to do and we could have easily stayed for a week rather than the four days we had booked. Nobody wanted to return home. The lodge was a good size and had a lovely little lake with ducks outside (which was wonderful to have as part of our surroundings but constantly telling Pip to stay away from the edge of the water, because he’s very single minded and won’t be told, was an added stress). The resort was well maintained and clean. I did have to have a little moan that the lodge floor was grubby when we arrived (although was prepared to mop it myself) but that was rectified immediately with good grace and apologies by the resort staff. All the staff we met were very friendly and helpful. We’ve appreciated this even more since returning home and discovering TCM had left his car key under a bed. The resort have been very helpful in arranging its return (which is more than I can say for Hermes who have been tasked with bringing the key home for us and which we are still waiting for 4 days later).
The resort was busy but there generally wasn’t a feeling of too many people around except for in the outdoor pool at times which was busy and the rule of “no inflatables in the water” wasn’t being respected. The lifeguards and poolside staff were mostly young and maybe not confident enough to enforce this. Personally I felt it was dangerous especially when supervising children in the pool and not being able to easily swim to the edges without being taken out by an inflatable was a concern but the children were very happy with being in the pool and whizzing down the water slides. Trying to keep up with an overly confident Pip in the water was a real parental challenge. The main difficulty I have with parenting my children is their single minded and very fixed thinking. The anti is upped when in unfamiliar surroundings so I was definitely not feeling overly relaxed on holiday and I felt on the edge of constant panic whilst in the pool watching Pip. I lost sight of Katie a few times in the pool and the anxiety I felt made me realise just how stressed I am. There was one notable short period of time when I was able to relax and that was when I took the body board out onto the waves on Woolacombe Beach and surfed on my own for about half an hour. I felt a rush of exhilaration and enjoyment as I waded back and forth, waiting for the right wave and jumping onto my body board in the surf, riding the waves. I stopped for a moment, feeling the wind whipping through my hair and the surf crashing against my body and realised that was probably the most relaxed and happy I’d felt in a long time. I was sad to stop I’ll be honest. It was a lovely moment that put a song in my heart and a realisation in my mind that I need more time in my life to really relax. It also gave me a bruise the size of my fist on my stomach from being kicked by another surfer but it was a small, if unsightly, price to pay for my fun. I always feel happy near the ocean and really wish we lived closer to the beach. I’m not sure that’s something I can easily rectify but I will keep it in mind when planning days out.
Sleeping involved a divide and conquer approach with Pip sleeping with TCM and Katie with me because fear and anxiety raises its head at bedtime in our family. They had planned to sleep in a room together but that plan lasted about 20 minutes on the first night so the fallback plan of co-sleeping with a parent each was put into action. That did cause some tensions because Pip wanted to sleep with me on the last night but Katie didn’t want to swap. “Tensions” translates really into “meltdowns” but I suspect our tolerance levels of what is normal and manageable or not is very different to other parents. Sleeping has been an issue at home for a long while mostly due to anxiety. I have to sit upstairs whilst the children settle to help them feel safe. This means I rarely spend time with TCM in the evenings. When I sit and reflect on how isolating that it for both of us it makes me feel very sad and aware that the life I dreamed of when we planned to become parents it’s a far cry from the reality of our lives today. I wonder how many other adoptive parents feel this way and how narrow their lives have become as well. Is this how it is for you?
The journey was mostly countryside all the way and back but I was delighted that we survived two long car journeys either way with minimal stress (as long as you ignore a hairy 5 minutes trying to rejoin the A303 from the opposite side of the road because Pip needed to wee “RIGHT NOW!”). iPads are a gift from the gods on long journeys for us along with colouring pencils, books and stickers. A trip to the services either way for the dreaded Mcdonalds kept the children’s tummies happy. I made the mistake of having a delicious jacket potato when we stopped for a late lunch on the way down to Devon and remembered just how soporific they are. I do all the driving because I get seriously motion sick and I could feel my eyes swimming with sleepiness for a while after eating and needed a fair few Trebor mints to perk me back up again. I’m not sure we could manage more than 4.5 hours in a car as a family though without there being blue flashing lights involved and I was glad to get home again.
The children both discovered a love of bowling over the weekend and we’ve already been again since returning home. Pip is a demon bowler and won several games with his “launch the ball with two hands down the alley and see what happens approach”. His ball was like a homing pigeon and, even at a snails pace, managed to knock down most of the balls each time. We also discovered Katie is a whizz at air hockey, beating everyone else in the family and with lightening reflexes. I love finding things that my children are good at, especially for Katie because I know she often feels awkward and despite being a very competent gymnast can often be uncoordinated and clumsy. Seeing her triumphant smile as she won each game made my heart soar a little.
Whilst the story since we’ve been home is a very different one than the one above I am delighted to say that these pictures do tell the true story of our little trip away. Maybe the answer is to be permanently on holiday?