It feels like a long time since we’ve had a proper holiday. Last year we felt we couldn’t really go away because we needed to be available to Our Social Worker. We did squeeze in a little trip in the gap between finishing the adoption assessment and approval panel, which was lovely and much needed. However, our next trip after that was for introductions. That was momentous and many other things but it certainly didn’t feel like a holiday!
Obviously once Little Bear moved in we couldn’t go on any trips. We tried to follow the advice – keep life small. He needed to get used to our house, our wider family, his pre-school. And to be honest, the thought of taking him anywhere would have filled me with fear and dread. For the first couple of months I didn’t even take him to somebody else’s house for a cup of tea, let alone consider sleeping somewhere different. His behaviour showed us that he wasn’t ready – not for a long car journey, not for being away.
As the months passed and Little Bear’s behaviour started to settle, we began to wonder whether we could book something for the summer. It seemed a sensible idea to try a smaller trip first though, perhaps just a couple of nights, somewhere where it wouldn’t matter if it all went pear-shaped.
Back in January, some of our closest friends made the 5 hour round trip to see us as they hadn’t yet met Little Bear. They had offered to do it in one day and not stay as this might have been overwhelming for him. They have 3 daughters whom Big Bear adores. The visit went well and it gave me an idea – visiting them would be the ideal first trip. We know each other really well, they have children so are used to the related chaos and they are very laid back and hospitable. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, we agreed a date.
I tend to avoid telling Little Bear our plans too far in advance as, at his current developmental level, he tends to think things you mention are happening NOW, or at the very latest, when he wakes in the morning. So I didn’t tell him we were going on holiday until tea time the evening before. At this point I had the sinking realisation that we were not adequately prepared and that this wasn’t going to be as straight forward as I had hoped.
A few factors were at play: I had somewhat taken my eye off the holiday ball as it was the first school holidays in which I was solely in charge of both boys for a few days and surviving this had taken the focus of my energy; I had rather erroneously assumed that as Little Bear had never been on a holiday before I wouldn’t need to consider events in his little life that had gone before.
As soon as I imparted the holiday news, I knew I had dropped a proverbial clanger. Little Bear totally blanked me. It was as though he hadn’t heard. I repeated it, used different words. No, he was definitely blocking out what I was saying. Had I have said “we are going to the zoo” or the beach or the park, I knew he would have been excited. But I had said “holiday” and evidently this had triggered something… I began analysing. Little Bear had never been on holiday to my knowledge so he couldn’t have been remembering something traumatic that had happened previously. So why the obvious concern? Then it struck me. HE hadn’t been on a holiday but important people around him had. His foster carers had left him in respite care a few times. In fact, running in parallel to Little Bear being introduced to us, his foster carers were preparing for a big exciting holiday which no doubt they had been talking about in his presence. Then they packed up all of his things, brought him to our house and as far as he was concerned, they disappeared. The penny dropped. Of course he thought holidays were bad. His experience of them meant being left behind, with all the accompanying feelings of abandonment and rejection. This explained why me trying to reassure him by packing all of his favourite things to take with us was not reassuring him at all. It was only serving to reinforce the idea that we were taking him somewhere with the plan of leaving him there.
Once I had figured this out I immediately regretted not having started the preparation earlier. I should have taken my own Speech and Language Therapy advice: I should have written him a Social Story about going on holiday and crucially, COMING BACK. Alas, it was the night before the trip, we would need to make the best of the situation. Cue a “meeting” with Grizzly. We agreed to avoid the “holiday” word and re-brand it a “trip” or “adventure”. We agreed we would purposefully leave favourite things at home for when we CAME BACK. We would emphasise the fact we would say TOGETHER and nobody would be left anywhere. We also tried to sell the positives of the trip e.g. our friend have a huge garden.
Thankfully, Little Bear is fairly adaptable and our reassurances seemed to convince him. The fact that Grizzly had mended his portable DVD player and got a separate one for Big Bear helped too. Both boys were sat in the car, head phones on, staring at their respective screens way before Grizzly and I were ready to leave!
The journey was ok. I wouldn’t like to travel much further as Little Bear can’t help but fiddle – he kicks the DVD player, presses all the buttons, complains it doesn’t work and at some point, it’s inevitable we will remove it. He then starts to purposefully annoy Big Bear by kicking him or whacking him with something, kicks the front seats, tries to open the doors (child locked obviously) etc. It’s very distracting for the driver and does not make for a chilled out journey. However I guess journeys are boring when you’re 4, especially if you don’t like sitting still and he did pretty well really.
In contrast, the actual trip was lovely. Little Bear did brilliantly, even sleeping through the first night on his own, in a strange bedroom. He took the noise and madness of 4 other children in his stride. The girls, being used to just Big Bear visiting, didn’t bat an eyelid at an extra face and to their credit just accepted Little Bear as one of the gang. They fully included him in everything they did and he managed to take turns and share really well.
The youngest of the girls has just turned 2 and displays some typical 2 year old behaviour. Little Bear was fascinated to see her having a tantrum and I think it was good for him to see that other children sometimes behave that way too. We were able to praise him for being more sensible in contrast.
Apart from anything else, the G household is a fun place to go. Their house is large, with lots of outside space and situated in the middle of fields so there is a lot of opportunity for running free and exploring, which is perfect for Little Bear. Mr G has a ride on lawnmower which Little Bear was able to drive with him – he thought he was a farmer by the end. They have cats too and we found baby rabbits in the garden. The sun shone, there were no major incidents (minor ones are par for the course), the children were happy and the grownups even managed a bit or relaxation.
It was a holiday! It was only 2 nights but it definitely felt like a holiday.
I am so relieved that it was such a positive experience and that we can now refer back to it for Little Bear. He has learned in the best possible way what a holiday really is – that it’s fun for HIM (not just everyone around him), that we do it together and we COME BACK. There was certainly a lump in my throat when we left as I am so very grateful to our friends for making it be that way.
This morning when I asked Little Bear what he wanted to do today he said “go on holiday” so I think we can safely look forward to our week away in the summer and hopefully many more holidays to come. Grizzly is getting a bit carried away with the success of the trip and suggested we could go abroad next year. Little Bear on a plane?! You’re having a giraffe.