Back in the early summer, shortly after we lost Supergran, we were in the mood to seize life and make sure we lived it. We also knew that Gary was going to need something to look forward to, to help her find a way through her grief. So, without thinking it through too much, we booked a holiday to Lapland for the end of the year.
Grizzly has always wanted to go and was very excited. I, on the other hand, have been gifted with a brain that immediately leaps to the darkest places. Neither Bear has flown before (or been abroad) so consequently I have not left the country for 9 years. What if I had developed a fear of flying? What if the boys were terrible flyers? What if the plane crashed? What if there were terrorists in the airport? What if one of us got frostbite?
Sadly I’m not joking: this is just a small selection of my actual thoughts.
Thankfully by the time December came I had pretty much got over my irrational preoccupations and was finally getting excited. So excited in fact that we had to bring forward the date for telling the boys before I imploded. We had purposefully left it to the last minute so as not to overexcite them months in advance. I have no idea how we got away with it as we did loads of prep right under their noses!
In the end, we told them with 10 days to go. The news came in the form of a personalised letter/ invitation sent by Santa himself (!). Little Bear was immediately excited whereas Big Bear was immediately nervous about flying (I suspect he has inherited the going to dark places thing, bless him).
I had planned to use our light box as a visual countdown but it turned out that Little Bear didn’t need me to. For the first time he has been able to keep track of the countdown himself – each day knowing how many more sleeps were left, as well as managing to keep track of which door to open on his advent calendar. I was really impressed with how he managed it: his grasp of time and numbers has progressed a lot recently.
There didn’t appear to be any extra anxiety and whenever I tried to reassure or explain about flying, Little Bear just claimed he had flown before (which I know he hadn’t) and that he had been to Lapland before (hadn’t) and therefore knew all about it already. It was kind of difficult to argue with.
At the halfway point of the countdown I saw some PAS colleagues. As I was telling them what we were up to (the week before Christmas, with a potentially dysregulated child) they did look at me like I might be off my rocker. Was I?! Could this be an ill-thought through hellish disaster?
With 4 days to go, Little Bear woke up with a vomiting bug and proceeded to puke every half an hour for most of the day.
With 3 days to go, Little Bear was thankfully feeling a little better but we had a power cut so he couldn’t watch TV and I couldn’t have life-saving cups of tea. It felt like the week was turning into a black satire of the twelve days of Christmas. On the third day of Christmas my true love brought to me cabin fever hell, lots of vomit bowls and travel doubts a-plentyyyy…
Somehow, it all came together, as these things do, and we were getting up at 4:30am to go to the airport. I have to say I am extremely proud of how both Bears coped with the early start, airport mayhem and the travelling itself. We had a slightly dubious start as Little Bear marched confidently onto the plane and seated himself at an emergency exit. It was the stuff of nightmares! I could only imagine what he could get up to if we took our eyes off him for three seconds in that position.
Of course children cannot sit at emergency exits and instead Gary and I had to endure the talk about what to do if they shouted evacuate, evacuate, evacuate, which did at least clear up the issue of whether I had developed a fear of flying or not.
Entirely to his credit, it turns out that Little Bear is a brilliant flyer and not one bit of bother if allowed his IPad. Big Bear felt unwell to start with which was a shame but he got used to it too and had no difficulty on the way back.
Arriving over a snowy forest and landing on a runway hemmed by snow was pretty amazing. We had taken off at sunrise in the UK and landed three hours later at sunset in Finland. As Lapland is so far north (inside the Arctic circle in fact) they only have three hours of daylight at this point in the year. It was very confusing arriving at the hotel in the pitch black, a bit after 3pm, having just had breakfast on the plane. The dark was pretty difficult to get used to the whole time we were there really.
The hotel was lovely – warm, Christmassy and traditionally Finnish. No frills but cosy and with everything we needed. Previously we have only ever gone on self-catering holidays and being tied to the hotel timings was a bit tricky. Although we don’t stick rigidly to a timetable at home, we do stick to meal and bedtimes wherever we are or whatever we are doing. It is with good reason as those things remain a predictable constant and help Little Bear to stay regulated. In the hotel, the evening meal wasn’t available until 6pm, which is the time Little Bear usually gets ready for bed. With a bit of tactical snacking and turning a blind eye to Little Bear eating chips for every meal, we managed this ok.
The next morning however, I did nearly lose my calm due to a booking cock-up which meant that an excursion we had pre-booked from the UK for that afternoon was no longer available to us and the only time we could now do it was from 6:30 to 10pm at night. The Rep didn’t seem to be able to get his head around why that would be such a big deal to us. I think people think you should ‘just go with it’ but that is actually much harder than it sounds when you have a child with additional needs and you work so hard to keep things manageable for them. After a bit of a wobble (me) we decided to go with it to the best of our ability and changed our afternoon plan to ‘nap’ and hoped for the best. I am nothing if not resilient.
In retrospect (as much as it irks me to admit it), I have to say that I am grateful for the booking cock-up. Without it we would not have had the opportunity to whizz around a completely dark, peaceful, snow-drenched forest in a sled pulled by huskies, lit only by our head-torches, the stars and the green glow of the Northern Lights! It is hard to describe how awesome, calm and breath-taking it was. At minus 23 degrees it was also a little chilly. It was truly a once in a lifetime experience for all of us that I wouldn’t have wanted us to miss.
It was very special for Little Bear as he LOVES animals. He had been particularly excited about seeing the huskies before we went but we had warned him that they may not be friendly and we probably wouldn’t be able to stroke them. Before we got into the sleds for our safari, we went into a Kota (Lappish polygonal wooden hut) to have some hot berry juice and gingerbread and to warm up. The door opened to allow a guide to enter and in trotted a husky. The look on Little Bear’s face when he realised he could pet her was priceless. It turns out the huskies are highly trained, fully domesticated and love human attention. Little Bear and Nia became firm friends and it really made the trip for him (so much so that I need to print some photos for his room as he is missing her).
We were also able to pet the huskies who took us on our adventure. I discovered that a warm lick is a great way to warm cold hands afterwards!
It was a truly fantastic experience and the highlight of the trip for all of us.
Little Bear coped admirably with his very late night. He did ask to go to bed a few times and finally crashed out on the way back to the hotel in the coach.
Unfortunately on day 3 we couldn’t let the boys sleep in because we had to be on the coach at 8am for the next excursion. It was the trip to see Santa and I was concerned that we might have been dragged out of bed for a huge dose of crowds and commercialism. Once more, Lapland proved me wrong and massively surpassed my expectations: a feat which is difficult to accomplish as I am notoriously hard to impress.
Lapland doesn’t seem to do commercialism, just take-us-as-you-find-us natural beauty. We met Santa in a log cabin nestled beside a frozen lake, skirted with frost-encrusted trees. It felt authentic and pure. Somehow it didn’t feel overrun with us tourists, probably because it was a large-ish space and there were plenty of other things to do. The boys played snow football on the frozen lake, we sledged down a hill again and again and when our fingers and toes got nippy we went inside to ice gingerbread. No gift shops, no gimmicks, no glitz.
The Fins also seem to have a fairly lax attitude towards health and safety which meant that Grizzly and I both got to drive a snowmobile (and the husky sleds) after a three second tutorial (the Bears and Gary were in the sleds, on the back of a snowmobile or in a sleigh pulled by a guide). I’m not exactly known for my daring but I bloody loved it and could have scooted round on the snowmobile for ages if they’d have let me.
By the afternoon, Little Bear was wilting in front of our eyes. His ability to listen and co-operate was diminishing by the minute. The itinerary for the evening was a Festive Finale beginning at 7pm. Grizzly and I could tell that this was not a risk worth taking. The signs were there that we would not be able to ‘just go with it’ this time and in all likelihood it would be an unmitigated disaster. Not seeing the point of setting him up to fail, we decided that I would stay at the hotel with him and put him to bed and Grizzly and Gary would take Big Bear to the party.
The Rep tried to tell me how much we would be missing out on and though he was trying to be nice, I just wanted him to p*** off as he had no clue about Little Bear, his needs or what would go down if we did attend (it wouldn’t be pretty). Sometimes you have to trust your judgement and know when not to be swayed.
Big Bear had a fantastic time running wild with his new friends and evidently screaming, judging by his husky voice today.
Other than the tweaks/ blips I’ve mentioned and a bit of a tricky passage through Kittila airport with an over-hungry and over-tired and overwhelmed Little Bear (the airport is tiny but packed to the rafters with people), the overall trip was a big success. Even when we weren’t going on trips or doing activities, the Bears just loved being in the snow. They have never seen snow that deep or fluffy before and stepping into it right up to their thighs never grew tiring for them.
The trip was over in a flash and no one was quite ready to go home.
There were minor challenges (there were always going to be) but thankfully no major ones. I would say that our few days were no more difficult than they would have been were Little Bear enduring the final days of term in school. If anything, they were a bit easier, and we had a whole lot more fun and an unforgettable experience. I certainly wouldn’t be averse to taking the children out of school again (at this point in the term) and we now know that travelling abroad is a risk worth taking.
Lapland, we have loved you, you were truly spectacular and you may well have given us the travelling bug as well as some unforgettable memories.
Thank you from all the Bears xx