Holi-yay or Holi-nay?

I have spent much of the past week wondering whether we were brave or foolhardy when we booked a holiday to the Finnish wilderness. Many adopters have quickly learned that familiar places and familiar routines equate to smoother breaks with their children, so either return to the same tried and tested venue or go away in their caravan (home on wheels). It is quite possible that those people are wiser than us.

However, as with most aspects of life, we are somewhat prone to doing something different to everybody else and wandering off on our own merry path. On this occasion, that wander led us to deepest, snowiest, most remote Finland. We were so deep into Finland, we could have walked to Russia. There is no real relevance to that fact, apart from to illustrate how remote our location was.

It seemed like a good idea when we booked it.

We’d been to Finnish Lapland before and had an amazing time (see A Magical Adventure? ). Of course it had not gone without hitch, but the life-enhancing experience of seeing The Northern Lights whilst husky-sledding in temperatures of minus twenty-something had obliterated any more minor concerns. The boys crave adventure and I am repelled by any water-based activities, so winter adventures suit us well. We saw this trip, advertised through a reputable company, with amazing reviews, and billed as a ‘family adventure’ and thought it seemed perfect.

However, warning bells rang on arrival, when we discovered there had been a stomach bug in our accommodation the previous week and our arrival would now be delayed due to a ‘deep clean’. Hmm.

Trying not to be paranoid, we got on with it.

The first thing we noted about being on holiday with a new group of twenty or so people, was that Little Bear’s behaviour stood out as different. I suspect it always does, but usually we are with familiar people who know and understand him. Usually the difference doesn’t affect us. But there, with strangers, we were more aware of the transparency of people’s thoughts. ‘What is he doing?’ they thought. ‘Why is he rolling around in the snow when everyone else is standing at the coach stop?’ ‘Why has he wandered off when the guide is explaining the intricacies of husky-husbandry in heavily accented English?’

Again I found myself caught between wanting to enlighten them and wanting to protect Little Bear’s privacy. I said nothing. I attempted to parent as usual.

A big problem, with a holiday such as this, is the impossibility of sticking to familiar routines. It wasn’t self-catering as our UK holidays always are: we were trapped by hotel feeding times. As dinner was at 6pm, the time Little Bear usually begins his bedtime routine, things were bound to be harder than usual. Clearly, it is far from ideal to ask a child who struggles with flexibility, to be flexible about his meal and bedtimes when they are usually very strict with good reason. I suspect the reason we have generally faired quite well on UK breaks is that no matter where we are our familiar routines have anchored us. In Finland, however, we had a tired, hungry and understandably dysregulated bear at points during the first days.

We tried to be resourceful – making sandwiches at breakfast time so that we had more flexibility later on and Little Bear could skip the dining hall altogether if needed. It sounds a bit ridiculous but because Little Bear’s behaviour is so inconsistent, it is difficult to predict and I don’t think we were as good at spotting that this was likely to be a problem in advance as we should have been because there are times when Little Bear would be able to cope with more flexibility.

It is ironic really, that I am becoming a person who is better at solving problems after they’ve occurred than predicting them beforehand, given my propensity towards morbid-thinking. I suspect that in an attempt to be easy-going enough to attempt wilderness holidays, I have had to relax the side of me which anticipates myriad problems. There is certainly a freedom in just dealing with things as and when they occur but the downside is I get to berate myself for not being more prepared.

Anyway, after several nights of lengthy and emotionally challenging bedtimes (a child continually moving and wriggling and verbally scribbling to keep themselves stimulated into wakefulness is nothing if not a little insanity-inducing), we changed our approach. I realised that freedom on the outdoor journey from the dining hall to our room was too difficult for Little Bear at that time of night: he couldn’t cope with the demands to bring himself back inside when we asked, triggering escalation. This was akin to our issues on the school run which have been solved with holding hands and keeping Little Bear close – not putting him in a position where there are any demands – and this worked on holiday too. He was also helped by having his pjs and toothbrush etc. all laid out in the right places for him so he could complete his whole routine without any adult prompts (we agreed to do it that way in advance of dinner). These tweaks led to vastly improved bedtimes.

Although the change in routine wasn’t ideal, there were still solutions available to us. It was good to know that. Even when stranded in the Finnish nowhere, difficulties didn’t have to become crises.

The other mistake we made was forgetting (I know, honestly!) about the need to establish clear new rules in any new place. Little Bear’s bed was up on a mezzanine above ours. We could hear him up there but couldn’t easily see him. Evidently, being away from grown-up eyes meant that Little Bear set his own rules of what was permitted on the mezzanine, none of which were conducive to sleeping. Once I’d figured this out, I realised he would need one of us to provide supervision up there, much like we’d had to do when he was small and made no association between bedtime and sleeping. Like then, he did not appreciate my presence (it curbed his fun no end) and I was insulted, threatened and hit. However, I knew it was important to persevere and not be bullied back downstairs by a six year old. It wasn’t any fun and it took ages but the next night, he lay down and got straight to the business of sleeping.

It was reassuring, in a strange kind of way, that we had enough tools in our portable therapeutic toolbox that we could have a good go at resolving these issues wherever we were (even if they could have been avoided by better forward-planning).

As many people will already know, there were further problems with the holiday, though they couldn’t have been reasonably predicted.

On day three, Grizzly and I both woke up with The Bug. Yes, the one they had supposedly deep-cleaned away. It knocked us both off our feet for the whole day. Clearly this was undesirable.

I have always been very anti-cruises because every time I imagine a huge ship with all those people on board, my first thought, like a weirdo, is of Norovirus. I could envisage a nightmare scenario where everybody gets confined to a tiny cabin, shitting and vomiting, for the duration, and that, my friends, does not sound like fun. Yet here I was, in basically the same scenario, in a snowy forest in Finland.

And yet… I didn’t feel the depths of despair I thought I might. I was grateful Gary was with us to look after the boys and she hadn’t been struck down – yet. It was strangely nice to spend some time with my husband, even though we felt rubbish, and, outside, it was snowing. There could certainly have been worse bedside views.

The next day, we were okay and managed to go on our planned excursion. I was grateful we had bounced back quickly.

By now, Gary was ill and couldn’t join us. With the majority of the wider group dropping around us, this seemed inevitable. While I was sad she was missing out, I was grateful she wasn’t actually sick – things could certainly have been worse.

That night, Little Bear settled well for bed. He’d been asleep half an hour when he awoke vomiting all over his bed. Evidently things were going from bad to worse. He was now in my bed and I was relegated to the mezzanine with its broken light to read my book by torchlight. And yet…

Despite having vomited so much the mattress was beyond salvation, Little Bear’s brown eyes peeped from under my duvet, glinting with mischief, and he launched into an hilarious rendition of Baby Shark. Of course I didn’t want any of us to be ill on holiday but when Little Bear is ill, I’m always reminded of his resilience, Marine-like toughness and general gorgeousness.

On this occasion, being poorly had also made him feel emotional and loose-lipped. He instigated an in depth adoption conversation about how scared he felt when he first met us (“because you’re both so tall”), how he really hadn’t wanted a brother (“I wanted to punch him in a private place”) and how angry he was with us for having ‘taken him’ from his foster carers. He has never managed to verbalise any of these things before and they certainly would go some way to explaining some of his behaviour. Although these are difficult things, I would far rather they were expressed than not.

I found myself wondering whether if we had not found ourselves trapped inside a wooden cabin in Finland by a vomiting bug, we would have had this (potentially progressive) conversation at all.

We talked for a long time. It felt like the kind of chat that would open things up and move things on.

All of us did a really good job of maintaining our humour for the first days of The Bug. Considering the circumstances, things really weren’t as bad as they sound because we were together and writing and reading kept me sane. I can’t lie though, by the end of the third day of being stuck inside the cabin, I was done. Beam me up. Take me home.

When we eventually got back, I felt I may have been released from prison which is obviously not the vibe you’d hope for after an amazing holiday. The getting back, with a partially well, partially unwell, highly dysregulated Little Bear in tow was not particularly easy. A big kick off several thousands of feet in the air, in a confined space is not any fun and is one way of calling into sharp focus the level of challenge we seem to be taking for granted.

The Bug was really unfortunate. Bad luck. But aside from that, was it worth it? Did the pros outweigh the cons? Were we brave or were we foolish for attempting such a holiday in the first place?

There were some clear pros: husky-sledding, meeting the reindeer, snow, sledging, snow, beautiful scenery, the Northern Lights, Big Bear discovering a love of cross country skiing and more snow. We couldn’t have got any of that here and the boys certainly gained from those experiences. I think there are even some perverse pros in having survived such an unwelcome scenario and coming home in mostly good humour: there is nothing like overcoming a challenge to make you realise what you can do.

I shall certainly not be booking another holiday abroad any time soon and long-haul is absolutely out of the question for some years yet (unless we wish to cause some sort of emergency diversion situation) but would I do it again? Yeah, probably. Not in the same place, obviously, but I would take Little Bear somewhere new again. I don’t know if that’s sheer bloody-mindedness, a refusal on our part to accept the full extent of Little Bear’s needs or a desire to plough on despite those needs. I don’t know. I think we might stick to self-catering for the foreseeable future though and maybe remember to anticipate some of the possible issues in advance.

But, you know, life is short and the world is wide. And some of us are more foolhardy than others.

Holi-yay or Holi-nay?

A Magical Adventure?

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.

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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).

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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

 

A Magical Adventure?

April at Adoption: The Bear Facts

Following on from @craftikitty’s theme of Moments to Treasure on the #waso in March, I decided that I enjoyed reflecting back on the past month so much that I would do it at the end of every month.

Overall, April has been fabulous. I think the comparatively fewer illnesses has helped (just one bout of Tonsillitis and one of Conjunctivitis!) and spring has sort of sprung, allowing us to be back out and about again.

In writing the following blog post, I have of course entirely omitted any bad bits or incidents, so don’t go thinking life with the Bears is like life with the Waltons! There has of course been the odd “situation” or two, not least Little Bear scribbling all over a pub seat with a felt pen; Little Bear somehow gravitating towards the only disabled person in a whole building and (accidentally) giving them a good whack with his lightsabre; Little Bear pelting a ball at Grizzly whilst he was driving…to name a few! But, as my Dad would say, that is all part of life’s rich tapestry.

So, without further ado, here is my roundup of all the best bits of April chez Adoption: The Bear Facts.

April saw the Easter Holidays (not that Easter was actually in the holiday but still). I was a little anxious about how it would go, especially how the boys would get on with one another without school to give them a break. It’s fair to say that my nerves were frayed at times – I don’t know what I was thinking of taking them both to the supermarket! However, the way the boys interacted with each other throughout the holiday surpassed my expectations.

Following the stressful Sainsbury’s trip, I took them home via the park in an attempt to restore myself as “fun mum” rather than “shouty mum”. I remembered taking them both to the same park last summer. Big Bear had done his best to distance himself from Little Bear and had played with some older children. Grizzly had randomly asked who would play who if we made a Bond film and Big Bear had replied that his brother could probably be in it but would get shot in the first scene! This pretty much sums up how things were at the time.

But on this occasion, the day of the stressful Sainsbury’s trip, neither boy sought out another playmate. They chose to play together and chose to play on the same equipment at the same time. I took loads of photos for Grizzly – all with a big green-coated figure and a smaller yellow-coated figure side by side, smiling and laughing and having fun. And to top it off, nobody suggested shooting anybody, which is always a bonus.

At home they bounced on the trampoline together. I stood watching as too much supervision is definitely preferable to not enough at our house, but I needn’t have worried. Although it was quite rough and tumble, I was heartened to see that the months have helped them to reach an unspoken consensus, with some mutually understood boundaries, so nobody was hurt and there was almost constant laughter.

When it was time to calm down a little, they sat side by side at the kitchen table and decorated gingerbread men. You could have been forgiven at that point for thinking it was The Waltons as they were incredibly polite and sharing with one another. The icing and sprinkles were passed backwards and forwards when requested and always with a please or thank you, with no prompting from me at all. Watching them was so pride inducing that I was probably getting close to “happy tears”. However, the cat then brought in a half-eaten blackbird and all hell broke loose!

April also saw our first holiday with Little Bear which, despite some initial blips, was a resounding success. You can read about it here: Our first post-placement holiday

Thanks to my parents braving taking Little Bear to the theatre for the first time (The Cat in the Hat, he loved it), I got a “mummy day” with Big Bear. He has become really aware of music recently so we had the sunroof open, tunes turned up loud and sang (really tunefully obviously!) at the tops of our voices all the way there. It was ace. Despite the fact that he knows the words to Justin Bieber’s Love Yourself better than I do, which makes me feel old, it was lovely to spend some quality time with him.

When the children returned to school, Little Bears hours at preschool increased a bit. He is now doing 2 mornings and a full day to help with the transition to school. We weren’t sure how the long day would go as he does still need a rest after lunch but first signs indicate he is coping well, which is great and assuages my concerns about September a little.

Little Bear’s new hours mean we can still have “mummy days” on Mondays and Fridays. Last Monday was a gorgeous sunny day. Little Bear and I packed a rucksack, donned our wellies and headed to our local country park. We had a lovely relaxed time, wandering where the fancy took us, hunting for bears and exploring. It was one of those rare trips that lives up to, if not surpasses the image you have in your mind’s eye of how the trip would ideally go. And above anything else, I really enjoyed hanging out with my little buddy (and I didn’t once wonder how long it was until bedtime).

This month we have also employed the first stage of Operation House Improvement. Grizzly and I had been flopping onto the sofa at the end of long and busy days, ready to relax but instead feeling edgy and a bit stressed because there was so much MESS. Now that we had 2 boys, there were just so many toys that even if we made a concerted effort to tidy up the living room, it still felt cluttered and overstimulating. The solution, we decided, was to transform our conservatory from an occasional dining room into an everyday playroom. A new carpet and a bit of furniture re-arranging later, it was done. It’s brilliant. I have no idea why I have been so anti-playroom up until this point. The boys can get out every single toy if they want to and at the end of the day I can just shut the door and relax without seeing a single one. Well, ok, the odd one does sneak into the living room but putting them back is nowhere near the mammoth task it was before.

Having a designated space just for playing seems to have improved the boys’ playing too and we have re-discovered long since discarded and forgotten about games and jigsaws etc. I love it. Phase 2 of Operation House Improvements coming soon…

As I write this, I have a warm and snuggly Little Bear in the nook of my arm, leaning his head against my chest, my cheek resting on his hair. My own little hot water bottle to snuggle whilst it snows outside. In April?! I wonder what May will bring..

 

 

April at Adoption: The Bear Facts

Our first post-placement holiday

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.

Our first post-placement holiday