We LOVE to go away on holiday and most particularly in our caravan. Our caravan provides us with a home away from home, in which familiar items and routines (as much as possible) can be maintained for our child who lives with FASD. Weeks, even months before a trip, I begin my planning. I begin with which route to take and investigate any possible events which would be best to miss, so as to avoid possible overstimulation. Then I research educational opportunities, to enhance the home education curriculum I provide, which I follow up by preparing lesson plans and often contacting organisations for further information to assist with this task. I then follow this up by ordering books/resources from our library network. Next, I compile lists of possible places to visit, caravan parks or free camping sites, average temperatures for the locations we plan to visit and contact Tourist Information Centres for brochures and further information. All of this is then collated into a spreadsheet, with a daily itinerary along with a corresponding google map of our planned journey for the day. Closer to our trip, once I have received all the information and books I have requested, I organise all information into a portable extending file in order of our planned journey. All of this in the hope of setting up a situation to produce the best outcome for our son, by reducing anxiety, sensory overload and surrounding him with as many familiar things as possible. It sounds like a magic formula….oh if only!!
Two years ago, a holiday of several weeks was cut short due to our son’s inability to cope for such a long period of time in a world that for him was like a minefield. Away from the sanctuary of our home where strategies for regulation, along with calming activities are essential to manage him through each and every day, he became totally out of control. After having put every possible morsel of energy into making that holiday as regulated, calm and enjoyable as possible for our son, my husband and I felt totally defeated and we too became dysregulated and overwhelmed, as we tried to hold on to the last two weeks of that holiday, praying that we could resurrect it in some form. But it was not to be! For his and our safety, we retreated and returned home by the most direct route possible. We arrived home feeling exhausted and with a sense of loss. We “almost” vowed never to holiday in our caravan again.
Fast forward to this year and we could no longer resist Australia’s call and we once again began our preparations for a holiday in our caravan. As always, we planned to organise our holiday as normal, but we found that as our child with FASD grows older, his needs have become more complex and naturally more time consuming. SO…the normal preparation procedure went completely out the window, and the day before departure, I was stuffing map books, Australian information books and school work books into a plastic bag and quickly poking them into any spot I could find in the caravan. I was hoping to work it all out on the way.
So, our holiday began with me feeling guilty about my under preparation and concerned about the success of our holiday. Each day I would begin with thoughts of digging out those books I had poked into various places in our caravan, but instead it would be full of management of our son and constant risk assessment of the places we visited. After several days I came to an inner understanding that this holiday needed to be different to the last one. We didn’t know how long this holiday would last, but we resolved to take things day by day. Each day my husband and I would agree on a basic plan, but know that we may need to adapt at any moment. So, we were just doing this different…the way we needed to for now. We took the backroads and “limped” along, favouring the small and unpopulated areas. We involved ourselves in activities that embraced our son’s strengths and included special bonding time at the end of each day, by playing a game of his choice, regardless of what else had happened during the day.
There was also another major difference on this journey…..our large, black dog, who closely resembles a small horse. Our beautiful and gentle canine boy, came into our lives with the hope of helping our son manage his behaviours. However, as this adventure of ours unfolded, it was clear that his role for now, had become more about helping ME during and following the many behavioural storms, which were the result of our son being so overwhelmed. He also helped us to have positive conversations with the many other travellers we would encounter and take the focus away from our son’s behaviour.
As the days rolled on, each one would become more difficult to manage and the end of each day would gradually become more out of control. We had given everything from ourselves to create the best outcomes possible, but the reality is that we can’t control the world and the impact it has on our son, so we made the decision to end our holiday with still two weeks left.
I felt a sense of loss and grief. What now? Initially, I wanted to hide from the world, possibly embarrassed that we once again needed to return home from a holiday early. I felt that it would be impossible to ever consider such a venture again. But resilience is a wonderful life-saver and after several days, positive memories started to flood my mind and some very slight warm and fuzzy feelings began to creep into my soul. I remembered the caravan park we had stayed at, where clothes dryers were in short supply. I was waiting for our washing to finish drying and had ran back to the caravan to quickly finish a couple of tasks in preparation for our evening routine. I arrived back at the laundry and noticed that our washing was not only dry, but folded and placed into our laundry basket, all ready for me to take back to our van. This one bit of kindness, had brought me to tears at the time, by a person who most likely was unaware of the constant struggles I encounter each day, but had made such a difference to my day. I remembered the many walks we had as a family through forests and down roads that to many may seem simple and unexciting. To us, they were freedom….freedom from the world, people and places that fill our son’s mind with so many things that overstimulate him.
So, now our planning begins anew. We know that we need to plan for the constant changes in our son as he ventures into adolescence and be flexible in not only our preparation, but in the length of our journeys. We will work towards the understanding that there will be no great days, but some days will be better than others. We will enjoy the “little moments” and not wait for the “big events”. Yes, our caravan adventures will continue!!
Finally, one last memory to share….
I remember the beautiful, early morning beach walk, with my footsteps behind me, signifying my journey in life and the sky in front, giving me hope for the future…for us and our son.
Mama Maremma is a full-time carer for her child who is living with FASD. She likens herself to the Maremma breed of dog who are renowned as guardians and protectors.
You can read previous blogs from Mama Maremma here.