What the Photos Don’t Convey: a Staycay the PDA Way…

A blogger on a similar wavelength to myself kindly described my photo-story Peanuts, Prozac & Pines as “a precious collection of moments.” 🙂 And it is. But those memory-moments, however precious, are fleeting, flickering frames in the interminably rolling film of this life. And life, generally speaking, is not all squirrels and strawberries. Far from it!

The little green pills in the morning-coffee-photo might hint that serenity paints not the whole picture but unless you were on this side of the lens you would have no idea that those nineteen images span two completely separate family holidays – neither of which were particularly relaxing – in two different forests, 150 miles and 27 months apart; the most recent being a weekend trial-run, just 20 minutes away from where we live, half-way between home and school, in preparation for this year’s actual Summer holiday, taken a little further afield in the next county North. And what you would never glean from our most recent holiday photos is that by the third day it seemed (predictably) obvious that we had made a very expensive error in booking for seven nights and we were very close to packing up and coming home early. And it wouldn’t have been the first holiday we’ve abandoned before making it to the end!

Going abroad is unthinkable. Logistically impossible. We pack two large vehicles full of stuff and drive in convoy when we travel – even if we’re only going away for three nights, just twenty minutes down the road.

Boy eats and drinks only a very limited selection of brand-specific foodstuffs which must be purchased from one particular supermarket. A store of that chain – within reasonable driving distance of our holiday base – is just one item amongst many on our long list of essential requirements for a successful sojourn. An in-house washing machine is another. And a tumble dryer. And a fridge large enough to accommodate a lot more than the first 13 litres of not-from-concentrate orange juice (and in-fridge ice packs to maintain said juice at exactly the right temperature) which will see Boy through the first day or so – and which must be bought from the supermarket local to our home and taken with us, along with bedding, blankets, towels and various items of kitchen equipment which, however well- or overly-equipped our destination accommodation may be, we still have to take our own. And wi-fi. Reliable wi-fi. Fast wi-fi. But wi-fi, unfortunately, is just one of those variables that I can plan ahead (to the very best of my ability and to the nth degree) for – but ultimately have no control over. And Boy struggles to control his emotional (and often physical) reactions to people, things, the wider environment, the weather, technology, etc… not behaving in a manner he both predicts and expects. Camping is also clearly unthinkable. Along with most hotels (for anything longer than a single, short night) and caravans and apartments and non-dog-friendly cottages without large, private gardens or with superfluous ornamental stuff that is just asking to get broken. And when it comes to ‘adequate’ bathroom facilities – that’s a whole other blog post on its own – which would completely baffle all but the fully fluent in the real-world [im]practicalities of PDA.

Just when I think I’ve got all bases covered, someone throws me a curveball. Like the time it didn’t even occur to me to ask if the main entrance to the property had a punch-number secure-entry-system instead of a key and the proprietor didn’t think to tell me. A small thing like that, so completely insignificant to most people, presents a huge stereotypic-behaviour inducing obstacle to an autistic child. That bloody door became my abiding memory of that particular holiday. The thing I recall most vividly about our very first family holiday, when Boy was 19 months old, is what he ate. Or rather what he didn’t. Because that was when his neophobic response and disgust reflex to food set in. The thing I remember both fondly and sadly about our stay in the farm house in Angelsey (apart from the travel time between here and there being far too long for Boy to cope with) is that that was the last time my husband and I woke up next to each other, having rearranged all the furniture to push three single beds together. Upside-down houses, where the bedrooms are a floor below the main living areas, are simply not worth the confusion, no matter how stunning the view, other people’s games consoles are just best left in the drawer and we will never – EVER – attempt a New Year getaway again. Our lovely family photos from each of these holidays would tell you none of this.

The owner of the lodge, pictured in the gallery above, emailed Dave, ahead of our arrival, asking if we would require anything (else) out of the ordinary, to which Dave replied,

…I think that just about covers it. But it’s probably only fair to warn you not to attempt any actual face-to-face communication with either Boy or Wife, you know, just in case anything kicks off. In fact, it’s probably best you don’t even look at either of them, to be honest. And if you hear screams in the middle of the night – don’t be alarmed! It’s just me. I do it often. It’s just a coping mechanism…

Not everyone shares his sense of humour.

With the exception of a single, failed – spectacularly failed – attempt to drive off-site to experience something of the wider, rural world around us, we never once left the grounds together. Dave’s frequent trips out, alone, for juice and other stuff, just about kept his cabin fever at bay. It’s not an affliction either Boy or I need to stave off. We’re arguably perhaps overly comfortable with our own company.

The outdoor hot tub – now obligatory wherever we go – is not simply a little add-on luxury to help prevent any of us going bat shit crazy out in the middle of nowhere. Its priority on our holiday essentials list originated in response to the problem of how to teach Boy water safety when we cannot access public pools. The first two tubs he point-blank refused to even consider dipping a single toe in. A further four tubs later and he has progressed from very short, fully clothed, sensory nightmare, dips in and out – to 15-minute, genuinely enjoyable, floating and playing sessions in more appropriate wet-activity attire. Twice a day. For exactly 15-minutes each time. We set an alarm at his request. What we still cannot do is all three of us enter the water together. The majority of our activities are only successful if attempted on a 1:1 basis which means that Dave and I ‘tag-team’ our way through the day, handing over parental and entertainment responsibilities at pre-allotted time intervals. It can be mentally and physically exhausting micromanaging the social and physical environment to minimise the many, potential ‘triggers’ that might otherwise ruin a perfectly lovely day. But you would never guess any of that from scrolling through any of our photos.

At home we have two trampolines – one outdoor, one indoor. Upstairs, where a wall once existed between two bedrooms, there is now a clear and direct bounce route between two beds. The sofas are completely bounce-wrecked but Boy still has the option of hurtling himself between the downstairs rooms on a scooter or a balance bike if the mood takes him. And then there’s his dedicated spinning space. All of which go some way in aiding his vestibular awareness and proprioceptive self-regulation.

On holiday we have to improvise. The great British weather can usually be relied upon to provide us with an abundance of puddle jumping opportunities but, weirdly, this year we had wall-to-wall sun. Boy isn’t altogether keen on being out in the sun so, instead, we embarked on what can only be described as the on-foot equivalent of woodland BMX rallying for recalibrative purposes. In the dark. What follows is a 3½ minute excerpt of a 10 minute video which captured half of one of several night-time excursions:

And there you have it. A small glimpse at a staycay the PDA way. It’s not all pigeons and pine nuts. 🙂