Half term has come and gone. I’m not going to pretend that I’ve just about survived, and am now counting the minutes until they go back to school. I’ve never felt that way about the holidays, and after twenty years as a parent, I feel that way even less. You see, I now know from experience that one day your children grow up and fly the nest, and then you don’t get to see them for weeks and weeks at a time. And then you miss them like hell. That, without doubt, has been the hardest part of parenting for me.
After a couple of days away from home I’m usually good and ready to come back to my gingerbread-latte cottage on the edge of the woods (this is no word of a lie – my house really is just five minutes walk away from the enchanted woods at Bradwell, that magically make all the noise from the A500 disappear). But this time I wasn’t – we went to Bath, somewhere I’ve wanted to visit for years, and it was so lovely I could have happily stayed a few more days.
It’s obviously a prosperous and well-heeled place, but unlike some of the prosperous and well-heeled towns of the South-East commuter belt that I have been in, Bath, in the South-West, was very friendly. We were made very welcome (and didn’t get called ‘fucking idiots’ once for the crime of being unfamiliar with the town). Even though when we arrived it transpired that ‘we’ had done something idiotic – and booked a room for one person for three nights, instead of for three people for three nights. The hotel was in the middle of a refurbishment and there were no family rooms available. And there was no lift. This was not a problem for us, but a right pain in the arse for the manger who had to somehow manhandle a truckle bed up two flights of stairs.
Freddie wasn’t keen on the idea of spending three days in a (place called) Bath, to the extent that we had to write ‘Somerset’ on his schedule, but once we set off (for Somerset) he was as good as gold. I mean, really, really good – even by ‘typical kid’ standards. I don’t compare him to other eight year olds – he’s more like four (ish). And, of course, he has a degree of learning disability, and a profound preference for routine and familiarity. All this considered I’m really impressed with how well he behaved. We had only a little minor resistance to the rituals of getting washed and dressed, even though this is very often a major bone of contention at home; and a couple of incidents of spitting out food that offended him in some way (though it goes against good manners, this is a perfectly natural reaction to having something in your mouth that tastes or feels unpleasant – I just need to work with him on finding a more acceptable way of dealing with this situation).
Having inadvertently gone to see the ‘Peppa Pig Cinema Experience’ last Saturday, he was quite happy to go for a ride on an open-topped bus (and if he was disappointed that the queen wasn’t driving he didn’t say). He got a bit fidgety, but you’d expect that of a small child. He did quite a bit of ‘self-talking’, something he does a lot of and which borders on echolalia at times, but everyone was busy listening to the (very entertaining) tour guide through headphones, so I don’t think it was noticed. I was surprised to find that several days later Freddie remembered that the guide had used my head to demonstrate a Georgian nit-scratcher, and did his best to tell his Nana.
At the Roman Baths we debated trying to pass him off as an under-five – we were using the major buggy as his latest pair of DAFOs were rubbing his insteps, making him reluctant to walk – but since he knows very well that he is eight, and is perfectly capable of saying so to anyone who asks, we decided not to risk it.
When Daddy asked the young man at the desk if we would have to leave the buggy there, he said:
‘It looks to me like your child uses a wheelchair. Does this indicate that there is some kind of diagnosis or difficulty?’ When we told him Freddie has Down’s and why we sometimes need to use the buggy, he told us that Freddie was entitled to a concessionary rate, and that a carer could accompany him for free. He then pointed out the locations of all the lifts on our little map, and attached a key for the accessible toilet to our audio guide gadget. If only everywhere was so helpful.
‘Lady Flavia’ and her, sadly, nameless slave noticed Freddie’s lamb skin buggy liner and pointed out that it is an aid to comfort that has been in use across the millennia – they were using the very same things to cushion themselves from the cold stone wall. They stayed hilariously in character no matter what you said to them.
I was almost disappointed that Freddie didn’t shout ‘buttocks!’ when he saw the naked Roman bathers (ladies only) projected onto the ruins of the Calderium. It would not have required any explanation, unlike the ‘dozy tit!’ incident in the local museum. We have since learnt not to describe his sister’s bedroom as looking like ‘a bombs hit it’.
All-in-all it was a very ‘grown-up’ break even though Freddie was with us. We even managed a swift half in a little pub one afternoon – Freddie sat quite happily in a big leather armchair, reading beer mats and arranging them in patterns on the table while we enjoyed a glass of craft ale (just the one, mind you, before anyone gets their knickers in a twist and starts speed-dialling social services). Because he was so good we took him to his favoutite fast-food place after, and then it was our turn to amuse ourselves while he enjoyed a treat. Our lives may be different to our friends’ lives in some ways, but I can’t honestly say I feel that we miss out on much.
So, that was half-term Odd Sock style. Could be worse, could definitely be worse. And if Freddie took nothing else away from our trip, he knows what a Georgian nit-scratcher was used for.