Homemade (With Love, Felt Pens, and Desperation).

Here’s another of our ‘Heath Robinson’ handmade (in other words, crappy) resources. I wanted to demonstrate to Freddie, in visual form, exactly how long the school summer holidays are, and to reinforce the idea that he will be going back to school in September. I wish I had thought of this at the beginning of the year, because the second week of July is a little late to go looking for an academic year planner, at least in my local shops. I know there are lots of great printable resources available online, but our printer no longer actually prints. The light still comes on when you plug it in, though, so as far as Daddy is concerned it isn’t broken. Anyway, when you factor in the cost of ink cartridges, and paper, and electricity, it’s much more cost-effective to send your spouse down to the shops on foot to buy some pens, so she can draw things by hand on the free cardboard that you get with every packet of cereal. Another advantage of wives is that you can run them on cheap baked beans from Aldi. Indeed, they are the ultimate sustainable solution: organic, low emissions and fully biodegradable, a bit like cart horses used to be.


I didn’t have long to knock this little gem together, and wasn’t sure how best to approach the task. I colour-coded the days: blue for school days, red for weekends, and yellow for school holidays. By the time I was finished I was beginning to think that I’d made it over complicated, but there was no time left to try again. I attempted to explain it to Freddie when he came in from school, but he immediately demolished the moveable green dot I’d made to mark which day we’re on, and cast the chart into the (metaphorical) weeds.

Later on I found the dot stuck to my shoe, so I stuck it back on the chart and Blu-tacked the whole thing to Freddie’s wardrobe door thinking ‘We’ll see how we go’.

Fast forward to Saturday morning and the first thing Freddie does when he gets out of bed is to move the green dot from the Friday to the (correct) Saturday, then parks himself in front of the chart and studies it for a good few minutes. Perhaps he will ‘get it’ after all. Always presume competence. Actually, while it’s perfectly legit to presume competence in one’s children, you might want to exercise a little more caution when it comes to professionals ๐Ÿ˜‰.

Four Days, Four Nights.

Daddy and I don’t get much time to ourselves as a couple.

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This is Kerry and Tim. I think I vaguely remember them …

Babysitters are thin on the ground — our parents are elderly; looking after a one-man cartload of monkeys like Freddie, who requires as much supervision as a toddler, is exhausting for them. I have no siblings, and Tim’s live a distance away, and don’t get to see Freddie all that often. I only trust those who know Freddie well to keep him safe: it’s too easy to undersetimate his abilities and his fearlessness. We’ve fallen into the habit of socialising seperately. This is probably a good thing, because we live in each other’s pockets most of the time.

So when Tim said he wanted to go on a boy’s weekend to Budapest to celebrate the 50th birthday of his Hungarian-born, long-time friend I was totally cool with it. In fact I was looking forward to playing ‘man-of-the-house’ for a couple of days, you know — having complete control of the TV  remote, slumped on the sofa munching crisps, lightly covered in a golden coating of crispy crumbs with no one complaining about it. I would be able to stir my coffee as vigorously as I liked, and take as long as I wanted to drink it.

The news that it wasn’t going to be a boy’s weekend after all — the other guys were taking their partners — caused me a considerable headache.

 But how could I go? We’d never left Freddie in anyone else’s care for more than a few hours. But it seemed to mean such a great deal to Tim, and I am acutely aware of how often, and how readily he puts his own needs to the back of the queue for the sake of our family. I had, at least, to show willing. So I asked Freddie’s Nanna if she could possibly manage with him for a whole weekend, making it clear that I didn’t automatically expect a positive answer.

Another rock’n’roll night at home …

vs. a night in Budapest.

Surprisingly she agreed — Big Sister would be there to help out, and at sixteen Lucy is not only capable of looking after herself, she is a dab hand at looking after Freddie too, and keeping him occupied. And if Grandad got worn out with it all he would just take himself off upstairs for a snooze.

King of the Castle … And guess who’s the dirty rascal, down at the bottom behind the camera. Continue reading

#ICAN — GO ON A LAST MINUTE HOLIDAY.

Welcome to the home of the father of medicine -- but it's not where you might think ...

Welcome to the home of the father of medicine — but it’s not where you might think …

Mention Hippocrates (as in the Hippocratic Oath) and most people will immediately think of Ancient Athens. But he actually lived and worked on the island of Kos.

Not that this was uppermost in the minds of my brood (not even Big Sister who is studying Classics at school) when we booked a last-minute holiday there. We just wanted a cheap deal on a week in the sun.

 The Public Market, Kos Town. Obviously, they don't know how to do markets the proper, British, way here. Someone should tell them it's suopposed to be a dismal collection of sagging canvas stalls selling knocked-off tat out of plastic boxes (tut).

The Public Market, Kos Town.
Obviously, they don’t know how to do markets the proper, British, way here. Someone should tell them it’s supposed to be a dismal collection of sagging canvas stalls selling knocked-off tat out of plastic boxes (tut).

Then, a few days before we were due to fly, Kos hit the big time. Not as the home of the father of medicine, but because it found itself in the forefront of what is referred to as the ‘migrant crisis’ (I would argue with the term ‘migrant’; I think most of these people qualify as refugees). Anyway, my family, reluctant travellers at the best of times, now thought they had a cast-iron reason to object to going. Thank goodness we couldn’t get a refund.

On this tree-trunk you might just be able to make out a cunningly disguised bug. The Cicada is what gives the scenery of Greece it's distinctive soundtrack: a shimmering chirrup that echoes the heat-haze.

On this tree-trunk you might just be able to make out a cunningly disguised bug. The Cicada is what gives the scenery of Greece it’s distinctive soundtrack: a shimmering chirrup that echoes the heat-haze.

We had a great time, not least because on this occasion Big Brother was with us. The island was not overrun, as the media suggested. Yes, there were a large number of displaced people, but they were mainly concentrated in the immediate vicinity of the main Police Station and the Stadium, where they were waiting to be processed. There was no trouble while we were there; no one was accosted; there was no begging. Those with tents had tucked them in beside the railing along the sea front opposite; not on the beach, and not obstructing the footpath or cycle lane.

Pomegranates don't come from supermarkets here; they grow on trees. Who knew?

Pomegranates don’t come from supermarkets here; they grow on trees. Who knew?

I saw one lady sitting beside her tent busy with some sewing. It made me wonder what things I would choose to take with me if I had to flee for my life carrying just one bag. I’d only had to pack for a week’s leisure, yet we had more baggage with us than these poor souls.

Thanks to the experience gained on our earlier trip, we were better equipped this time. I only forgot one thing, but it turned out to be a biggy — the sunshade for the buggy. Oops. It was much hotter in Kos than it was in Menorca in May.

Freddie is often reluctant to try new foods. Luckily in a place catering for a wide variety of tourists it wasn't difficult to find familiar things that he would eat. One traditionally Greek thing that he did like, though, was yoghurt and honey, which they seem to serve everywhere. You can even get it in the little ice-cream shops, which was great for us, as Freddie doesn't 'do' ice-cream.

Freddie is often reluctant to try new foods. Luckily in a place catering for a wide variety of tourists it wasn’t difficult to find familiar things that he would eat. One traditionally Greek thing that he did like, though, was yoghurt and honey, which they seem to serve everywhere. You can even get it in the little ice-cream shops, which was great for us, as Freddie doesn’t ‘do’ ice-cream.

On the second day, Big Sister insisted on buying Freddie something she found in one of the local shops — a pack containing some Peppa Pig stickers, a hairbrush and a small swim ring. She and daddy took freddie down to the pool, ceremoniously threaded him into the swim ring and carried him into the water.

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Big Sister has had a lot of swimming lessons in her 15 years, and she proved adept at passing on the experience. She soon had him kicking his legs in the water (whilst holding onto the ring with his arms). From then on they spent most of each day in the pool together, with Big Sister never more than a couple of inches from Freddie’s side.

By the end of the week he was confident enough to turn tail and shuffle himself off to the opposite side of the pool whenever he saw me approaching with the sun cream.

Freddie and Big Sister attracted a lot of attention around the pool and a lot of comments were passed -- about how much she dotes on him, what a good time he was having with her. We were comlimented many times on what a patient and loving girl she is.

Freddie and Big Sister attracted a lot of attention around the pool and a lot of comments were passed — about how much she dotes on him, what a good time he was having with her. We were complimented many times on what a patient and loving girl she is.

Poor Freddie  – he’s so blonde that we even have to plaster sun screen in his hair, because he simply will not keep a hat on. I managed to get him to wear a bandana by telling him he’d have to sit in his buggy in the shade and not go in the pool if he didn’t. After twenty minutes he agreed, and he did keep it on for a while, but as soon as my attention was distracted he whipped it off because he is as stubborn as I am.

Our normally strict routines get rather 'relaxed' on holiday. Freddie really enjoyed being allowed to stay up late for the Greek Night, and got into the spirit of things.

Our normally strict routines get rather ‘relaxed’ on holiday. Freddie really enjoyed being allowed to stay up late for the Greek Night, and got into the spirit of things.

We had to pay extra for air-conditioning, but it was a must in our room — we daren’t leave doors or low-level windows open as freddie is an enthusiastic absconder.

Big Brother and Sister didn’t have air-con in their room. Neither of them has been anywhere that hot before, and although the heat didn’t seem to bother Big Sister, Big Brother didn’t like it at all. But he soon figured out the most common-sense ways to deal with it. He dragged his mattress out onto the balcony to sleep, and in the day he retreated to the shade, or even indoors during the hottest hours (where he did some of his pre-uni reading). Once it began to cool down again, he’d emerge, order himself a plate of hummus and pitta bread, and a large ice-cold beer (he is 18) and enjoy them at a table by the pool.

How much? We went self-catering, but I didn't actually do any 'catering' because eating out proved to be cheaper than buying food at the supermarket and preparing it ourselves.

How much? We went self-catering, but I didn’t actually do any ‘catering’ because eating out proved to be cheaper than buying food at the supermarket and preparing it ourselves.

We used the buggy more than usual for Freddie if we were going into town, as we didn’t want him getting exhausted or dehydrated walking in the heat. More often than not he had a little siestaunder the make-do shade of an umbrella that Big Sisterhad, for some reason best known to herself, decided to bring with her. I don’t pack for my older children, they have to do it for themselves. Credit where credit’s due — all the seemingly random items that the packed which I wouldn’t have turned out to be very useful.

all-in-all we had a lovely week, we kicked back and relaxed, and we learned a lot — not so much about the country we were visiting as about ourselves and each other.

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WANT CHIPS WITH THAT?

What was it you said – about never being able to have a holiday again if I had a child with Down’s Syndrome?

Sorry, I wasn’t listening …

So unfortunately we went right ahead, and have already had three very pleasant “staycations” in the UK. And one foreign holiday … and we’ll soon be jetting on our second.

Of this year.

You mentioned something about “poor quality of life”, too.

Poor Freddie. Poor me. We must be suffering terribly.

It’s just as well we’ve been too busy getting on with our lives to notice.

Would you like a side order of chips to go with those words you’re about to eat?

See you on the beach!

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MIDNIGHT RUNNING.

On one of our excursions we went past Menorca’s prison. Our tour guide told us that it was built several years ago, but had remained empty, because there was so little crime on the island.

Later that night I woke up, sometime after midnight, needing the bathroom. As I was getting back into bed a strange hissing noise started up. I went into the living room to investigate, afraid that it might be the gas oven, but it seemed to be coming from outside. Going over to the window to look out, I realised that Freddie’s buggy, which we usually left by the front door, was missing. Quite apart from the fact that it is invaluable, it’s also, strictly speaking, the property of our local hospital, who loan it to us. I went and woke Daddy.

‘Where did you put the buggy when you came in?’

‘He wasn’t in his buggy. I walked him back.’

On our way home from our evening visit to the beach I had remembered that we needed some milk. Daddy walked Freddie back to the apartment to give him a bath, while Big Sister and I went to get the milk (Big Sister, helpful as ever, thought I might need reminding that we were also out of Oreos). I had parked the buggy at the bottom of the steps leading up to the shop.

And left it there.

Oh God! I quickly pulled on some clothes and ran out of the door … and was hit full in the face by the source of the hissing noise — the rotating lawn sprinklers, which came on periodically throughout the night. They covered all the grassed areas and every so often hit the path as well, so I had to try to dodge the freezing cold spray as I ran. It was like playing tag with a water cannon. Thank goodness there was no one about to witness the spectacle.

The buggy was right where I’d left it, outside the shop. It was a bit wet by the time I got it back to the apartment, but otherwise in one piece, with all accessories still in place. If I had left it outside my local shop at home, then without a shadow of doubt, it would have been stolen, vandalised, or damaged in some way.

A tour guide said that the four most important things to a Menorcan were Family, Friends, Food and Fiesta. You can see the Menorcans are a naturally patient and courteous people by the way they drive. Their prison is empty. What more do I need to say?

SUN, SEA, AND SETTLING DOWN.

The day started badly. In a public place. And Daddy was mortified.

He was in no mood to listen to me, blinded by the bright side, telling him that everything was going to be ok when it clearly wasn’t. We were standing at the bus-stop, with several other families waiting quietly with their well-behaved children, when Freddie suddenly started to scream and shout belligerently and act in a very stroppy manner, for no apparent reason. Or at least, no reason that was apparent to anyone else.

Freddie had been told we were waiting for a bus to take us into Mahon. He had seen a bus draw up on the opposite side of the road, drop off lots of people, and then drive away. Without us. He doesn’t seem to grasp yet that the first bus that comes is not necessarily the bus we want, that different buses go to different places. He is exactly the same at home if we are waiting for the bus to the City Centre and the bus to into Town arrives first (it’s extra confusing where we live as both buses have the same number on the front, their routes diverge later).

But Daddy didn’t know this. Being at work, he doesn’t get to see what Freddie is like out and about as much as I do. He doesn’t get to see how, little by little, things improve with experience. Freddie loves school trips now, but when he first started school he would cry inconsolably whenever he was taken on the bus. His reception teacher used to sing to him to take his mind off it. He learnt to associate the minibus with a nice sing-song.

In the UK you can generally just push a buggy onto the bus and ‘park’ it, with the child still in, but Menorcan buses are somewhat different. The pushchair had to be folded and stowed in the luggage compartment. That meant that Freddie would have to sit on someone’s knee. Because I am rather small, and a wriggling six-year-old can be quite a handful for me to contain, when carrying or lap-sitting are required Daddy usually takes over. But he seemed so stressed out by Freddie’s behaviour that I said I’d have him today. But Daddy insisted.

As soon as we got onto the bus, Freddie’s demeanour changed completely. He was a cheerful little imp once more, happy to sit on his daddy’s lap and look at a magazine they found in Mummy’s Big Bag of Stuff. Although Daddy tried to read discreetly, several people sitting nearby were able to enjoy it too — they thanked Daddy for the very soothing story as they got off the bus. I breathed a mental sigh of reliefย  — it looked as though I was right about the cause of his tantrum after all.

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Mahon was beautiful and breezy, with narrow, busy streets, and wide open squares, boutiques, restaurants and pavement cafes, and plenty of other interesting things to see. Now, here were things that Freddie DID understand — shopping, sightseeing and eating out. All things we’ve done before, but now with the benefit of sunshine.

That moment when a Playmobile man is taller than your sister (and, therefore, taller than your mum, too).

That moment when a Playmobile man is taller than your sister (and, therefore, taller than your mum, too).

After that, everything just seemed to fall into place. Freddie began to eat and behave better, and his toilet-training, which had gone to pot, started to get back on track, as he got to grips with our different environment and routine. Each day began with a leisurely breakfast, then either time spent by the pool, or an outing, followed by an evening stroll on the clean, sandy beach (jumping on other people’s sandcastles because there was hardly anyone to see), then a scrumptious chocolate milkshake as the sun went down (why Mummy and Daddy insisted on drinking beer was a mystery).

We ate out twice a day, most days, because it was cheaper than buying food at the ‘Supermercado’, which meant that I got a proper rest on holiday for the first time in my married life. And because I wasn’t frazzled and resentful that everyone else was getting a break while I was just doing the same stuff in a different place, which is what usually happens with self-catering, we didn’t squabble. Even Daddy began to chill out. With a few simple distractions we found that Freddie could be induced to sit still and play on the end of a sunlounger for a period of time, long enough for us to enjoy a nice cool drink.

These plastic bugs, which spring up when you press on them, kept Freddie amused for ages. They came free with a magazine.

These plastic bugs, which spring up when you press on them, kept Freddie amused for ages. They came free with a magazine.

I sat at the edge of the water in Freddie's pool float, to stop him just launching himself in, while he and Big Sister played 'fetch' with a rubber caterpillar. Unfortunately, the caterpillar eventually got waterlooged and sank.

I sat at the edge of the water in Freddie’s pool float, to stop him just launching himself in, while he and Big Sister played ‘fetch’ with a rubber caterpillar. Unfortunately, the caterpillar eventually got waterlooged and sank.

On our last night on the beach, while Big Sister took Freddie paddling in the sea, Daddy told me that he thought it was the best holiday we had ever had.

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As we landed at Manchester, Big Sister said she never wants to holiday in the UK again. Mission accomplished!

SUN, SEA, AND SPENDING MONEY.

As the sun went down we traipsed over to reception to report our lack of electricity.

There we found a steady exchange of people, flowing in and out of the building, swapping information as they passed each other in the doorway.

‘Your power off, mate?’

‘Yeah. It’s off all this side of the complex.’

‘Oh dear. I hope it wasn’t us,’ said a woman standing next to me. ‘We were warned not to use two kitchen applainces at once, but we forgot.’

‘No danger of that in our apartment,’ I said. ‘We’ve only got one socket in the whole kitchen area.’

The reception staff did their best to reassure us all that everything was being done to restore the electric supply as soon as possible.

Back in our dark apartment we did our best to clean Freddie up by the light of a mobile phone. By the same feeble light I discovered that the space I had left in his carefully packed suitcase for his new shorty pyjamas was still empty. I had never got round to actually buying them.

He went to bed that night in a big t-shirt. We all followed suit a few minutes later; suddenly aware of what a long day it had been. Our bed was not a double, but two singles pushed together, with two seperate sets of bedding; but there was something sweetly intimate about ‘invited’ into my husband’s bed for a snuggle.

To my surprise, Freddie slept through until his usual time, which is about six a.m. But, since we were in Menorca the clock was showing seven, so we felt like we’d had an hour’s lie-in. Not that we got up right away. Unbeknown to us Big Sister had been unable to sleep for worrying that Freddie would be able to escape from the apartment, so she had booby-trapped their bedroom door and climbed into bed with him. She woke up when he woke up … and pushed her out of bed. Nevertheless, she took him to the toilet, then gave him a bowl of cereal and a drink before letting him loose on us.

The power was back on now, so we were able to revive ourselves with several cups of strong tea and coffee. In daylight we could also see just how much sand and accumulated sticky grot we had missed in Freddie’s twilight clean-up. I thought the best thing would be for him to come into the shower with me.

Freddie’s not all that keen on showers, and he especially disliked the dark gloomy bathroom in that apartment, so it ended up being another protracted two-man job. Daddy’s entry into the shower five minutes later was accompanied by an anguished gasp — we’d emptied the hot water tank! (They are routinely quite small in Menorca, apparently, compared to the UK).

Our eventual solution to Freddie's dislike of the apartment's gloomy bathroom was to put a pool float into the bath and fill that with water, to wash him down.

Our eventual solution to Freddie’s dislike of the apartment’s gloomy bathroom was to put a pool float into the bath and fill that with water, to wash him down.

While Big Sister waited in for the water to warm up again, myself, Daddy and Freddie went off to the ‘welcome meeting’ at the resort club. There were quite a few newly arrived families there, most with young children, but while theirs could safely be left to run around the tables and amuse themselves, there was no way Freddie could join in without constant adult supervision. We both needed to pay attention, so he had to stay in his buggy. He shouted a bit, as he often does when someone starts to talk, and sang, but he didn’t appear to be disrupting the proceedings, so I let it go. I could see that Daddy, though, was getting tense.

It didn’t stop him being tempted by an excursion to Mahon. When the rep came over to take our payment, he got out the new ‘Currency Card’ that we had preloaded with our ‘spends’ before flying out.

‘What’s the pin?’ he said to me.

‘I don’t know. Does it have one? I wasn’t there when you set it up.’

There was a sticker on the card with a numbe to call to activate it. ‘You must’ve activated it, though,’ he said.

‘No, I didn’t. Did you?’

‘Nobody told me it needed activating.’

‘It just got put on the shelf with all the other documents, didn’t it?’

The rep couldn’t help us — all we could do was call the customer service number in the Uk and try to activate it there and then. We went back to the apartment to get the paperwork that came with the card. Daddy dialled the helpline number several times, but his phone refused to recognise it. By now he was getting very agitated — we had a small amount of actual Euros with us, but not enough to last the whole holiday. How was he going to feed us all when his money was locked up in that useless bit of plastic?

Big Sister quietly took the piece of paper, tried dialling it on her own phone, and handed it to Daddy as it started to ring out. It took less than a minute to activate the card, and we made sure we double-checked the pin.

‘How did you get it to work?’ Daddy asked her.

‘For an international number you don’t need to dial the bit in brackets.’

That simple.

A rare sitting-down moment.

A rare sitting-down moment.

We spent the rest of the day by the pool. Big sister chased around after Freddie, fighting a running battle to keep him out of mischeif. We kept telling her to sit down and enjoy her holiday, we would take over, she wasn’t just here to look after her brother; but she said that she wanted to do it, so that we could have a proper break. God Love Her. Daddy looked exhausted just watching her retrieving him from other people’s loungers, prising stranger’s sunglasses and flip-flops off him, and preventing him from throwing his shoes into the water. He was reluctant to go in the water himself, though, probably because it was very cold. You could see that on the faces of people getting out. By late afternoon she was worn out and revenous, so Daddy suggested we should eat right there at the club. I was all for that – no cooking for me, way-hey!

Freddie doesn’t seem to like transitioning from one activity to another, and can become quite stroppy and unco-operative.Today was no exception. He was quite shouty as we put him in a chair at the table, and everytime the waitress put cutlery, condiments or menus on the table, he threw them off. My solution — to simply keep everything out of his reach, rather than be constantly telling him off and turning the whole thing into a battle of wills — must have seemed like no discipline at all to the casual observer. I began to worry that it would all be too pressure for Daddy, and he wouldn’t enjoy our holiday at all. I felt guilty that I was enjoying it.

Freddie refused to eat, but Big Sister demolished six lamb chops. Six. Normally I have trouble getting her to finish one. In the end we took Freddie’s dinner back to the apartment in a foil tray; Daddy needed a cup of tea to soothe his nerves. He took it out onto the covered terrace behind our bedroom. Freddie seemed really taken with that little indoor/outdoor space, and Daddy hit on the idea of having a ‘picnic’ out there. they’d spread a blanket and he would have his cuppa while Freddie at his food.

At first, Freddie was only interested in throwing bits of tomatoey spaghetti against the whitewashed wall, to see the wormy marks it left. This time he got a stern telling off, which impressed him not at all, but he did eventually settle down and eat. Perhaps he was hungry, perhaps he was worried that he’d be taken back inside. We told him that because he’d been a good boy and eaten up, he could have another chocolate milkshake at the bar on the beach (but really it was because we wanted to sit there and watch the sun go down with a beer).

So, what's it going to be then, a milkshake or ... a milkshake?

So, what’s it going to be then, a milkshake or … a milkshake?

I had thought it would probably take Freddie (and Daddy) a couple of days to settle down. Once he grasped the new routine he would be happier. The turning point came the day we went to Mahon …