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The family holiday; the Covid years

In a matter of days we will be jetting our way across the Atlantic to revel in three weeks of amazing fun, laughter and memories as we embark upon on annual family holiday - this year soaking up the endless imagination created by Walt Disney in Orlando Florida............

Oh yeah silly me! I forgot! Life is on hold at the moment, so there will be no jetting off on an amazing happiness filled holiday, not even to just 'air hug' Mickey Mouse from a safe two metre distance. We are absolutely gutted (as I know many many others are across the world). But its OK, there's plenty of other things we can do to have a well earned family break and enjoy ourselves...........isn't there?

Oh yeah, silly me! I forgot, for just a moment what an overly complicated life we now lead - brimming with stress and stuffed with hour upon hour of infuriating moments like having to repeat ourselves at least six hundred and ninety seven times every day in the style of a monotonous Alexa, who even though she isn't a real person, is probably now pig sick of sitting in the corner of the room listening to very repetitive phrases such as "Please stop doing that". For that very same reason, because we have neuro-divergent children, nothing is ever simple, certainly not easy, can never be spontaneous and is rarely relaxing for more than 60 seconds. So, planning to do anything takes a lot of forethought to anticipate the pitfalls, the melt-downs and the dramas, to find something that will accommodate all of our needs. Don't get me wrong, in so many ways my neuro-divergent children are an absolute joyful blessing and I wouldn't change them for the world, but sometimes it would just be nice not to have to put so much thought and consideration into every little thing we do to mitigate all of the stress, strops and anxiety that will likely ensue.

Its probably hard to believe that jetting off on a foreign holiday can possibly be relaxing when you have to spend the entire time stopping children with no sense of danger from throwing themselves head-first into a swimming pool every time they set eyes on it, like the lure of a glimmering shiny object, no matter what time of day or night it is. Or explaining for the tenth time in ten minutes why they have to let sun tan creme dry before getting in the pool. Or having a Marvel who wants to take off every item of clothing the moment it gets a splash of water on it - including his swim suit....even when he is in the pool! But incredibly despite the requirement for endless and intense parenting, I still manage to find enough peace to be able to relax.....well OK, not quite relax, but at least by the end of the holiday I only have a very mild feeling of indigestion rather than a constant searing pain in my chest, so it must be worth it! The stress is actually a little bit easier to handle in the sunshine, laying next to a swimming pool, topping up an alcoholic drink for the fourth time before midday. The yells of "Please stop doing that...", are quickly followed under my breath by "oh f*8k it, I'm on holiday, I don't give a crap right now, do what you want".

So, in just a few days time we should have been beginning a fantastic family holiday in Florida; absorbing the fun of Walt Disney's impressive imagination. But instead, we have gone through a roller coaster of making contingency plan after contingency plan to ensure that we all still get some kind of break away from the norms of everyday life and so that the Marvel's still get to experience a little bit of fun, magic and memory making that isn't confined to the four walls of our house. Our annual family holiday is so important to us, because we spend all year saving for it. We don't take the kids on days out every weekend throughout the year, but instead opt for being relatively frugal and conservative with what we do with them, so that we can have two awesome weeks in the sunshine every year, showing them what different Countries are like and broadening their perspectives on life. That's why for us, the halt that has been placed on life by Covid has been pretty devastating. If I am truthful, I am probably the one struggling with it the most. It is really starting to depress me.

At last count, we are now onto contingency plan 'E'. Every new plan we have made (and paid for) has eventually fallen through, piece by piece, thanks to crappy Covid! If Covid were a person, I am not even sure that all of the Disney villians put together would be more hated than Mr (or Mrs) Covid.

For us, trying to make plans as a family can be really challenging because of the needs and accommodations that have to be made for all of us individually and as a family unit. The Marvel's have their needs and so we have to be really careful to make sure that everything is planned meticulously to ensure it works for them, but also to ensure that it works for me as an Autistic adult, for my wife as the only neuro-typical among us and as parents. Most places and situations with the Marvel's can bring a degree of stress - because it's too noisy, or its too busy or it just isn't safe enough for them and their lack of awareness, understanding of danger and processing of information. The stress they experience in any given situation, living in a neuro-typical world, is then multiplied several times over in terms of the stress I experience as an Autistic Dad trying to cope with their needs as well as my own at the same time. But it is also incredibly stressful for Emma, who not only has to manage how a situation affects the Marvel's, but also in turn how it affects me! She truly is a Saint!

So, all of this means that we really have to think carefully about days out and family holidays, to balance the stress of going against the dull life that would be experienced by not going. Some places and situations are just not worth the trade off - they will be too stressful and it will end in disaster, whilst others are worth the risk. For us, going to Disney World is definitely worth the risk, but sadly it isn't to be.

Plan B was 'Disney lite', booking Disneyland Paris instead for a couple of nights so that we could at least all get a little taste of the Disney magic. But then the need to quarantine was introduced, something which our work would not look kindly upon because it was a foreseeable risk when we booked the holiday. So Plan B was cancelled.

Plan C we contemplated a few times, but never actually went through with booking. We considered booking a holiday cottage somewhere in the UK, but then every time we discussed it we thought "Who in their right mind would take the Marvel's away to sit around in someone else's house for a week? What would we do to keep them entertained?". The British weather is predictable - its rubbish and never fails to p*ss on your parade when you are hoping for good weather. The British tourist attractions are fantastic, but even the most accessible can be hard work. Factoring in the wobbly October weather and the need to keep well over an arm's length away from other people; the options for a week's worth of accessible days out are virtually non-existent. Needless to say, we didn't bother with C.

With Plan D I thought that we were on to something - a two night break to the Alton Towers theme park in the UK. Not quite the magic of Disney, but still some theme park rides that would cater for the bigger thrill seeker in Marvel A and the more tame attractions for Marvel H. Both Marvel's also love swimming, so we thought a few hours at their indoor water park, Splash Landings, would be perfect. However, the one thing we would need to make this trip possible, would be to make use of their ride accessibility scheme. We have had experience of these from a previous trip to Disney World and Universal Studios in Florida a few years ago and they were fantastic and worked really well for us as a family. I have to admit that before we went on that holiday I was really apprehensive about using any form of ride accessibility scheme, not because we didn't need it, but because when you have a disability you try so hard not to be seen as different and singled out from everyone else around you. Using a ride accessibility scheme would surely single you out, walking to the front of a separate que passed all of the people who themselves had been queing for over an hour. So I had to train myself to realise, this wasn't a hand-out or exemption, it wasn't a way of 'cheating the system' - it was a way of making the experience accessible, to allow you to share in what everyone else was doing, because without the ability to 'access' the rides, we simply just wouldn't have had any real opportunity to do them in the first place.

Standing in one place for any length of time with the Marvel's can be painfully difficult for a whole host of reasons. Standing in a que for a theme park ride, which has been fantastically themed to hold your interest whilst you are waiting, for an Autistic person can actually just be an assault on your visual and auditory senses, leading to intense overload of information which just causes stress and anxiety. Any parent of a child with additional needs just wouldn't contemplate trying to stand in a line for anywhere between 60 to 90 seconds, let alone 60 to 90 minutes. As parents, we would surely be the first to throw ourselves to the floor, kicking and screaming because we can't take it anymore. Marvel H would be bouncing from one dividing railing to another, picking up random dirty things off the floor, asking the same questions over and over again, pointing to people in the que and loudly saying "Daddy, look at them, they look weird". OMG, the shame you would feel as everyone looks round and stares at you for being the worst parent in the world to not only let your child behave that way but to say out loud the exact thought that pops into their head!

Plan D wasn't going to work out either, because we didn't qualify for ride accessibility passes as you either needed to be claiming the highest rate of the mobility element of Disability benefits, or you needed a letter from a doctor or consultant to prove you needed to use the scheme. We don't claim the benefits and due to Covid most doctors aren't providing services such as letters for these reasons. It was another plan doomed to fail. We could have risked going to see how we got on - but really, why would you 'risk' it, knowing full well that the first time you had to wait in line for a ride you would be wishing the roller coaster did actually plunge you into a bottomless cave, because at least you wouldn't have to continue to endure all of the disapproving looks as the Marvels' queing etiquette was compared to an unruly pack of monkeys.

Plan E - a short 'glamping' trip in Safari tent. The weather forecast is for wall to wall rain and to top it off there is no electric, which means no way of plugging in my sleep apnoea machine at night. Plan E = CANCELLED.

Plan F - a 3 night break in London........not yet cancelled, but this morning we are frantically trying to reschedule it to bring it forward to this week to try and avoid the looming threat of a tier 3 lock-down in London or even a full national lock-down. Any form of 'break' whatsoever appears to be destined never to happen.

It is gutting. Depressing in fact. I want the Marvel's to experience a little bit of fun this year and I want Emma and I to have some kind of 'break' and an opportunity to have some positive time with the Marvel's, away from the 4 walls of home that we have seen far too much of this year, but I fear it just isn't meant to be.

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