|Copyright Downs Side Up, Traci Giles Photography and Charlotte Amelia Kids Photography|
Right now we're riding the painful, grumpy aftermath of 2 tonsillectomies. Cuddles, sofas, films, pain relief, ice lollies, more films and a smattering of crafts if we can muster enough energy to enthusiastically motivate the poorly soldiers.
Yesterday, to cheer ourselves up, we looked back over our holiday snaps from earlier in the summer. A reminder that we all need to grab the opportunity to create wonderful memories and store them up for later use whenever we can.
It's funny how travel has always been such a significant part of our lives. Daddy Downs Side Up travels a lot with work, and in the heady, romantic days of LBK (Life Before Kids as we affectionately refer to that time where you have no-one to please but yourself) I used to jet off with him for short breaks: New York (taking photos at the top of the Twin Towers), San Fransisco (wearing a bib to eat a giant plate of lobster), Hong Kong (buying cheap silk ties on the street corner at 1am), Paris (persuading the waiter to simply leave the desert trolley with us), you get the picture.
Then some holidays to far away places of choice; Malaysia and the Maldives, diving with turtles and exploring rainforests and staying up late and drinking cocktails whilst playing Scrabble (I know, I know) and plenty of siestas to catch up.
Before we started a family I always thought we would just continue to trot around the globe, our offspring becoming seasoned travellers and explorers.
So when Natty was born, I recall thinking, literally within the first few minutes of her life, as the initial heavy shock and grief settled over me, that we would never ever again even visit our local beach, let alone travel to long haul destinations.
What on earth put this ridiculous thought in my head I cannot tell you.
Perhaps the notion that people would always point and stare at us at us. That insensitive folk would make rude comments. That Natty wouldn't be 'allowed' to travel. Perhaps it was my brain's way of vocalising its fear that our lives were over, that we'd be forever under house arrest. Perhaps the travel connection stemmed from that Holland poem that was thrust at us straight away.
Either way, I couln't have been more wrong. And as soon as she was strong enough, we firmly resolved to change all that forever...
We first took the girls at around 1 and 3yrs to Menorca, a short hop, for just a week. An amazing thing happened, Natty's nose unblocked and her chest cleared, the weather was working miracles. Furthermore we noticed a sharp improvement in her cognitive abilities. It was as if the change of scene and temperature made her more alert, and she enjoyed taking everything in around her. The next year we tried Portugal.
Then, a couple of months after Natty had her keyhole heart surgery and we have been given the all clear, we boarded a plane for the Indian Ocean Island of Mauritius. It felt as if a huge weight had been lifted from our shoulders, the worry and fear, we had carried for 2 years thinking we might lose her had been such a physical one. We had been buckling under, just biding our time, and now we felt free to live again.
We had the holiday of a lifetime, it bonded us all together as a family unit and I can honestly say that for the very first time since Natty's birth I realised that Down Syndrome wasn't going to define or limit us.
We found time to visit a DS charity while we were there, and were impressed by the services offered to families under one roof.
Since then we have made our family holidays top priority. We discovered that JAMAICA feels like a home from home. We've been back 3 times and the girls are always welcomed with open arms to collect beach glass, braid hair, tie dye Tshirts, swim until sunset and make new friends. Music, good food, warm seas and genuine people. For it's all about the people isn't it.
We visited a local school while we were there and the children were most intrigued by Natty and Mia. We joined in and sang songs and could have stayed for hours.
This year we went to ANTIGUA which had a quieter feel, but we were made to feel no less welcome.
We returned home with the same feeling that we had invested in our family and ourselves, having met some incredible people, rediscovered who we are and changed a few more perceptions of Down Syndrome around the globe.
With careful planning, there's no stopping us now. I might even feel brave enough for a spot of camping sometime soon, or a family friendly festival.
Some Top Tips for Travel with Children with a Disability
1) Make sure your destination is within driving/flying distance of healthcare facilities such as a clinic or hospital comparable to what you might find at home. I always like to plan for the worst case scenario.
2) Make sure you take out comprehensive travel insurance. Ours covers the cost of the entire holiday even if we check in at the departure airport and then decide not to go because Natty falls ill.
3) Always check with your doctors to make sure they are happy for your child to travel.
4) Take un-made-up antibiotics if your doctor will allow it, and every other medicine you might conceiveably need.
5) Give the airline plenty of notice of any special requirements.
6) Try to find an inclusive, welcoming resort/hotel/B&B if possible. You can often get a feel by asking a few questions and seeing what their response is, whether they seem as if they would take your family's differences in their stride or not. Some companies specialise in Family Holidays, such as Scott Dunn and Tots Too, and will be happy to discuss your needs and make recommendations based on that. some resorts will have special passes/access for children with disabilities, such as Disneyland.
7) Plan your journeys carefully. Think of them as a mini holiday in themselves and take time to pack everything you will need to get from A to B happily and without stress. I always pack as big a bag as I can that will fit comfortably in the overhead locker, such as these cabin suitcases from Littlewoods.com. There's enough room for everything from spare clothes, more spare clothes, pyjamas, masses of tempting healthy snacks and treats, a basic medical kit, tiny fun toiletries and as many new, unplayed-with-before small toys, stickers, colouring books and so on as I can squeeze in it. My girls love a rag doll with plasters, comb, bandages, hairclips and so on.
It's also worth investing in noise-limiting children's headphones as they will actually fit, and your child might keep them on long enough to watch a whole film. Don't forget a sunhat, shades and sunscreen to pop on when you arrive if going somewhere hot.
8) A different routine/ climate might unsettle your child, only you will know what will suit them and what they can cope with. Natty used to meltdown at the feel of heat and sand mixed with sun cream. But with gentle reassurance and repeated exposure to it, she has got used to it. I guess it helps that we live near the beach too.
9) Keep a journal during your stay. This could be drawings, postcards or photos so that your child has a visual record of their holiday to show teachers and family on their return.
10) Enjoy, relax, make memories, take thousands of photos. Live, love, laugh for you only have one shot.
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