Our first camping trip… that was an experience… we were warned but as previously written, we had taken the boys on our first family holiday before up to Scotland and it was difficult, so for some reason we thought it would be all ok now… how wrong we were!
Everyone in adoption circles that we spoke to has repeated often to us that taking the children on a holiday is very very difficult, especially in the first 12 months. We did our Scotland trip within the first 3 months but we kept it extremely low key and actually, it wasn’t too bad at all
We were invited to go camping with my sister in law, her family and her friends. I grew up camping in Australia and loved every minute of it. I look back very fondly of the times we went camping… however I have now learnt that Australian version of camping is completely different to the UK version of camping. In Australia, when we go camping, we usually prepare food well in advance and work out how to store the food so it doesn’t go off, there is very rarely any electricity nor anyone around. When we camped when we were younger, we would be completely isolated, having to drive through bush, across rivers and over sand dunes and it would take us a full day or two to get where we were going. We always carried enough fuel and fresh water too.. in case we ran out. I now have a newfound sense of awe at my parents thorough planning, just to ensure we stayed alive…
In the UK, it took us 2.5 hours and we stopped twice at a motorway services, once to wee and get a bacon bap and once to get a Costa… we arrived at the campsite, full of people, plugged in our electric and put up our tent. We were camping in the grounds of a huge stately home, surrounded by children play equipment and right on a lake. Nearby was a lake and a Tesco. I swear Brits choose camping sites based on how close they are to the nearest Tesco/Sainsburys/Asda/Lidl etc?! Was a nice location though. The families that were with us had all the mod cons… TV, kettle, ipads, gas cookers… and even a hoover! We were roughing it in comparison! Very different to what I was used to but fun all the same
So a week or two before camping, our eldest starts to get extremely hyperactive and talks incessantly about camping. A little excitement is fine however we know where this sort of emotion ends up, so we tried to play everything down as much as possible and make the whole thing less exciting. We spent the week before telling him exactly what we were going to do when we got there, where we were sleeping, what we would do the next day and what we would do when we got home! We went over the rules multiple times just to make sure. We have learnt quickly that our eldest likes to know that we are returning home and for good reason given his short history to date so we even set up a few things to help him remember that we WILL be coming home
So, morning of camping, we wake up at 6am and start to pack the car…”Good Morning X!!!” we say together cheerfully. Eldest decides to throw himself on the floor and cry… good start to the day!
We finally get out of the front door, and on our way to the camp site.. anything could happen. One of our boys has a habit recently of not letting us know when he needs to wee… and is often caught short… in the car…
But we made it safe and dry…
Then the fun begins!
For the next 24 hours, we find ourselves yelling like a couple of banshees across the campsite trying to keep them both in check. Now, I have already been told previously that we are over exaggerating and they are just boys and they need to have some fun… but we know best… and we watch mini meltdowns in progress, terror tantrums brewing, fear in their eyes and it is constant. We are unable to sit comfortably and relax knowing that our boys are off playing with other children, having fun… it is too much for them and will usually end in screaming, yelling, someone being hurt or a meltdown of some sort (and not always BY our children sometimes caused by them). Our boys need boundaries, safety, rules, and frequent signposting about what is going to happen just so we can keep some form of sanity. Its draining… but we know its not forever (!)
To give the boys credit, they did manage to have fun! I was impressed that they were playing nicely with others, running around, they were listening to rules and they were genuinely happy and enjoying themselves… most of the time
We have however, more “think about it’s” in that 24 hours than we have had in a month combined. In addition to that, we had old early behaviours that resurfaced, and our usually pretty happy little boy was reduced to a child displaying some pretty distressing behaviour. Every one of our buttons was pushed in that 24 hour period! One part sticks in my mind as we were packing up to leave, our eldest was having major meltdown in what can only be summarised by him hating the world right then and there. We know it all stemmed from fear and lack of control, but it doesn’t make it easier to deal with. We had to manage him ripping the grass from the ground and putting it all over him and down his pants while on “think about it”, throwing sand and grass into the tent bag that was near him while we were packing away the tent, throwing insults at us both loudly and under his breath mumbling away like an old grumpy man, and at one stage, he had taken his trousers and underwear off to around his knees while he sat on the grass because we were choosing to ignore his behaviour… and he didn’t like it… so any attention is good attention in his eyes! Taking a positive from this though, he controlled his bladder during all of this (win!)
It didn’t stop there, the drive home was tiring due to lack of sleep from all of us, and tantruming children
We learnt however over this weekend that our youngest feels the need to break and destroy things when he gets in the same mood, we didn’t realise he is just as affected by the change in routine as the eldest because he always handles it pretty jovially but bubbling under the surface, he is displaying his fear and stress very very differently.
That being said, we are adamant that the boys will like camping, and that we WILL go camping again. We are under the assumption that by continually doing the same thing (ie camping often), they will learn to enjoy it because they know what is going to happen almost every time. Some tips though for adopters who want to consider taking their children camping (or on their first holiday) based on our experiences so far (keeping in mind we have a one week holiday to Marbella in the coming weeks and all of this advice may get thrown out of the window!):
- Try to go on holiday to locations that are not busy – aim for secluded or at least quiet places so there is less stress on you if the behaviour starts to diminish and you will feel less self conscious others are judging you
- Limit the travel time!
- Signpost EVERYTHING – repeatedly! (and I mean everything, even the most obvious things like what you eat, when you eat, where the toilets are)
- Don’t have high expectations and try to remove any thoughts about how you or they will feel doing certain activities
- Keep it low key!
- Don’t take them to special places that hold special memories for you (yet!) – the experience you have with them could ruin that special place for you. Save that until you can have proven nice holidays
- Expect things to be very difficult (and if it isn’t that will be a pleasant surprise!)
- Have something at home that they/you NEED to return home to (eg. Pets, family members, vegetable patch needs watering, that new toy on the children’s bed, unfinished films etc) and remind the children of it before, during and on the way home
- Don’t let them ruin the holiday – reflect afterwards and take 2-3 moments from the holiday that you can keep in your memory for the future, and be sure to share those memories with the children as the likelihood is that the bad points of the holiday will be forgotten in the future and just the nice points will be the one you reminisce about (hopefully!)
- Plan to do it again – repetition/routine lets the children feel safe
Would love to hear about others first holidays or memorable holidays with their adopted children especially within the first year! Would also love to hear from those who have adopted who have had amazing family holidays just to give us all hope that they are possible!!