So, the six weeks holiday. No more school for the kids, or me for that matter. Just 42 Days of nothing but me and the boys and, for some of the time, my wife. Nothing to do but take each day as it comes, with no timetables or bells or deadlines ruling my life. Oh god, how am I going to cope? Seriously, how am I going to get through another summer? In a moment of panic and delirium I screamed at my wife, “Six weeks! On my own! How could you do this to me?” She put me straight, reminding me that she works part-time, that she has three weeks of holiday booked and that the actual number of days I am alone with the kids is nine. To which I replied, “Nine days! On my own! How could you do this to me?”
I know I’m not the only autism parent (or parent for that matter) bracing myself for the next six weeks of school holiday. If there’s one thing I’ve learnt, it is that going in unprepared will be disastrous. Clearly I need a plan. A strategy. Gone are the days when I could take each day as it came, doing what I pleased, when I pleased. Even when my first son was born there was still an element of this. But this approach will not suit an autistic four-year old who needs routine and structure and stimulation. B needs and deserves more than this, and I want to make this summer as enjoyable as I can for him.
Whether my wife is with me or not, I need to be well prepared for the next six weeks. At school, B has constant assistance from his T.A. I cannot begin to give him that much one to one time or undivided attention. The very thought of it is exhausting, not to mention impractical. Still, I will need to step up my involvement and make sure plenty of time is devoted to keeping him happy and occupied. I will also need to step up my vigilance. After relaxing a little recently, we’re back to a ‘can’t take your eyes off him’ stage.
Last week, whilst cooking the boys’ dinners (always two different meals. Eating the same thing would be far too much to ask of them), the phone rang. It was the neighbour who lives opposite our house. Any phone call beginning with the words, “I don’t want to be a nosy neighbour, but…’ is only going to be bad. The moment I heard these words I thought, “The boys. Where are they? Why can’t I hear them?” It turned out they were merely hanging out of the upstairs windows and balancing on the window sill (again). B has also recently taken up graffiti art as a hobby. Despite moving every pen out of reach, he has an uncanny knack of finding one you’d forgotten. Furniture is fast becoming his canvas of choice as he expresses his artistic talents. Add to all this his compulsion for climbing (I’m not even going to mention what happened to his mum’s birthday cake) and you have a boy who needs pretty intensive supervision.
If there’s one thing I’ve learnt it’s don’t rely on the weather. Apparently, a couple of dry days in a row is too much to ask for this Summer. Things are so much simpler when the sun is shining and the grass is dry. The day can revolve around a trip to the park, the boys can play in the garden and Daddy can relax a little. As one blogger put it, life’s a walk in the park when it’s dry. At first, I thought I’d come up with the answer to all our wet summer woes- a fail safe solution for all the family guaranteed to make it a six weeks to remember. It would even enable me to wrestle the DS and Wii from the boys’ sweaty palms. “We’re buying an X-box!” I declared to my wife across the dinner table. “Oh no we’re fucking not”, declared the look she gave me back across the table. Oh well, back to the drawing board.
In a desperate attempt to gather some ideas, I even went to see Superdad this week. Regular readers will remember Superdad as being my work colleague, father of similar aged children and general arch nemesis. He has perfect children and is the model father. If anyone knows how to organise the perfect summer, it is Superdad. What, I wondered, would his perfect summer be like? Perhaps he had organised an extensive treasure hunt, arranged languages work shops or turned his garden into a craft centre? Maybe, just maybe, he would have some ideas I could steal? “We’re off to Tanzania for five weeks”, he told me. Bastard.
There’s another way to look at this. How many dads get to spend this much time with their children? I am very lucky indeed to be able to share these days of their childhood, so should not complain (and is there anything more annoying than a teacher moaning about having six weeks off work? My wife thinks not.). I’ve started looking at various web sites and articles for suggestions on how to keep the kids happy. Many of the suggestions sadly exclude children with different and additional needs. One suggestion was to take the kids to a museum. The trouble with places like this is that a) there are other people there, b) They usually involve activities or presentations that B cannot really cope with and c) it’s embarrassing (but inevitable) having to report a lost child.
I hope to post a list of ideas and survival strategies later in the week. Feel free to send your suggestions my way! And if all else fails, there’s a charity helpline for stressed parents! It’s called Parentline Plus, if you’re interested.