Just before the Ninja Boy turned 4, we decided to take a family holiday to New Zealand. Ten years had passed since our last visit and I was desperate to take my boys to see everyone back home. The decision was made to go for 12 days during the winter school holidays in July. We’d start at my mother’s place in Blenheim at the top of the South Island and drive down south to where my brother lived in Queenstown.
It was an exciting prospect. New Zealand is at its most spectacular in winter, especially in the South Island. The Southern Alps stretch like a jagged zip down the centre of the island, providing an impressive snowcapped backdrop to every picture postcard view. I’ve always thought of it as God’s Country, because the serenity? Is simply magnificent.
But every time I thought about stepping on that plane, my brain was consumed with worry as well as a short list of all the things that could go wrong.
This trip was a very different proposition from all others we’d ever taken before, you see. 18 months prior, our youngest son had been diagnosed with Austism Spectrum Disorder. This news, quite understandably, had changed the landscape of our lives completely. In a turn-it-upside-down kind of way. We were still on a very steep learning curve with early intervention therapy but we’d already had elements of substantial progress. Managing the everyday challenges on a daily basis was becoming less of an issue but to even be contemplating travelling with him on an aircraft? An enclosed space where he couldn’t get off? Something else ENTIRELY.
Anxious does not even begin to cover the myriad of emotions I felt. We’d never attempted anything as ambitious as that. How the hell would it work? Right from the word go I knew the sheer size of the airport building and its hordes of surging, noisy crowds would be sensory overload for the Ninja Boy in mere minutes. Going grocery shopping for 15 minutes was too much for him. My brain was already mapping out the likely scenarios of what could happen and none of them were particularly pleasant. The stress was building and we hadn’t even booked the tickets!
As it turned out, we had a great trip. With a few meltdowns here and there which weren’t as bad as my massive bouts of anxiety had led me to fear. Hindsight is always 20/20, isn’t it?
Customs in both Australia and New Zealand were fantastic, graciously allowing us to go through the gate last, so that when we got on the plane it immediately began taxiing to the runway for take-off, there was no hanging around. The Ninja Boy spent a good portion of the flight lying on the floor underneath The Provider’s seat, curled up with a blanket and a pillow. In his mind it equalled less pairs of eyes able to see him down there so that’s where he stayed until landing. This coping mechanism was to be repeated a lot during our holiday – the Ninja Boy often sat under the table to eat his food – it was only there he felt more in control and less stressed, so we simply rolled with it and carried on regardless.
I was reminded of this holiday earlier in the week when I came across a picture we took at the time. The Ninja Boy had looked up as he was crouching on the edge of Lake Wakatipu. He’d been transfixed by all the rounded stones, fascinated by their shapes and colours. I swear, during that trip he must have thrown a quarry’s worth of stones into the water/snow or river!
Looking at this picture reminded me how far he has come since those early days. His life at 12 is a far cry from where it used to be. The woman in that photo could only dream about the sorts of things the Ninja Boy is doing now. Thinking of the future was often in the ‘too hard’ basket – I was flat out dealing with what was happening today let alone five, ten years from now. I didn’t know it then but I shouldn’t have worried. He has taught me to appreciate the positive in every step forward and to focus on what we CAN do, not on what we CAN’T.
A good way to live for all of us, I think.
Have you ever travelled with a special needs child? How did it turn out? Where’s the best place you and your family have holidayed?