There’s a first time for everything.

We have just had our first holiday as a family. It took us 19 months after becoming a family to feel ready to be brave, step out and actually be organised to book a holiday.  The day we came back marked 21 months of us being a family since our daughter came home. The end of a first successful holiday was a great way to remember how far we’d come from those very early days.

The holiday was filled with lots of firsts and thankfully no lasts (as in ‘we’ll never do that again!). It had its fair share of ups, downs, and everything in between. As parents it was our first holiday with a child, and as they all say, “I think we need a holiday to get over the holiday’ certainly rang true at times. We did however really enjoy slowing down, spending time and having some fun together. We were able to give each other some moments of time out, so we came away feeling we had at least had some time to relax.

The first ‘first’ we did was actually go and see our daughter’s foster carer the day before the holiday was due to start. It was a first meeting them nearer to their home, and the first at a neutral location. We drove down, spent the afternoon with them, and then stayed in a hotel that night. We’d never stayed in a hotel with Little One before. I don’t really like sharing a room with her (she’s a noisy sleeper). But, this time it worked really well. She was tired from the travel and long day, so feel asleep quickly. I think it actually helped her having us right there as she went to sleep. We were close by as she may have been feeling a bit more needy after seeing her foster carers for only the second time since she’d left them. She slept through, and in in the morning. Many wins! She coped really well with the whole day considering it was all new, and seeing them probably gave her quite a bit to process. She had fun with them, but didn’t find saying goodbye to them overly difficult. I think it shows how secure she is in our family, and how well she is settled. She did miss them the next day, but also wanted to let them know that she was ok and enjoying her holiday. I think the distraction of the holiday the next day actually helped shift the focus from missing them, to being excited about what was to come next. We went to Center Parcs, (yes, it is spelt that way, I checked) and some of her nursery friends had been recently, so she kind of knew what it was. I’m really glad we initiated this meet up, it was a really positive thing to do. Now we know that we can go down to see them, and stay overnight to make a weekend of it if we want. It means that hopefully we can maintain at least yearly (if not more) contact, which would be great.

(Love this capture of their goodbye cuddle. It’s beautiful & bittersweet. Love & loss (again) all at the same time)

Staying at Center Parcs was another ‘first’, and I’d say for a first family holiday in the UK, it works well. Yes, it is pricey, but I think it;s pretty good value for money. Actually apart from the pottery painting (we only did this because we bumped into some friends and they suggested we do it), we didn’t spend any additional money on site. We stuck to the free things, which as we were only there 3 full days, was plenty in between downtime at our lodge. We did lots of swimming, some play on the ‘beach’, and some play in the play parks. For our family it worked well as we could do what we wanted, when we wanted, Our daughter loved the swimming. It was lovely to see her confidence growing each day in the water. She really enjoyed the slides, and by the last day was whizzing down most of them. A massive breakthrough was when she was brave enough to put her head fully under water. She was so proud of herself, and she’s been telling everyone about it all weekend. She is still terrified of letting go of us, so she was stuck to one (or both) of us the whole time in the big pool. So, still some progress to go there, but baby steps…. We did take her scooter, which although we didn’t use loads, it was helpful for the longer walks between our lodge and the car park. Hopefully she’ll have more road sense next time, as taking her out on it is a bit stressful, even with minimal traffic on the roads.

Managing the structure of the days whilst we were away was a learning curve for us, and we’ve come away with an understanding of what does and what doesn’t work. Our daughter is actually very easy going when it comes to a change in routine, so we’re pretty lucky in that at the moment she can cope with a fair amount of spontaneity. However, I think having a structured day, with set times for set activities does help, and i’ll try to remember that in the future. She did seem to struggle a bit more in the first couple of days whilst we settling into our routine, but once she got it, she seemed more relaxed. It was a shame that as soon as she got settled, we were starting to think about coming home. What we did find out was that she finds ‘down time’ quite difficult to cope with. She struggles to pick something and independently do that activity. Something we do see at home too. What worked well was giving her something specific to do e.g. colouring, and she’d happily do that for a short while. I had thought quite a lot about what to take to entertain her, as the only other place we’ve stayed overnight was my parents, and they have lots of toys. With suggestions from others, I decided to take quite a few different activities for her, all carefully chosen. Some were old favourites, like books, toys, stickers, colouring. Some were new activities. Some were comfort items (e.g. blanket, cuddly toys, chewy toys). Some other things to make it feel more like home, such as the baby monitor and night light. The iPad came too, pre-loaded with her current favourite programmes. She was really into nursery rhymes, so having that for ‘rest time’ was amazing. It meant we all relaxed at the same time. I forgot the blackout blind, luckily she actually slept really well so we didn’t have any problems.

(These are some of the things we took with us)

Of course a first holiday comes to an end, and you have the first holiday comedown/fallout to deal with. I  thought she’d be more upset about leaving than she was, especially as she’d had such a good time. She was actually really happy and excited to be home, which I guess is a really good thing. To prepare her for coming home, we read a great book about a little girl going on holiday and not wanting to come back, but when she got back she was happy to see all the familiar things again. We talked about what we were looking forward to doing, who we were looking forward to seeing. It wasn’t planned, but we had bought a box of Duplo the day before we went on holiday, but didn’t get round to opening it, so she was really excited to get home to open and play with it straight away. I’m going to try to remember that one next time, to have a small treat that she knows about waiting at home, so that going home seems more appealing. The next day she really wasn’t herself, very grumpy and tearful. Although I knew it probably would happen, because she was initially ok when we got back, I guess I didn’t expect it. I must remember to manage it a bit better next time, and plan a really quiet day for her to re-adjust to being back. I think she was also really tired, as she slept nearly 12hours that first night we were home. She woke up in a much better mood the 2nd day back.

Overall, the holiday has been a great success, and we’d definitely go again. There are some bits we’ll do the same, and now with a bit of experience, some bits we’ll do a bit differently. Planning is definitely key, and routine is still important when you’re away. She only knew we were going a couple of days before, which worked well this time. We kept her busy the day before we went, and packed when she was in bed, which also worked well. The gamble of meeting up with the foster carers paid off (although we only did it because we know our daughter and felt she would cope). The pottery painting she did will be a lovely physical reminder of the great time she had on her first holiday with Mummy and daddy. I’m really proud of her and how she coped with the whole trip. I’m really proud of us all for ticking off a big family first so successfully. Here’s to the next holiday…..


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