A camping experience

Last week we took the kiddies camping for 3 nights, staying in a field on a farm site in East Sussex. For the most part we had a really fun time, and the small people have all decreed that they would like to do it again. Hurrah!

The good bits:

We involved all the kids in planning what we would be doing. They all came and looked at the website of where we were staying and we checked various local attractions and asked them which ones they liked the look of. As with most things though, Alice and Matthew were interested up to a point and gave their opinions but didn’t really mind too much as they were just excited to be going away and weren’t that fussed about what we actually did. What we ended up planning was pretty much down to Katie. She loves animals and was adamant that we should go to a local animal sanctuary, and all the kids wanted to go to a zoo/theme park attraction. So I think that was a big plus for her, that she’d chosen what we’d do on both days.

Katie loved the big open field we were in and was more than happy to go wondering off on her own, which intrigued me. At home she is extremely clingy and doesn’t even like to be in her bedroom on her own most of the time. If she’s upstairs and the rest of us are downstairs she will usually panic and come downstairs as well. It’s a bit of a catch-22 for her because she doesn’t always want to be with us but she’s often scared to be on her own. The compromise is that she spends a lot of her time in the conservatory so she’s with us but not too with us! Whereas when we were camping she didn’t think twice about just going off on her own to the toilet which was up the other end of the field, or heading off to see the farm animals in the neighbouring field. It was really lovely seeing her having a bit more confidence to do that.

She also got stuck in and enjoyed the practical side of things. She’s not one for imaginative play and is often the odd one out of the kids, because Alice and Matthew spend a lot of time together playing with their toys and Katie isn’t really interested in that. She liked camping because she enjoyed the jobs involved. She helped John put the tent up by nailing in the pegs etc, she went off and did the washing up for us, went to the tap and filled up the water bottles etc. We spent our downtime playing cards or boules etc, so no imagination needed!

We partly picked where we were staying because it was on a farm and the kids were allowed to visit and feed the animals in the mornings, which we knew Katie would love. She was desperate to get there each morning and went off to go and chat to the goats, chickens, pigs, donkeys and ponies. I had to drag her away again, whereas in contrast Alice went the first morning and didn’t bother on the other two days. She’s not that interested in animals and would rather spend her time cartwheeling and doing handstands round the field. The animal sanctuary we visited was also a really nice day out and Katie was in her element there. The other two enjoyed it as well, but probably would have been happy to walk round once and then leave it there. Luckily there was also a park there so they played in that at the end while Katie went off to go and visit the goats again! She is noticeably happier when she’s doing things that involve animals.

Our other day out was a zoo/theme park which all the kids were excited to go to. I can’t work Katie out on this because she doesn’t like too many people or too much noise and her balance is a bit off kilter so she’s never liked being thrown up in the air or swung upside down like most kids do. And yet she’s always really liked theme parks, which I would have thought would be her worst nightmare! But she was happy as larry all day and we had a really fun day out.

John has family in Hastings and we went to go and see them before we went home. We hadn’t seen them in a couple of years due to living quite far from them anyway plus covid restrictions, and we weren’t sure what Katie would make of spending the day with them straight off the back of a camping trip where she had already been outside of her usual routine and comforts. There were the 5 of us, plus John’s aunt and uncle, two cousins and their other halves, and two children. It was rainy so it meant quite a lot of people in the house, and we know people + not much space + noise isn’t a good combination for Katie. So we talked with Katie beforehand about the things she could do if she was finding it all a bit much, and we spoke to John’s family as well as they weren’t aware of her diagnosis having not seen us for a while. Katie managed it really well and she did spend time with us but also disappeared off into the garden (in the rain) and spent some time watching YouTube on John’s phone.

The not so good bits:

Katie was excited to be camping but I was a bit nervous about it given that her bedtimes can be really hard (that’s a whole different post!) so I wasn’t sure how we’d get on all in a tent together. An important thing with Katie is being in control and knowing what to expect so as far as possible we went through what would be happening. John has camped with the girls in the school field before for various fundraisers school has done, and we also bought a new tent for this trip and did a trial run camping in my mum’s garden for a night. Both those times she was OK going to bed so we hoped it would be the same this time round. We have an 8 person tent so it has a bigger section in the middle and two smaller compartments at each end. Alice and Matthew slept in one end together, and we talked to Katie beforehand about whether she wanted to have one of us in the other end with her or whether she would rather have it to herself as her space and me and John would both sleep in the middle section. She wanted to have an end to herself but with the zip left open, so that was fine and it seemed like we’d planned as well as we could. One thing I guess we overlooked though was that she is familiar with the school field and my mum’s garden, whereas she had never been to this campsite before. The first night didn’t go too well. She changed her mind and didn’t want to be on her own, so John went in and slept right next to her but she freaked out about every shadow and every noise, was scared of the dark, and thought that someone was going to come into the tent and kill us all. These fears escalated and she had a full blown meltdown when the rest of the campsite was silent and everyone was trying to go to sleep. She did eventually calm down, and she was fine the second and third nights so I’m not sure if it was just a case of getting the first night out the way or quite what was going on. On a future trip we may need to prepare her a bit better, but I’m not sure what else we would do and I don’t think Katie is sure either. She doesn’t tend to be very forthcoming with suggestions as to what would make things easier for her – it’s usually me saying what about xyz and her saying yes or no which maybe isn’t the most effective way of doing things but I don’t have another one at the moment!

I think Katie also found it quite difficult that we were all on top of each other and she didn’t have her own space to escape to. She usually spends a fair amount of her time each day on her own (her choice) which she couldn’t really do while we were away, other than the times she went off round the field – maybe that’s why she was happy to go off on her own while we were away compared to how reluctant she is to do that at home. But there were certainly times that she was very argumentative and appeared to be being difficult just for the sake of it, whereas I’m sure for her it was a case of feeling overloaded and not really knowing what to do about it. She certainly had fewer ways to regulate herself. We did bring some fiddle toys, headphones and her tablet but we only had limited times we could charge the tablet and obviously we couldn’t bring half the house with us so craft things etc had to be left at home. She also missed her guinea pigs!

This has turned into another post about Katie but she is the child that we focus on most of the time. There is so much more planning ahead and thinking of contingencies with her because she needs it and the other two don’t. To be honest I don’t think Alice and Matthew would have cared what we did while we were away. For them it was just a novelty to be in a tent and doing something different. They weren’t scared of the noises and the dark and it doesn’t affect them not to have all their usual toys around them or be out of routine. They probably would have had a good time regardless of where we went and they were happy to see John’s family because they had two more children to play with. We don’t have to pre-empt meltdowns and think about triggers for them. Overall I’m happy we had a fun trip together and for the most part it went well for Katie as well. There will be more camping trips in the future and I suppose as with anything we’ll keep watching Katie and talking to her to learn as we go and find the best ways to manage things for her and with her.

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