Holidays funnel my life. They distil my stresses and strains into a finite experience. They polarise the difference between being a mum to each of my boys.

Every parent knows that once you have children, holidays are never the same again. Relaxing breaks riddled with lie-ins, evenings out and lazy pub lunches become a fond and distant memory. Holidays become trips, adventures, or, as my friend Sarah puts it, “A different sink.”

We had always planned to travel with our kids. I imagined myself trekking through India with a tot strapped to my chest, being all ‘earth mother’, but that didn’t happen. That was never going to happen. Even without the complexity of my eldest son’s needs, I’m more Marge Simpson than earth mother but my son’s differing needs throughout a holiday is apparent before we even leave the house. It starts unravelling with the packing. The family-sized car that was once more than adequate suddenly becomes too small for a tiny baby, his sibling and his parents.

Equipment is needed for everything.

As my kids grow up the differences in mothering each of them multiplies. Here’s a brief summary of our holiday’s packing for my two boys aged 7 and 8.

 Clothes (Tops, bottoms, PJs, pants, socks and shoes). Same as Jonah (except most of them have been adapted) and add on spares for accidents, neckerchiefs, AFOs (leg splints) and hand splints.
Walking boots. 20kg all-terrain wheelchair strapped to the top of our wheelchair-adapted tank of a vehicle.
Scarf teddy (to help with sleeping). Memory foam mattress (yep, we pack a mattress for a holiday!) Adapted sheets to hold the foam supports that make up a sleep system to hold our son in place and weighted blanket.
No need to pack anything as we pass enough trees and bushes to use as a loo! Toilet seat (full size commode) and massage table to use as a changing bench.
Lego and books. Ipod, speakers for wheelchair (these broke on the way – thank goodness for Amazon Prime), selection of DVDs, iPad and books.
Money for food and snacks. Milk pump and charger, giving sets, containers, milk for 2 weeks (forget any of these and you’re stuffed, none can be bought in Tesco, Sainsbury’s or even Waitrose).
N/A Twelve different types of medication in various liquid and tablet form with accompanying syringes.

Now I’m not detailing any of this to be grumpy. Each of these things means I can go out with my family. I appreciate the freedom we have today because there have been times when fits and ill-health have hampered our holidays.

That list, helps me feel justified in finding holidays exhausting. It is the same clock-watching juggle of medications, feeds, lifting and toileting, but without the specialist equipment of home. Holidays may be exceptional and wonderful but they remain heavy, even with the help of others.

Take our walk to the beach yesterday afternoon.

Holiday photo by beachThe road from our cottage snakes down a hill to the scenic Portbradden. Our trek is rewarded with an idyllic bay containing the smallest chapel in Northern Ireland. Quaint white and blue stone cottages and a spectacular view of steep green hills sweeping down to a long golden sandy beach. It’s only a ten-minute walk each way and my eldest son screamed for the duration. He didn’t stop. There were tears, snot, shouting the works. (Here’s the pic without the noisy sound track!).

I felt the need to explain his noisy tantrum to three different groups of people as his piercing screams broke the picturesque surroundings. When we got back I felt like I’d done a round with Mike Tyson. It’s hard not letting a difficult hour cloud an otherwise good day. I’m still learning to appreciate how far we have come rather than dwelling on what is still out of reach – and there is always tomorrow.

Holiday memories.

Well tomorrow was today and as expected it was heavy and tiring but also incredibleholidays cuddle and wonderful. It was a truly perfect beach day, topped off with dozing on the sand with my biggest boy in my arms. I love my boys and I love traveling, but those facts don’t make it easy to care for my boys and go on holiday.

Enjoying a holiday requires a very BIG helping of acceptance from me in order to enjoy what I can and recognise our limitations. Once I can see the beauty of good times woven alongside the harder times I begin to appreciate the pattern they create.

Sometimes I even let myself see how the grey of the struggle enhances the beauty and vibrancy of the golden moments.

(Edited 14 July 2022)

Written by Rachel Wright, Director and Founder of Born at the Right Time

Rachel is a qualified nurse and unqualified mum of 3, parenting a son with complex disabilities and life-limiting epilepsy. She’s an award winning blogger and the author of two books The Skies I’m Under and Shattered: God’s view through life’s broken windows.

Since founding Born at the Right Time in 2015, Rachel has tried to be funny whilst speaking about parenting a child with complex needs in places such as parliament, national and international conferences, local and national radio and digital TV. An expert through lived experience, Rachel works towards bridging the gap between families of children with complex conditions and the practitioners who support them.

To balance out her infatuation for salt ‘n vinegar crisps and hummus, Rachel regularly puts on trainers and goes for a run slow jog. Her middle son is writing a book titled, ‘My mum’s epic fails’. It is likely to have more than one volume.

Read more about Rachel’s experience of parenting in her memoir The Skies I’m Under’ or you can listen to her talk all things parenting disabled children on The Skies We’re Under podcast