Why I’m helping the PTA

raffle-tickets

People chuckle and tell me I am good for getting involved. They may surreptitiously raise an eyebrow at my keenness to join the PTA and help with this event or that event. I mean my son’s only been at the school five minutes and here I am helping with the raffle, helping with the bonfire, helping with the committee, attending every PTA meeting so far this term.

But honestly, and though I tell people it is, none of this is for me. All of this raises money for the school. And the truth is I, we, owe the school so much. Oscar’s Autism meant deciding where to send him to school, was one of the most stressful decisions I’ve ever had to make. But so far, I’ve yet to be proved that the mainstream school we chose was the wrong decision.

The school are due so much more than I can ever give them. In just this term alone, Oscar’s speech and behaviour and understanding and capacity has out and out exploded. And that’s not something I’ve done. Not something I could have ever done on my own. It’s a mixture of everything they’ve done for him and with him. Their patience, their insistence that he be included.

Yes I get involved. Yes I do my bit. Yes I raise funds. Yes I give back.

But no matter how much I do, or raise, or give to the school, it could never be as much. Not nearly as much…

As they have done for us.

 

Halfords Black Friday Giveaway

Oscar’s Autism meant that he didn’t start using language in any meaningful way until he was 3 and a half. And yet every day since then it seems like he learns another word, grasps another concept, answers another question. For me it’s thrilling. Only last night did he described his book case as a “library”! Asking for things has also been slow to arrive. We focused for the longest time on getting him to express his needs, which he still sometimes struggles with to be honest. So you can imagine, asking for things he wants, verbally, hasn’t been high up on his agenda. Until recently. Suddenly he can tell me when he’s hungry and two weeks ago he told me he wanted a bike. And when your child, who has only just (at four and a half) learnt to sit for long enough in order to learn to pedal, asks you, with words, for a bike, you start looking for a bike. Believe me.

If you follow me on Facebook you’ll have seen I asked my lovely readers where they’d recommend when looking for a first bike, particularly one that was good quality but also value for money. The answer from almost everyone who joined the discussion was Halfords. To be honest I’d completely forgotten Halfords did bikes but I had so many recommendations for them, I couldn’t not check them out online. I had no idea how much a child’s bike cost. Looking around the internet it would appear you can happily pay whatever you like. Bikes are one of those things I think. So I was pleasantly surprised to find the ones at Halfords weren’t crazy expensive.

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Now I don’t know about you, but I love a bargain. I’m the kind of person that takes great pride in finding something I want in the sale. However, I’ve never really got involved with the whole Black Friday thing. The images of people trampling each other to get a cheap telly always left me cold. There’s no bargain on Earth worth that kind of behaviour. But then I saw that, this year, Halfords are having an online Black Friday sale on 25th November. Not a trampling in sight. They are discounting things every day until the main event on 25th and I’m keeping my eyes on the site but I think I’m going to wait for the biggie, the main event on 25th, to be in with a chance of a really decent discount.

Now I love a bargain, but what’s a bigger bargain than free? Alongside their Black Friday discounts Halfords are also running a Black Friday Giveaway. You can enter any time up until 22nd November to be in with a chance of winning one of three prizes of either £2000, £1000 or £500 worth of Halfords goods. That’s a lot of Christmas pressies right there! I’ve put a link to the Halfords Black Friday Giveaway page in the image below.

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I’ve entered. And you’ve got until 22nd to do the same! Good luck!

Right, back to looking at bikes. I only hope Oscar doesn’t ask for anything more expensive. Like his own private jet or a Ferrari. If he asked me with words, I’d probably get it for him!

 

This is a collaborative post.

SEN Family on Holiday at Moonfleet Manor

When we decided to go back to Moonfleet Manor this September, I was not only really looking forward to it (we had such a great time when we went two years ago) but I was super interested to see how the hotel would cope with us as an SEN family. Could they accommodate the needs Oscar, as an autistic child has, and give us as parents (and adults) a decent break too?

Moonfleet Manor in Weymouth

Moonfleet Manor in Weymouth

Preparation

I started to get a feeling that they just might, even before we arrived. Weeks before our stay I phoned the hotel to book Oscar into the onsite creche, sessions of which are included in the room price. I spoke to the Ofsted registered creche manager and explained about Oscar’s Autism and asked whether they would be able to cope if he came to spend time with them. She couldn’t have been any clearer that he would be welcomed with open arms, and explained they regularly have guests with disabilities including those on the Spectrum. Without prompting she asked whether we would like them to assign a member of creche staff to be Oscar’s one to one during his sessions. I was blown away by this as it was exactly what he needed, but was something I’d never thought they’d be able to provide. They continued to outdo themselves when, several days later, they emailed me a picture of the staff member who would be his one to one, so I could prepare Oscar beforehand. Again, above and beyond and highly appreciated.

I tried to prepare Oscar as best I could for the upcoming holiday, by talking about the hotel, showing him videos from Moonfleet’s website and making him a visual board which we stuck to the lounge door for a week beforehand. He looked at it every time he went past and was soon telling me he needed to go swimming. By the time we left he was pretty excited I think.

Oscar's Moonfleet Manor Holiday visual board

Oscar’s Moonfleet Manor Holiday visual board

The journey to Weymouth, in Dorset was easy (and made all the easier by Thomas the Tank Engine films on the iPad!). We arrived too early to get access to our room, but the staff happily checked us in and gave us our room name so we could order lunch. Oscar had a little wander round the gorgeous hotel lounges, looking at the vintage pieces on the walls, before finding the garden. We thought he’d be drawn to the trampoline, having been sat in the car for two hours, and he might have been had he not seen the giant sandpit. He happily installed himself and his trains in the sand, leaving us to have a coffee and a biscuit, bought out to us in the garden. Aaaaaand relax. The fact that the sandpit was in a gated enclosure was a nice touch and the huge garden itself was fairly secure, although this did rely heavily on other guests closing the gate to the car park, which not all did.

boy in sandpit

Oscar adored the giant sand pit at Moonfleet Manor

The sandpit at Moonfleet Manor was in a gated enclosure, great for small children or those who need a little more secuirty

The sandpit at Moonfleet Manor was in a gated enclosure, great for small children or those who need a little more security. Plus, look at that view!

Coffee cup

When someone brings you coffee and a cookie almost as soon as you arrive, you know its going to be a good holiday!

Creche

At 3pm, we took him to his first creche session. We had booked him in for four sessions over the two days so were hopeful that would give us (and particularly me 😉 ) some time and space to be alone. We were introduced to his one to one, Tara, who we chatted to about Oscar’s likes and dislikes etc. She asked some really relevant questions that kind of took me aback a little, until she told me she was also the mother of a SEN child herself and spoke Makaton at home. As any SEN parent knows, our children take a special kind of patience and knowing Tara had real life experience of this gave me even more confidence in his time at the creche. As I expected he would, Oscar ran straight in, excited to play with all the new toys (including of course the trains and track) and we were free for two hours.

Room

We checked into our room without Oscar, which allowed us both to lay out his things ready for him (making the unfamiliar a bit more friendly) but also to look round our accommodation. I was thrilled with the room. We had a Deluxe Two Bed Family room and couldn’t get over the space this afforded the three of us. As well as our huge (ridiculously comfy) bed and the generously proportioned bathroom (with bath, shower and double sinks), the room also had two twin beds, which were cleverly separated from the main room, giving the feel of two rooms. And each room had its own window, meaning that although this was a large space it didn’t feel too dark. Plus, what a view!

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The lounge area of the room. Behind those doors was a real surprise!

Double sinks! As the room could sleep a family of up to five I'm sure this detail would be most appreciated.

Double sinks! As the room could sleep a family of up to five I’m sure this detail would be most appreciated.

Moonfleet Fleet

View from our room at Moonfleet Manor. Across the gardens and down to the Fleet.

This was a wonderful and unexpected touch as we were worried how Oscar would cope with sleeping in the same room as us. As it happened he had a generously proportioned ‘room’ all to himself, with twin beds, it’s own storage and own TV. This room could have slept up to three, with a camping style bed being included at the foot of the twin beds. This had been made up despite us not needing it, and blow me, if Oscar didn’t insist on sleeping in it (very well I might add!) both nights! Funny child 😉

beds

Oscar’s room was separated from us, which gave him his own space and a choice of beds!

When we bought Oscar up to the room after his creche session (and our relaxed Cream Tea in the lounge in our favourite chairs in the bay window!) he ran around giggling, jumping on the beds and then proceeded to get his trains out and play with them on the coffee table in the living room area. It was so nice to have that extra room and it gave him the space to regulate himself in peace after busy sessions in the creche/pool/garden etc.

We booked our cream tea before we arrived. Happiness in a scone. PS this jam cream combo is THE only way ;)

We booked our cream tea before we arrived. Happiness in a scone. PS this jam cream combo is THE only way 😉

Food

One of the things we loved about Moonfleet last time was their ability to feed all age ranges so thoughtfully. Despite Oscar being a rather anxious eater, we knew there would probably be a few things he would eat on the menu and we were right. However, we hadn’t considered how difficult the dining room might be for him. The first night he managed it, just about. Although he didn’t get upset, there was just waaaaay too much going on for him to concentrate on eating. Or sitting. Add to that a new(ish) food and it just all got a bit much and we left before things spiralled. The next night, after a busy day in the creche and the pool, we just figured he’d be more comfortable and eat more if we ordered room service. It couldn’t have been easier and they bought up his naan bread pizza and fries with the requested squash in minutes. It was a genius plan and I was just so grateful that it’s a service the hotel are happy to provide. It made such a difference and he ate the whole meal. It was also another time we were so grateful for the extra space the room provided.

He loved the naan bread pizza at Moonfleet Manor, but struggled with the dining room

He loved the naan bread pizza at Moonfleet Manor, but struggled with the dining room

Deciding to order him room service was an inspired plan. Oscar was thrilled it arrived with a 'hat'. I told him not to get used to it ;)

Deciding to order him room service was an inspired plan. Oscar was thrilled when it arrived with a ‘hat’. I told him not to get used to it 😉

He ate much more in our room and was much more comfortable.

He ate much more in our room and was much more comfortable.

Breakfast was equally good with a menu to chose from or a running buffet of cooked breakfast items, along with the usual cereals, pastries etc. Again Oscar struggled a little with the dining room, although being tempted with Nutella on toast and the pastry basket was enough to get him to eat something and give us time to do the same. However, not before he insisted 8am was time for the sand pit! And who were we to argue? It was after all his holiday too!

Prebreakfast sand pit action.

Prebreakfast sand pit action.

There were healthyier options thank pain au chocolat and chocolate muffins on offer for breakfast at Moonfleet Manor, but I wasnt going to argue. It was his holiday too after all!

There were healthier options than pain au chocolat and chocolate muffins on offer for breakfast at Moonfleet Manor, but I wasn’t going to argue. It was his holiday too after all!

Baby Listening

The excellent food continued into the evening and due Moonfleet Manor’s wonderful baby listening service, we were able to thoroughly enjoy it! Each night we kept Oscar’s bedtime routine the same as home, meaning when he got into this new bed he was ready for sleep. We called down to the reception to turn the baby listening service on and left him, with fingers crossed. And bless him if he wasn’t out like a light both nights! It was just so nice to have that time, sans child, to eat a delicious meal together, all the while knowing he was safe and monitored. We did see the receptionist come and find several families over the course of the two evenings. The majority of our fellow guests had young toddlers and babies, so that didn’t surprise me, but it did comfort me to know someone was actually listening!

Evenings

Our evenings, just the two of us, were wonderful. So relaxed and so much fun. It really did feel like ‘going out’ for dinner both nights. We dressed up, although you totally didn’t need to. We started the evening with drinks and nibbles in the lounge, where we were bought the menu to order from. We were then called to our table when our food was imminent. And the food itself was delicious. We played a game of who won each course both nights and disagreed over the outcome of most, as everything was so good. Plus Ben had goats cheese and who can ever win with goats cheese!

Wine and nibbles before dinner. I can highly recommend the the Preignes le Vieux Viognier

Wine and nibbles before dinner. I can highly recommend a bottle of the the Preignes le Vieux Viognier!

My winning dinner

My winning dinner

Although Ben was adamant his choice was the winner

Although Ben was adamant his choice was the winner. He was wrong though!

Spa

Our opportunity to relax while Oscar was looked after in the creche continued in the onsite spa. Both Ben and I booked treatments for our second day. I had a body wrap and a pedicure and Ben a facial and massage. The fact that the hotel has a fully functioning spa onsite, would be a draw for any stressed out parent. We made our appointments at opposite ends of the day so neither one of us would be left to look after the boy alone.

Heated bootees in the Moonfleet Manor Spa! Stylish!

Heated bootees in the Moonfleet Manor Spa! Stylish!

I love a good pedi!

I love a good pedi!

While Ben went to have his treatments in the afternoon I had a nap!

While Ben went to have his treatments in the afternoon I had a nap! A nap! Imagine that!

Pool

As it happened my nap was disturbed half way through as Oscar had managed to wet every pair of trousers I had taken down to the creche for him (toilet training is a new and ongoing process for us). I took some more down to him, however once he saw me it became apparent he didn’t want to stay. I didn’t mind and chose instead to take him to the pool next door.

Moonfleet Manor has a three small pools onsite, a baby pool, a small learning pool and a larger swimming pool. While it may not be as fancy looking as some other spa hotel pools I’ve seen, it certainly worked for us.

pool

I was unable to take my own photos in the pool and this is an old one taken before this year’s renovation. Those pillars are no longer there.

Having not been swimming for a long time I wasn’t sure how Oscar would react. I needn’t have worried. He was most interested in the swimming lessons taking place in the learning pool (all babies or young children) and happily snaffled a couple of pool noodles to play with from the teacher. I still don’t know where he found a pair of Peppa Pig armbands, but find them he did. Once he put them on there was literally no stopping him. We were in the pool for two hours and in the end I had to practically drag him out, he was having so much fun. So much in fact that we decided not to put him into the creche the morning of our departure and instead both took him to the pool. He just loved being in the water so much! I am definitely going to have to look into one to one swimming lessons for him.

As the pool wasn’t too large I could relax about him getting lost and it never got busy enough to be too much for him. The only thing that could have been better for me were the changing rooms. The facilities were unisex and yet there were very few cubicles. On days busy with guests or swimming students this would mean you could end up changing in front of the opposite sex. Not ideal to say the least. However, there were decent baby changing facilities, free lockers, towels and toilets within the changing rooms. I would recommend changing into your swimwear in your room, meaning you only have to use the facilities at one end of your swim. Unless, unlike me, you have no body image issues!

The Verandah

One of Moonfleet Manor’s other assets is it’s enormous, and I mean enormous, play barn The Verandah. As we were only there for two days, we barely had time to fit it in, but did pop in for a quick run around before departing the hotel. Anything to let him burn off a bit of energy before getting in the car! He LOVED it, just as much as last time, and we actually ended up having this giant space, filled with soft play, trampolines, climbing equipment, football pitch, piano, ride on toys and air hockey tables to ourselves!

The Verandah. More fun than you could shake a stick at in one enormous room. Perfect for wet days!

The Verandah. More fun than you could shake a stick at in one enormous room. Perfect for wet days! Includes giant clambering beanbag bunny!

Oscar and daddy having a go at the highrope

Oscar and daddy having a go at the slackline

The boy's first game of air hockey. He thought it was hilarious every time he let a goal in!

The boy’s first game of air hockey. He thought it was hilarious every time he let a goal in!

Again the room was fairly secure and was a great place for Oscar to get some vestibular and propreoceptive sensory feedback! It also had a nice array of comfy seats for the adults, not that we got to use them!

Impressions

Moonfleet Manor remains a beautiful place to go. The amount of facilities available to all ages are more than you’d find at most other holiday resorts let alone other hotels and I’m so glad we went. Oscar’s issues with the dining room did make me realise how differently we manage food and it’s consumption at home. I came away feeling like self catering would have been much easier. For him and for us in terms of his behaviour. However, he’s since started school and is slowly learning to eat in a room with lots of others, which makes me think actually this wouldn’t be an issue again. But if it is for you I would highly recommend the room service option!

The staff couldn’t have been more friendly or helpful. Not once were ever made to feel we were any different to any other family. When, during his first session in the creche, Oscar needed a change of clothes. The hotel manager came to find us and once we’d grabbed the clothes insisted he take them over himself so we could resume our sitting/schlomping in the chairs by the window! A gesture that was most appreciated. Those two hours sure do fly by!

All the facilities aside, my favourite thing about Moonfleet Manor is it’s location. The views from the hotel and gardens down to the Fleet and Chesil Beach were just what I needed after a very stressful summer. Peaceful and calming, they breathed new life into all of us as a family.

Evening explore

Evening explore

Boats on the Fleet

Boats on the Fleet

The field of horses next to the garden were a great hit with Oscar!

The field of horses next to the garden were a great hit with Oscar!

Just like when we visited with a toddler, we came to Moonfleet Manor with our autistic son, looking for a chance to rest. We did just that.

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A beautiful day begins at Moonfleet Manor.

 

 

 

We would like to thank Moonfleet Manor for supporting us on our visit to their hotel. We paid for our room and treatments ourselves, however were gifted a complimentary room upgrade for this review.

As always all opinions are honest and my own.

You can find out more about Moonfleet Manor and the Luxury Family Hotel chain on their websites.

 

 

 

Tomorrow

I never had that rush of love in the hospital when Oscar was born. The feeling everyone tells you about. That sudden lightening bolt of realisation that this is what life is all about and has been all along. No, I never got that.

Although it’s not something I’ve discussed before, the truth is, I spent so much of my pregnancy convinced the embryo, then the foetus, then the baby wouldn’t make it into this world, that when he did, all I felt was relief. I spent so long preparing for him not to arrive that when he did it was hard to reconcile that fact.

His earliest days in the hospital were harder than I ever imagined and being immobilised and traumatised by an emergency c-section, meant every ounce of energy I had was spent on just getting through the next minute. I don’t remember ever feeling love in those early days.

The first time I remember feeling anything close to the ‘rush of love’ people talk about was about three weeks later. It was the middle of the night. I guess he’d just been fed. Ben was asleep and I had just laid Oscar down in my crossed legs where he promptly fell fast asleep, something he wasn’t overly keen to do in the Moses Basket that night. It made me chuckle and I looked down to take a photo of the cheeky sleep thief lying there in my legs and boom! I realised I loved him.

baby asleep on a bed

The moment I realised I actually loved my son.

Fast forward (because it really has been fast) to today, four and a half years later. Today I am preparing for tomorrow; his first day at primary school. I have his uniform all ready. Everything is labelled, I just need to wash his coat and pack his bag. Ben has a couple of trouser hems to take up and then we’re ready. Only of course we’re not.

I thought I was. Summer has been hard and to be honest I’ve been ready to let someone else help with the effort of raising an autistic child for a while now. But turns out today I can’t stop crying. Big gulping sobs. All I can think about is my baby. The difficult, confusing, terrifying, baffling baby and wondering where did he go? The pain is visceral and I have wondered today whether this is why people have more than one child? To delay having to feeling this sadness? To know that’s it for them? That parenting a baby, a toddler is over? Maybe not. But right now it seems like as good a reason as any.

I’m writing this on his bed. Looking round his room that still has vestiges of the nursery it once was.  The pirate decal, the baby swimming certificates, the shelf where we kept nappies and wipes and nappy sacks. This room could do with a refresh I know that. Some things have already gone. The cotbed, the rocking chair, the changing mat. But I just can’t bring myself to change everything just yet.

Anyway, tomorrow. Despite being registered for transport, we’ll be taking him ourselves on his first day. I want to be there, to be able to reassure him. Hell, I want to stand by his side all day and make sure everyone understands who he is and what he wants. But I can’t. They will have to learn. Just as I did.

This is not a letter to my son on the eve of his education journey. It’s not an essay to discuss the benefits or downfalls of children starting school at this age. Its not about how I’m not ready to let him start moving away from me, or how frightened I am for him, an autistic child, making his way in a world that wont always understand him. I mean it’s a bit of all of things, but really it’s just a mummy,whose relationship with her son has never been easy, confessing how much she loves him.

And from three weeks old, always has.

When Summer isn’t all about making memories

The consensus across the sentiments I see expressed on social media, is that parents have spent a lot of energy this summer, relishing the time they have with their children, and working really hard to make it as special as they can, so that they never look back and say they wasted these young days. That when these days are over they will miss the chaos and the muddy knees and the laughing and trips to the beach. And I don’t doubt it. But while you may have adored the summer holidays, being with your children and making wonderful memories, for me eight weeks without barely a break has been too long.

And that makes me insanely jealous.

Our summer holidays started well. Oscar began happily enough. I loved not having to get up and dressed in time to walk the miles a day to take him to preschool. It was enough. But within a few weeks the iPad had taken over our lives and try as I might to set up activities at home, mostly I felt like I was whistling in the wind. I had to take him out of the house, to the park, or to the shops on errands, just in order to get him away from the screen. Cause when he falls into the vortex that is Youtube Kids, I may as well not exist.

It’s my fault of course. I gave him the damn thing in the first place. Downloaded the stupid app in an attempt to stop him googling pictures of trains, which would lead to videos of trains on real Youtube, which lead to videos that weren’t wholly (or sometime at all) appropriate. I can’t blame anyone but myself.

But unlike last year where he spent a large portion of the summer hols watching Team Umizoomi on TV, which seemed to improve his language no end, this summer, his language seems to have stalled. And in the last few weeks the echolalia is back; repeating scenes from YouTube videos over and over. He hasn’t done that for so long. At least he now brings me into his script, teaching me what to say and when. For example:

Oscar comes over to Mummy: “Mummy (say) Oscar, what you talking about?”

Mummy: What are you talking about Oscar?

Oscar: It’s a ghghghghost train drive here last night

Mummy: Where?

Oscar: Last night (something I cant quite make out) made my wheels wobble

Mummy: You are a silly engine, I’m not afraid of ghosts

Over. And Over. And Over.

A friend with older autistic children has suggested this could be his attempt to make order out of the chaos. That for him, not going regularly to preschool (his established routine) is starting to make him anxious. It could be. I thought we were doing OK, but his behaviour has started to suggest he’s not doing quite so great. No full on melt downs yet, but lots of resistance to doing anything. And an obsession with anything Thomas related. He’s always been a fan but this summer he’s taken that to another level. Again, I’m assuming it’s familiarity in an unfamiliar routine. An attempt to make sense of our world.

We have had a few nice days. We went on our Day out with Thomas, he’s been to Challengers twice (which he loved – I hear. He never tells me of course), we’ve had the paddling pool in the garden and sojourns to the swings. But there have been no day trips out out. Because I don’t drive if it’s not on a train or a bus I can’t do it. But even if it was on a train line, the thought of taking him ‘out out’ alone scares me. We have been to our local children’s centre a few times this summer, which has been mostly lovely (although it’s hardly LegoLand right?!) Anyway one day he had a good time but started to get stressed towards the end and I knew it was time to go. We went to the toilet before we left, when he started to cry and fight me. I had a banging headache that day and I ended up sat on the floor of the loos, trying to hold the tears in, just completely unsure of how I was literally going to get him home. Because everywhere we go is under my own steam and I seriously wasn’t sure I had any left.

I did get him home (he calmed down as soon as we left), but that’s how I feel this summer has left us both. With little resources left. Somewhat frayed at the edges.

I’m not sure this is the best frame of mind to start school is it? Surely it would be better to be rested and raring to go. But I’m pretty sure that’s not how he feels. At a guess I’d say stressed, bored, lonely even. Probably sick of my face. I’m hoping our short break to Moonfleet Manor next week is a good idea. He’ll have so much to do and lots of new things to play with. I doubt he’ll remember our last visit so I’m making him a visual reminder. But I am hopeful that we’ll all come back a bit more…. if not rested, then more ourselves.

Because this summer has left me like my Woody and Florence AUTISMMAMA bracelet.

Worn thin and ready to break.

Worn thin and ready to break

Worn thin and ready to break