We needed some serious downtime! We last holidayed in August 2014 and had a mostly lovely time in the New Forest, interspersed by terrible guilt trips and the stomach aches that hit you when you feel to your bones that it’s all wrong.
But since then, life’s been, well, difficult. We endured the back to school strain of my second daughter starting secondary school and also reaching her twelfth birthday (the same transitions we saw with Abi only two years before). Abi’s 14th birthday, Christmas and New Year followed in quick, emotional succession and then, to top it all, the second anniversary of her death, after which we had to prepare to celebrate my rainbow baby’s first birthday. Loss and Life so closely entwined. A rollercoaster is an accurate description of the emotional journey these events took us on. We’ve felt burdened by the strain of our loss and trying to cope with normal pressures of family life.
We realised we needed a proper break – something peaceful. The Easter school holidays were suddenly upon us and I’d left it too late to book anything. Booking a holiday in the May half term didn’t appeal either as it felt too far away and also didn’t solve the problem of needing to go away for a peaceful break. So, I chose a date at the end of April, slap bang in the middle of the school term, and searched on Google.
I’d always fancied visiting The Lizard. We frequently holidayed in north Cornwall when Abi was alive as it is just a few hours from home, south Cornwall always seemed a bit too far with kids in tow. So I searched for quiet self-catering accommodation in the area and found a beautiful cottage on a managed estate and in spitting distance to the beach. Perfect!
Taking our children out of school
We’ve been two years without Abi and are trying hard to establish a new life without her… doing that while living in the same place, having the same routines, doing the same jobs, seeing the same faces, is a challenge to say the least.
Making the decision to go away in the school term wasn’t one we took lightly. We’ve never deliberately taken our children out of school for holidays, the one time we did was to take the last day of term off in April 2012 to take the children to London to watch the royal wedding (William & Kate), a great memory!
The decision this time was very different as we were asking for an entire week off. The pace at which the schools move these days, a week can make a big impact on learning. I was honest and put in writing exactly why I felt taking our children out of school was more important than them being in school at this time. The schools aren’t able to authorize leave, and even though we were prepared to risk being fined in order to get this time away, we were relieved when both schools gave their consent (in fact blessing).
The penalty system is there to deter parents from interrupting their child’s learning rather than stopping a broken grieving family like ours in need of some respite. Although, being away for the first time since our children were in pre-school I was able to see why some families choose to take time out during term time. Everywhere is so much quieter and easier to get around, not least the significant difference in cost!
Braving the beaches
When we were in the New Forest, going to the beach was probably the hardest part. The beach was one of Abi’s favorite places. And some of our happiest memories were there – Abi playing happily with her siblings, building sandcastles and playing in the waves. It seems the only time they all got along! But on that day we were tense before we even hit the beach. When we arrived, the beach itself was stunning. It was heaving with holidaymakers but we found a spot and it wasn’t long till I noticed the first blonde-haired girl aged 12/13. I didn’t seek them out (I actually found I was looking down a lot of the time), they seemed to spring out all around me. I noticed happy children. Families relaxing in a way we never could again because one of us was dead now.
So a key aspect of our holiday plans this year was so that we could give our other children, and indeed our rainbow baby who was now walking, the opportunity to enjoy a beach visit with us. Without mum and dad feeling stressed. We needed some beach time, without the emotional strain.
Being out of school meant the few people on the beaches were either parents of little ones or workers on their lunch break. We could enjoy being together in peace. It still stung to know Abi wasn’t with us. As I looked at my son playing in the waves on his own I felt so sad that Abi, his playmate, wasn’t there for him. Or that my daughter didn’t have a sister to go pony riding with or have a giggle with as they play at being ‘teens’. She’d even be good at helping watch the baby while mum and dad had a doze. But being there, on the sand, just us and the blue sea and sky, I knew we’d done the right thing.
Learning and exploring
We crammed a lot into our week, although it didn’t feel that we hurried about at all. We tried to blend learning experiences into the week, I suppose as a way to help us feel less guilty about missing school. And while a lot of these things we could easily have done during a normal school holiday, having the space to do them without ‘Abi-like teens’ around us really helped us learn a new way to be together.
Here’s a summary of what we did:
We visited a number of popular landmarks. We went to Land’s End and took our photo by the famous post. The children played on the zip wire for as long as they liked because there was no one else there, wearing us out in the process! It was an amazing place for them to play.
We ate out in St Ives and I spent a funny fifteen-minute walk from the car park teaching my son and daughter the riddle ‘As I was going to St Ives’. I had to repeat it several times before they got it and stopped trying to add up the cats, sacks and wives! We had a gorgeous meal at a pub and ate an ice-cream as we looked at the boats in the dock.
We visited Mullion where my daughter and I (yes, me!) went to a stables and hired horses for a beach ride. We were taken through a short bridleway, to a small, secluded cove. It was my first ever hack. My daughter, a regular rider, this time having the upper hand. She fulfilled a dream of cantering on a beach.
We drove to The Lizard and walked along the edge. They were bored… more sea! We searched for basking sharks but instead were greeted by a seal playing in a secluded cove. They loved it there and didn’t want to leave. It was so close. Magical in the wild.
We went to Gyllyngvase beach, rated as one of the best in England. It was truly beautiful and we had great weather. We had time just to be. Finding dead crabs and beautiful polished pebbles. All we could hear was the sound of the waves.
I joined my son at the water’s edge and I taught him how to skim stones (well, he taught me as it happens as I was terrible at it!). My hubby took him to the rock pools in search of crabs.
My baby felt the freezing water on his feet at the water’s edge.
We watched the tankers and boats out at sea. We even witnessed a team of windsurfers attempt a record for the most surfers on a double board (the only group of people on the beach). We found their photos on Instagram later under the hashtag ‘gylly’.
We went swimming in the swimming pool by our cottage, which was lovely and warm and empty every time! Both my son and daughter built up water confidence (we’ve not felt inclined to go swimming much as a family since we lost Abi, another of her loves). They helped their baby brother, who was in a pool for the first time, clinging to me for dear life and by the end feeling brave enough to splash us.
We visited Falmouth town and learned how persistent pigeons are when you’re eating a traditional Cornish pasty on a bench!
We all learned about tides, about amazing rescues at sea, human endurance and survival, about boats, flotsam and Vikings at the National Maritime Museum (worth a visit if you’re in the area).
Seeing the calm sea change to choppy waves as the weather changed by the end of the week, bringing out surfers in droves and washing up a dead seal on our beach.
And then there’s the general stuff. The stuff that’s more important than anything else and is the glue that holds us together. Our children enjoyed Mum and Dad’s undivided attention. Not thinking about jobs to be done, bills to be paid and the things in our life that haven’t gone to plan. They were challenged to be brave. To share. To play without a computer or tablet. That even if you do have the most massive sulk you can find a way out of it. That holidays give us time to read, write and draw for pleasure. That we can enjoy a DVD together or time apart in different rooms. That they were safe.
This I know is the true benefit of our week away. And we feel some sense of refreshment. It won’t make life cheery, it won’t change what has happened and what we miss, but it is the start of something new. The first building block to a new way of finding happiness and making memories.
We’ve already booked our next holiday, this time in the school summer holidays. We know this is something we’ll need to do from now on, but our recent holiday has helped us get to that point with greater confidence. We’re going back to the New Forest, and this time taking my daughter’s friend too. Yet again a new experience for us and a way of doing things differently in this new life we have.
But I do hope that we can go back to Cornwall again in the not-too-distant future. It was beautiful!
P.S. I’m glad I’ve recorded this in a post. I asked my son what he liked most about holiday, and he said getting a Lego comic from the Co-op! Perhaps I can show him this in years to come!