We’re back – in one piece. If not mentally then at least physically!
I’d forgotten /blotted out from my memory how difficult family holidays can be with an Aspergic partner and parent.
In some ways, Ethan was the perfect companion – he did all the driving in France, programmed the sat nav so we never got lost, put together an itinerary in a shiny red ring-binder and organised the passports, insurance and euros. However, as a holiday companion to have fun with, relax with, socialise with he was, well, rather lacking.
This holiday was peppered with the frustrations, arguments, disappointments and exasperation that I should have known would be inevitable. We were living in close proximity (a tent) with three young children for ten days. It was like being at home – and then some!
Things that should have been fun and relationship-building (Ethan having a game of pool with Sam and Oliver) turned into heated arguments and sullen moods (Ethan got moody and detached when six-year-old Sam and four-year-old Oliver didn’t show enough enthusiasm for learning the proper rules and techniques of pool and wanted to do what all little boys want to do and whack the balls their own haphazard way – Ethan refused to play anymore). He bubbled over angrily with me as we were surrounded by happy, relaxed holiday-makers because I’d inadvertently turned my phone’s cellular access on and cost us – wait for it...£1.60. It wasn’t the expense that bothered him so much as the fact he’d told me not to turn it on. I’d broken his rule. It was too much. I’d reached saturation point. I swore at him and stomped off angrily. I was conscious that nine-year-old Ava was at the site’s pool party and was due to get out in the next ten minutes and needed at least one of us around. ‘But sod it,’ I thought, ‘he can take responsibility for once.’ It did cross my mind, briefly, that he might overlook the fact Ava would be getting out of the pool any minute, but I pushed the thought away – no, we’d been at the bar right next to the pool before I stomped off, he’d watched Ava play in the pool through the railings, we’d talked about the fact the party finished at 9.30pm. I carried on stomping and fantasised about divorce.
By 9.40pm I was calmer. I was starting to come around to the idea of working things out rather than throwing things (him) out. As I turned the corner though, I spotted Ethan, without Ava, casually taking photos of the river. The fury rose up in me like lava. I ran past him, reminding him of how useless and selfish he was as I went, and found Ava five minutes later cold, shivering and crying as she wandered around the campsite in her swimming costume in the dark wondering where her parents were.
Every emotion in me towards Ethan was negative at that moment: anger, disappointment, frustration, hurt, loneliness, despair...but, as I wrote this entry, we were travelling home together. A family, if not in harmony, at least intact. I think that’s probably the best we can hope for.
The rest of the holiday, like life, was mixed. There were some lovely times – like Ethan playing frisbee and catch with the boys outside the tent; A family game of football; A sociable day out at a theme park with a couple of other families. There were also some other really difficult moments when Ethan became stressed and overwhelmed or zoned out. There was an awful moment when he ran over Ava’s foot with a hand-pushed rollercoaster cart and, when she started screaming about her foot, told her ‘I don’t care’. The result was her screaming louder that she didn’t like him, how he was selfish and horrible – all in front of the other families we were with. A few minutes later when things were calming down, Ethan came over to ‘apologise’ to Ava except that his apology was ‘Why aren’t you wearing some decent shoes?’ Needless to say, another eruption (from me) followed.
Overall though, I think something shifted in me during the holiday. I realised – really realised - that, most of the time, he really doesn’t mean to sound the way he does, react the way he does or say what he does. That he spent most of the holiday feeling stressed, overwhelmed, over-stimulated, confused, tired and trapped. No chance of escape, not chance of downtime, not much sleep, none of the usual coping mechanisms of the computer/Iphone/TV and the relentlessness of people all around him every second of the day and night and the expectation on him to play the part of happy, sociable, fun father and husband. He just couldn’t do it. It did make me wonder whether holidays should exist specifically for families with an Aspergers parent in the mix. Everyone would know the score, there’d be more grace extended (in my imaginings) and space made for the Aspergers partner to have time alone – or maybe plugged into a technology booth onsite – while events were organised for the rest of the family. There’d be support from families for each other, and no one would stare or judge when arguments erupted. Maybe there’s an opening there...