We have had a lovely Christmas break at Centre Parcs in Whinfell forest in Cumbria.

Last year Toby didn’t cope with all the Christmas festivities and just stood at the door crying for his taxi to school. Having vowed to not put any of us through that again we decided to cancel our usual plans and go on holiday instead! 

We set off on Wednesday (23rd) and when Toby saw the bike rack and bikes on the back of the car he gave two claps and a thumbs up! For someone who is non-verbal this is great communication! He knew that the bikes meant that we were off on holiday and after an unsettled first few days of the school holidays, we were all looking forward to a break.

 We arrived and once checked in we headed straight for the pool – we spent a lot of time in the Subtropical swimming complex and it was lovely to see Toby really enjoying the water. He made his own little routine – big pool, lazy river, children’s pool, big slides! After he had done this little routine we were free to repeat parts or go in the outdoor pool and other areas but it was sweet to see him sticking to his own little routine everytime that we went swimming.

Toby has very little awareness of danger or of other people and so keeping him safe in the pool can be a challenge. For example as he doesn’t respond to his name or instructions, stopping him from running off on the slippery floor or diving in the water without an adult to catch him proved challenging. As well, stopping him hugging and diving on stranger or pulling their swimwear also proved difficult! He had fun but I did find myself apologising to a lot of strangers about his unusual behaviour.
 Ted loved the water too and it was lovely to see him enjoying himself, especially on the big slides – he does take after his brother! We swam everyday and we went in first thing Christmas morning – it was lovely and quiet as I guess most people were too busy opening presents and playing with toys to want to go swimming – but not Toby! I guess there’s not many people who can say they swam outside on Christmas morning either…brrrr! We even had our Christmas dinner in the poolside cafe – chicken dippers and chips for Toby – I guess not many people can say that either!  We had had our Christmas dinner at home on 22nd before we left which might have to become a bit of a tradition.

 At home when we go swimming, we always take little bottles of water and hula hoops for after swimming for the kids and so when we got out of the pool on the first day, Toby looked at me and put his hand to the corner or his mouth and did the sign for food! Again this was amazing for Toby as he very rarely signs anything but he was concerned that I had forgotten the routine – in fact I hadn’t and he was most pleased when I showed him the drink and hula hoops in the bag!

The village felt really magical and Christmassy and both the boys enjoyed seeing the winter wonderland lights in the dark. We also decided to go wave Santa off in the village Center on Christmas Eve; there was a great atmosphere (and lots of excited children) however it was a little too busy for Toby.

After being told that all the day visitors passes had sold out we didn’t think that we would get to see any family members over Christmas but after several phone calls and emails my parents and a few of my siblings managed to visit us on Christmas Eve. Joel and I even managed to sneak off and have a visit to The Pancake House – somewhere Toby wouldn’t have coped with.

Christmas itself felt very different but in a really good way! We didn’t make a fuss on Christmas morning and as I mentioned above we just went for a swim and Toby enjoyed his chicken dippers and chips for lunch. If anything it felt to Joel and I as if we had five days of Christmas as the whole holiday felt like a much needed break. Center Parcs feels like a different world. Life happens at a much difference pace and I think Toby enjoys the peace and safety of being in the forest. Having very few cars on site keeps the noise levels down and when out and about in his pushchair, Toby decided he didn’t need ear defenders – he just sang happily away to himself. The trees also make it feel enclosed and dark which he also really likes.

The difference between this year and last Christmas couldn’t be greater. I remember feeling completely exhausted and overwhelmed by Toby and his behaviour and needs last year and sitting in tears booking Center Parcs for this year  promising myself that we would actually enjoy Christmas…and we did! Toby actually slept perfectly (for the first two nights) He obviously wanted to make the most out of his holiday as the following two mornings he got up at 3ish and was at the front door ready to go out by 6am!

The best thing was that Christmas itself actually worked for our family. I remember walking through the forest just feeling so thankful to be there, for our little family and for Jesus coming in to the world and into our world. I wasn’t wishing I was somewhere else or jealous of anyone else’s Christmas I was enjoying ours.

 We got home yesterday evening after an eventful journey due to landslides and floods! None of us wanted to leave – Toby cried and tried to run off when he saw the bike rack on the back of the car as he understood that it was time to leave. Toby has struggled to adjust back to normality since being back (he still up now when he had his medicine to help him switch off 2 hours ago!)

Since it worked so well we have booked Center Parcs again for next Christmas! Joel and I are already talking about it and looking forward to it – better get saving!!