Big Day Out from Hoylake Chapel – Family Day out to Walton Hall & Gardens, Warrington, UK
Saturday saw the first Big Day Out from Hoylake Chapel, my local church, and it was with some trepidation that we decided to take the children along. My husband owns a couple of buses so had volunteered to use the bus to transport families to the venue so it was really just a matter of deciding which children to take with us on the day. As my parents and my brother were also going on the trip, it really was a family day out, there was only one potential babysitter. As they were otherwise engaged the choice was made for us. Our eldest, V, and youngest child, G, would be coming with us (with our middle child, E, away on a school trip).
I am always filled with some apprehension and dread with family days out, for several reasons. As you know, my children all have autism and the two coming with us on the trip also have an ADHD diagnosis along with some chromosomal abnormalities. Planning any trip at all, particularly with more than one of them involved, can be complicated. I knew that both children would find it very difficult to be with people they didn’t know very well, for this reason I had taken my car along to where the bus was departing and after around 30 seconds on the bus it was obvious that the noise and the unfamiliar faces was going to be too overwhelming so we hopped back into our car and followed behind.
I had packed a bag of snacks for the journey which seemed to placate them and we actually had some good conversations around various television programs and YouTube shows. I was starting to run out of ‘if you could choose one character to go to ….. with, who would you choose?’ questions by the time we got there but we made it in reasonably good spirits.
We parked up in the car park, £3.50 for a Saturday, and headed into Walton Hall & Gardens. The entrance is a bit odd, immediately in front of us was a small area which is currently still being developed, but there was a nice big map so we could see which way to head.
We opted for the Cafe, it had WiFi and a warm drink and the weather had been a little bit rainy off and on during the journey. The Cafe was reasonable enough, nothing spectacular but did the job, and was light and spacious inside. Unfortunately there was one thing that I hadn’t checked before we set out, a family entered with a dog and my youngest immediately declared that he wanted to go home.
All three of my children are afraid of dogs which makes planning family days out incredibly difficult.
There turned out to be a lot of dogs out with their owners for a pleasant stroll through the grounds, but not all of them were on leads and this is something that G really cannot cope with. I hadn’t checked before coming out but I would have assumed that being on a lead was fairly normal for this kind of establishment, definitely a mistake in my planning and it would be one that would signal the beginning of the end of the day.
We left the Cafe and stepped out into a light shower of rain. With G now in a raised state of anxiety and V looking around and finding very little of interest we decided to split up for a bit, tensions between the two children were fairly obviously escalating.
As I took G towards Walton Hall itself the light shower became more of a heavy downpour and again, the anxiety levels were rising. We sheltered under a tree and I took some photographs to try to make it more fun until the rain eased off!
We headed to the play area indicated on the map. I was really impressed with the play area, there was a great variety of equipment, including some for older kids like a zip line and it was all in excellent condition. There were lots of children playing and best off all there were no dogs allowed within the fenced off area so it was perfect for my youngest to run off a bit of his anxiety. We met back up with my husband and V and spent a little time there as the sun broke through and dried off the equipment.
There is a petting zoo next to the play area so I took V around it, partly for something to do for him, and partly to assess it for G.
The zoo was bigger than I expected, there was a reasonable range of animals and birds, though not as many animals as you would expect in the size of the plot. Perhaps they were hiding in their enclosures, there seemed to be a few with just one animal in them which was a bit sad. There were a lot of peacocks though. They were like sentinels sitting on the fences around the footpaths, hence I knew that there was no way G was going to be walking around the petting zoo. It was a shame really but you can’t please everyone!
V started to feel sick, I suspect it is anxiety and tiredness that brings on these symptoms, and it was becoming more and more obvious that he wanted to go home. G alternated between enjoying the play area and demanding to go home because a dog walked past or because one of the other children on the trip tried to play with him.
We managed to get them on a little road train that was made up to look like Thomas the Tank Engine but at that point we knew we were just playing for time. It was about 2.00pm and we had been there for around two and a half hours. The events that were planned for the Big Day Out were scheduled to start at 2.30pm and in hindsight it was a mistake not to wait until after lunch before heading out. Had we arrived at around 2.00pm we would have been able to get involved a bit more, although I’m not sure V would have been any happier about it!
I tried to convince them that we could walk around the formal gardens and that they were probably really pretty but it was evident that they’d given what they had to give and needed to go back home. I left my husband with our friends and family, as he needed to stay to drive the bus back, and we set off home. It was far quicker than the journey there as we traveled directly home, driving to the bus and following it to the venue had been another mistake but one I can learn from.
There’s always a part of me that wonders why We Bother trying to take part in day trips.
I’m not sure if it’s just a selfish part of me knowing it inevitably will end in shouting and screaming, e.g. with a dog off it’s lead or with fighting between the kids, which it did several times as V really wanted to be left alone and when G gets worked up he starts to express it by hitting out or saying things to deliberately upset the other person. Those parts seem so big when they happen that they drown out the good bits.
I try really hard not to look at other families who seem to find a family day out to be a lovely, happy experience from start to end. There may be the odd upset over a dropped ice-cream but that can be smoothed out with a replacement one, whereas with E a replacement just wouldn’t be good enough because she’d need that same exact ice-cream through some feat of magic.
V didn’t want to be there, he really struggles with anxiety and with self-esteem issues and would rather have been in bed with his mobile phone than outside anywhere at all. G wanted to be part of it but was on the sidelines, wanting to take part but not feeling able to. He spent a lot of time playing by himself or watching the other children. I think part of the reason I dread family days out is that I hate seeing that. I can’t figure out a way to make it all better for any of the kids. Each trip is a reminder of just how different my children are, of how much they struggle to enjoy things that other kids seem to find so easy. I always feel disappointed and guilty that I couldn’t make it easier for them. I end up feeling that I’ve let the whole family down.
Focus on the moments that make you smile
I only have to look at that picture of G to see that despite the frustration, the tears and the fighting he was enjoying himself. There were some real moments of laughter from both V and G during the day and it is those moments that make it all worth it. I have to accept that a family day out with my children may not run exactly the way I picture it in my head, that I may feel exasperated, frustrated, disappointed and at some times saddened, but those moments will be outweighed by seeing the kids smiling, hearing them talking and laughing together and looking back at the day to see how much they’ve tried. I’m so proud of my kids, I love them to bits and they deserve the same opportunities and experiences of any other child.
A day out looks different to every family, our family day out is unique to us and spending two hours at a great location with family and friends around isn’t a failure by any stretch.