Martin and Evelyn Conneely take us on a tour of holidays with their son Jack…
From a drawer in the wilds of Connemara to a five star hotel with a view of the pyramids, Jack, our “special” son, has had plenty of exposure to holiday experiences.
He is an only child, born in 1990- Our early holidays with Jack were with family in Galway. We had the use of a deserted house near Maam Cross but did not have a car and our luggage had to be minimal. So the paraphernalia now associated with babies was not a runner for Jack. Which is how he came to be sleeping in a drawer on his first “holiday”. He coped well with the intermittent lack of running water in that old house and was fascinated by the spiders and the open fire. Due to broken fences, the house was always close to invasion by sheep, an excitement he loved. The little stream that ran through the front “lawn” of that house was a source of intense interest to him as a dam-builder.
An early digestive problem had been resolved by then and there did not seem to be any particular angles arising from his “special” status. When foreign holidays became possible, it never occurred to us that our freedom would be less than other parents and we were also very inclined to ramble by our natures. We had no-one to compare Jack to. Any youngish child would need to be carefully minded anyway. His health has also been very good for decades, which was a great help, though we learned to always bring antibiotics as they came in handy a few times.
So Jack had his first plane journey at age 4, when we went to Spain. From then on, he became used to planes and the pre-9/11 airport routines were not as stressful. On planes, he loves to study the menu and order his choices. He also participates in finding the transport to the accommodation when we arrive and the sorting out of luggage and claiming spaces. He is by nature a water-baby and those early outdoor pools in Spain, and later France, and even a strange camp in rural Czech Republic, were a joy for him, with slides, pool games, and usually an ice-cream break.
His uncle’s London house also provided an exciting holiday venue in his very early days, where he learned to love the roundabout in Covent Garden (not to mention the delights of the ice-cream there), the Science Museum, the boats on the Thames, the British Museum, the London Transport Museum and all the other buzzes provided by London in the 1990s, when it was a little less frenetic.
Soon after buying our first car, we tried out camping in Ireland. An early favourite was the Nore Valley Camp in Bennettsbridge, Co. Kilkenny, which includes a farm, with animal feeding and petting each morning. He took very much to the tent and the sleeping bags and the crazy golf there. The excitement of close access to the petting animals proved too much for him once, in his early days, and he “borrowed” a rabbit and ran back to the tent with it. While that campsite is “strict” and would be a disappointment for those who wish to drink, dance and sing in the early hours, the watchful stance of the owners is beneficial in our circumstances.
This “Kilkenny camping” is now an annual event. We have been joined there for many years by his close friend, John, and our presence is not very necessary when they are a pair. They love the freedom, the fresh air, the trailer rides and breakfast al fresco beside the tent (or in the barn-with-a-view on rainy mornings).
Dingle is another favourite camping spot, and it also provides an opportunity to meet Fungie, an acquaintance renewed annually for many years. The boatowners in Dingle were very kind to him and he often travelled free.
The camping experience in Ireland emboldened us to try something similar in the US and Canada and we did epic journeys there, for example travelling from the top of western Canada down to Malibu in the suburbs of Los Angeles. Jack took it all in his stride, from the wild campsite in Port Hardy where animal skulls marked out the longterm pitches of regular clients (probably fishermen or loggers who came and went at intervals) to the camping site in Malibu Creek National where MASH was filmed long before we camped there.
We also did the conventional stuff, like a studio visit to Warner Brothers, the LA Tour of Celebrity Houses , presenting each other with fake Oscars outside the Kodak Cinema in Hollywood, walking across the Golden Gate Bridge and, when in Cape Cod, whale watching. Boston’s Duck Tour was also a hit with all of us.
Jack, Evelyn and Martin-at Lake Louise, CanadaAs intrepid travellers, the three of us have also shared hairy moments. A bear alert woke us one night in Yosemite, we overturned on a raft in the Czech Republic, a park bench was under serious consideration as a bed when we misread an Italian train timetable and had no connection at midnight, we lost our car in Siena for hours (a habit we also acquired in Dublin Airport until Jack copped on about taking a photo of the row and letter when we parked), torrential rains and winds have smashed our tents, and mosquitoes and other bugs have tortured us. But we’ve made it this far.
Jack and ourselves loved our marathon Egyptian odyssey – six flights, a river Nile cruise, a tour of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, a week in Luxor with King Tut’s gaff just across the river from us, and up at dawn to visit the Valley of the Kings, the searing heat of Aswan and a tour of the famous High Dam built in the 1960s to control flooding on the Nile.
He became a connoisseur of aquariums, being very impressed by the one in San Francisco and adoring the Beluga whales in the Vancouver Aquarium. There had been so many greatest hits, that the outstanding Genoa Aquarium was nearly a chink too wide. Vancouver’s Stanley Island was the scene of his young “driving test” in a non-mechanically propelled vehicle in the playground, and the “Licence” he got was a source of great pride.
He has experienced the great art galleries, the Uffizi in Florence, the Prado and Reina Sofia in Madrid, Vatican Museums and Sistine and the Peggy Guggenheim in Venice and the other Guggenheim in New York City. He pondered quizzically The Kiss by Rodin in Paris and the Calder mobiles in the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) and was so impressed by Jasper Johns that he bought a print of his flag for his bedroom, where it still hangs. He was even in the Louvre and in Monet’s gardens before birth as we visited Paris less than three months before he was born. Since being born, he’s made it back to Paris several times, and had the thrill of visiting Paris Disneyland when still young enough to be bowled over by it all.
The cultural wing of our travels has made him open to Dublin events in that line, too. He even went to see Krapp’s Last Tape with us in the Gate, probably the youngest Beckett fan there and the one who laughed loudest at the banana skin incident. As Michael Gambon played Krapp, but also Dumbledore in Harry Potter, Jack was thrilled to shake hands with him in the bar afterwards.
Back in Ireland, as we aged, we’ve got fonder of hotel breaks and Jack has learnt the “grammar” of booking into hotels, the layout of the facilities, is ever alert for in-room mini-bars and, in recent times, the availability of wifi. As a natural keep-fit fanatic, he really appreciates hotel pools and gyms. Though for many years we would supervise him in such situations, he is now semi-autonomous and would be far superior to either of us in terms of fitness and sport. In hotel gyms, with an age policy, we used to have to be on hand to prove his age (though he might be another age at reception to get him sharing the same room as us!).
Having found an ideal place to stay in Abenga, in Italy, in recent years, we paid a number of return visits and Jack got totally familiar with the layout there. In general, he picks up directions and routines very quickly and we probably underestimate his abilities in that line sometimes.
Because of our natural inclinations, travel was going to be a big part of the shared lives of the three of us. But having seen how it has given Jack confidence and provided an informal education in timetabling, reading, problem-solving, confidence-building, and the successful pursuit of happiness, we would recommend it as a way of boosting the lives of those with special needs who are able for it.