“If you want, I’ll have Grace for a couple of days in the holidays…”
“Really? That would be amazing!”
Then up popped an opportunity I felt was too good to miss; The Secret Camp Out at Stockton, where I took Gemma for the Vintage Nostalgia Show. I checked out the details and booked it up – just Django, Grace and me in Wendy; a chance to figure out this little conundrum that is Grace and to enter her world for just a couple of days. I felt, as an auntie, that it was the very least I could do.
With little preparation (as usual), I headed off to Sherborne on Friday morning. I knew Grace was anxious and to be honest, so was I. It’s been quite some time since I spent more than a few hours with a 9 year old! Traffic was light so I got there at a good time, before 10, I think. Noush was up with Ben, who had kept her and Seb awake most of the night. Seb had left for work, leaving a scene that took me right back to the time when Harry and Gabe were little. You know, that too-little-sleep-too-much-to-do-and-it’s-the-summer-bloody-holidays feeling. Yeah, you all remember! So, like a good fairy Godmother, I swooped up Grace, put her into the van and left my tired niece to take her equally tired toddler back to bed… I knew right then that this was going to be one of the most worthwhile things I’d done to date. It felt good to be giving back.
We chatted non-stop as we drove: Grace missed nothing; naming all the cars behind, beside and in front of us, mentioning when I was sneaking over the speed limit and pointing out how far we had to go… It was like having another sat-nav in the van! She joined me in a little, ‘Woop-woop!’ when we arrived and was just as indecisive as me when it came to choosing a pitch. We settled for shade and a woodland backdrop, a fair distance from the Portaloos which bothered only me,
“I need a wee Grace, do you?”
“Yeah, but I’m not weeing in there…”
“Okay, so where are you going to wee?”
“In the woods.”
and she did.
She stood outside the portaloo, comfortably holding onto Django whilst I had a pee. Nothing I could say would convince her to enter the coffin-like plastic loo, and I was fine with that. Anyway, it’s cool to pee in the woods!
On our first walk about, we came across Michelle who has a vintage and hairdressing company called Popellas. This weekend she was offering hair braiding and silk extensions. Grace was drawn to her pretty bell tent, with all it’s colour and nomadic feel and I watched as she pushed herself forward to speak to Michelle, who was very chilled out and smiley. Django and I held back, only stepping in to ask about prices and when she’d be ready to do something in Grace’s hair. She told us to pop back in an hour, giving her time to set up. A happy Grace left, smiling and chatting about what she could have done.
Back at the van, Grace broke out her snacks – all healthy stuff, no fizzy drinks or additive-laden sweets. As I drank mocktails from Morrisons, Grace drank fresh apple juice. We chatted about school, bullies, family – the usual. She doesn’t miss anything; picks up on all the negativity that goes on around her from the occasional eye-roll to the unjust telling off – nothing is missed.
Except all the positives…
Grace doesn’t trust positive comments or actions. But sitting in Michelle’s bell tent, having beautiful silks put into her hair, well, look…
This girl, right then, melted my heart.
Michelle’s daughter, Ella and her friend, Amber, took Grace under their wing – as far under as she would allow. All the time she was with them I could see her guarded looks – never trusting them but seeming to have fun all the same. It gave me a chance to sit with Django and Michelle and have a good old chin-wag about life and festivals, vintage and VW camper vans – quite heavenly actually.
Dinner was crumpets from an Airstream Caravan that was having problems sorting out their generator. When we finally got our order (crumpets with beans and cheese for me and whipped cream and strawberries for Grace) an hour or so later, we were given a free muffin too. Grace said, “That’s for you Lizzie!” I told her it was all hers, and she gasped and said, “Thank you very much…” Around about this time she started missing her mum, dad and Ben. She told me every time there was a lull in the conversation,
“I know,” I said, “But that’s why we go away Grace, so that we learn to appreciate what we have at home…”
Grace talked a lot about walking home, she looked at Google Maps on her tablet so she could plot a route and then asked how she would unlock the van… I possibly slept with one eye open!
In the morning we ate our cereal bars and I left her in bed while I sought out a coffee – hideous instant rubbish! The day ahead was a daunting one for me. Never have I been so long without being able to indulge in my grief; you know, a tear here, a rant there. Grabbing a moment to myself in the guise of getting water or finding coffee was a life-saver. No, a soul-saver. Meanwhile, Grace was still missing her mum, dad and Ben. Thankfully, there were activities planned for the kids on site.
First: pebble painting. Everything happened in the marquee so I watched as she joined other kids at the table. I was getting used to her quizzical looks at others and reluctant chat. One girl said, confidently,
“I know everyone here… All the children anyway!”
To which Grace replied,
“Well, do you know me?”
That told her.
Next up: Tug Of War. As the War started, I gave Grace the iPad and asked her to take pictures, which she did – loads. Then she brought it back to me and went back out. Next thing I know, she’s on one end of the rope and there’s a girl called Poppy on the other! I put down my Boondogger, grabbed the iPad and rushed outside just in time…
To see her win! She was over the moon ❤
Next activity: Clay Making. We were a little late to this as I’d decided to take down the awning and pack away a few bits so as we had less to do in the morning. Anyway, Grace found a place at the table and told me she was going to make a pot. Half an hour later:
I do think it’s fabulous and does trick you into thinking that Grace has a peculiar imagination but here’s the thing; when I dug deeper, I realised that the strips of clay were to hold the person in place whilst it dried. So actually her model was of a man in bed. Later, ‘someone’ stood on her model. Someone with the same shoe imprint as Grace – but definitely not Grace. Of course.
For our last dinner there, I bought her burger and chips. She loved it but then, she’s very grateful for everything you do for her though I honestly don’t think she knows quite how to deal with it, other than to say, ‘Thank you very much…’ So we’ll just have to keep doing nice things for Grace and cut out the eye-rolls!
I was so tired, I drifted off before Grace. She was tired though, after an evening of looking at photos and talking about family – from current aunties to ancient ancestors. For the first time that weekend I felt her mind finally empty. It was a matter of seconds really, and then she was asleep.
We set off for home earlier than I had planned, due partly to Grace needing to be back with her mum, dad and Ben and partly because I needed to cry; scream and rant. You know, the usual.
If you haven’t caught on, then let me explain a little. Grace has something called morbid autism. It really needs no explanation here but if you wish to know more, then click on the link. Comorbidity isn’t something I’ve worked with though many of the autistic children I’ve cared for have had a fascination for death, pain – anything negative really, so loving Grace and accepting Grace is, for me, the easiest thing in the world.
She is still the bit of crazy in all of us and that makes her forever magical.