This blog essentially started out as a travel log. I kept a meticulous diary of the 2010 family trip to Tasmania. Unfortunately, even after a few rewrites, my travel blog wasn't very readable and was probably only interesting to me.
Still, I think I've managed to salvage a couple of posts which give some sort of insight into life with two autistic kids. There was an afternoon in Sheffield, when I learned a bit about Gaston's photographic abilities. And there was our outing to Cataract Gorge, where I write about the difficulties of disciplining a child with nearly no speech.
Today's entry is about our day at Cradle Mountain, where an afternoon of intense exercise and male bonding probably did my boys and me a world of good... though not without a few dramas.
We got to Cradle Mountain Lodge at 11:15. Our room wouldn't be ready until 2 pm, but there were those spacious lounges you expect to find in luxurious wilderness lodges, complete with giant stone chimney and roaring fire, big leather couches and a bar. A complimentary 45-minute guided walking tour was starting in fifteen minutes. Gaston and I did the tour. Anne and Rémi had a cuppa (=cup of tea) in the lounge. And so it goes in our family: the parent who wants to give the other parent a little break takes care of Gaston, while the resting parent gets to have a quiet moment with Rémi.
Gaston, three other guests and I went on The Enchanted Walk, a boardwalk path around the grounds. We saw a wombat and two or three wallabies. We also learned a thing or two about Tasmanian devils, though their local one seems to have disappeared. The tour guide and I decided it must have died of indigestion because he had recently found an echidna spine in some devil scat.
When we got back to the lodge, Gaston's first action was to smack his mother. So I immediately took him on another walk. This one was shorter and unguided, and Gaston asked for his mother the entire time. Afterwards, back in the lodge, he behaved a bit better and Anne bought him some hot chips.
At 2:30 pm, Anne had a full spa treatment which would last three hours. To keep the boys busy, and to test my theory that they are better behaved when they have had plenty of exercise, I decided to do the circuit around Dove Lake in the main national park. This was supposedly a walk for families who are accustomed to walking, and takes an average of two hours. We did it in a little over two hours. It was very challenging: there was lots of climbing and descending on narrow paths and lots of puddles to avoid. It was cold that day and we got a light sprinkling of rain. By the end, our feet were wet, we were cold, hungry, tired and thirsty. I had pushed Rémi way too hard. He had peed his pants (and peed on a tree for the first time in his life; I don't think he disliked it).
The walk was an emotional roller coast for all three of us. For the boys, their confidence grew as we started the walk. They enjoyed a good hour (possibly more) of the walk, but they became overwhelmed by the length and difficulty somewhere around the halfway mark. For me, worrying about the boys overwhelmed my appreciation of the surrounding natural beauty. We were walking a circuit around a lake surrounded by towering mountains and all I could think was "be careful" and "don't fall in" and "how much further to the end".
When Anne is there, I'm the one who is always saying "don't worry about it" and "let them live a little" and "if he electrocutes himself then he'll learn not to do that again". With her gone and me stupidly putting the boys in this difficult situation, I became the worry wart.
(As an aside, this corroborates what Anne and I had recently learned in a television documentary on the role of a father in a child's life. When the mother is around, he'll be rough and over-stimulating—to her great annoyance. However, when he begins to spend a lot of time with the child, the levels of feminine hormones in his body actually increase dramatically. The result: he'll become more protective. I don't know about feminine hormones in my body on that day, but I know I was a lot more protective than usual on this particular afternoon.)
Rémi whined for the first ten minutes, then was trotting along happily for the first hour. He became aware of puddles and made some effort to avoid them—this was a step forward for him: he usually ignores whatever is underfoot. When I eventually (after half an hour) let go of his hand and let him walk, his wobbling drunken-sailor gait drove me mad. I was sure he'd fall off a narrow boardwalk: we were walking on high ones with no hand rails and there were not a lot of trees on the slippery slope between our path and the lake. For the last hour of the walk, he had inevitably dunked each foot in a shallow stream or puddle. He was gradually wetting himself, and our first experience of weeing au naturel was not 100% successful: he had mainly peed on my hand. He became unhappy as the walk progressed, but he mainly trudged on without complaints.
Gaston held my hand tightly for the first ten minutes. As he grew more confident (and as the path became too narrow for three people to walk side-by-side), he started running ahead, stopping and pretending to be surprised when we caught up: "Oh, it's Daddy!" Earlier that morning , when we first saw snow near the lodge, I had shown him how to make and throw a snowball. He felt the need to repeat the exercise every time he saw a bit of snow on the side of the path, asking my permission to throw it each time. So for over an hour, Gaston was really enjoying the Dove Lake walk: running, laughing and throwing snow. He burned a lot of his natural hyperactive energy and he laughed a lot.
Once, he was so far ahead that I got scared and starting calling out to him. After about the fifth call, he screeched his usual screech. I was so happy to see him that I kissed him on the head and there was no drama—he took a swing at Rémi but I ignored it.
As the walk started getting long and miserable, Gaston started asking to go back to the car. He wanted to hold my hand more and more, and he wanted me to help him over puddles (as I had already done with Rémi a few times).
Somewhere around the three-quarters mark, after Rémi and I had struggled over some big wet stone steps, I realised I hadn't seen Gaston for a good few minutes. I got really scared. I must have screamed his name over a dozen times before he screeched in reply. This time, when I caught up with him, I yelled at him. The usual dramatic yelling match ensued. He even took another swipe at Rémi.
Too tired to cope, I gave him a smack in response to his screams. He cried. He purposefully stood in a stream to convey his displeasure. He started making like he was going to leave the path, which scared the hell out of me but I didn't dare show it. For once, I used the technique of ignoring and it worked: he stopped trying to leave the path.
When we got near the end and saw the parking lot in the horizon, everybody's spirits picked up and we practically ran towards the car. The sun was setting. Ours was the last car left at the end of the day: we had walked from 3:05 pm to 5:15 pm. It had been Gaston's and my third walk of the day, and Rémi's longest walk ever. I started the engine, strapped the boys into their car seats and cranked the heat up. I had a full water bottle which I'd carried all afternoon and a near-empty one sitting in the car: I redistributed the water evenly between the bottles and they each drained theirs. I ran towards the now-empty ranger station to sign out from the walk (you need to write your name and the time when you go on bush walks in national parks; if you don't sign out afterwards, a search party will look for your bodies in the morning).
I then drove as quickly as I could to get back to the lodge before the end of Anne's spa treatment. We arrived at our cottage at the same time as her and, thankfully, she was the one who dug up some clean clothes for them and laid their soaking shoes out to dry in front of the fireplace.
We had dinner at the lodge's Tavern restaurant, which was pub-style with a relaxed atmosphere. The kids were as good as they ever are in restaurants. As usual, the kids act better when we eat at a restaurant attached to the hotel where we're staying, and the staff and fellow patrons are more understanding about difficult behaviours. Surprisingly, they didn't eat very much.
Here, we all slept in the same room. So it was an early night for all. Except Rémi spewed twice and wet the bed. In the end, he slept with Anne and me. Which he loved.
The next day, the kids were well-behaved and very very happy to spend a bit of time with both their parents together. They ate a truckload for breakfast. We went on one little easy walk in the afternoon. We did it as a family and the kids really enjoyed it. I think they liked having their mother there for the walk. I also think that, after the Dove Lake circuit, they found they quite enjoyed bushwalking. They marched along confidently. For the first time ever since the kids were born, Anne and I walked side-by-side while the boys walked side-by-side.