This year we've decided to abandon the traditional family Christmas at home and go to Center Parcs. We're great fans of Center Parcs and try to have a weekend there at least once a year.
Freddie loves Christmas. He started signing Christmas to his support assistant at school as soon as we got back from the summer holidays and eventually she banned him from using the sign until after half term - shortly afterwards she found him signing under the desk! He's been signing Christmas and presents almost constantly since we arrived and is almost beside himself with excitement.
Today is Christmas Eve. This morning Freddie and his younger brother Samuel are going to the Center Parcs children's Christmas party. The party is for 3 to 7 year olds so at 10 Freddie is really too old but I knew he'd love it so before the holiday I called the play center and explained Freddie and asked if he could come. They said that they'd love to have him at the party. They always have good staffing levels and seem to be very confident looking after disabled children.
The site is spread out over a wide area, a mobility problem we solve by pushing Freddie around on his bike - he even pedals every now and then! We also asked to have a house very close to the swimming plaza which they arranged for no extra charge.
The party plan didn't start too well as we went to the wrong location! Freddie is very, very cross as he understands that he's going to a party but it's hard to explain that Mummy's taken him to the wrong place! Eventually we get there 30 minutes late and take a few minutes to check they know how to contact us and give them a crash course in bone mounted hearing aids which they take in their stride. From then on it's a huge success. When they get back Samuel tells us that Freddie took part in all the games, did some dancing and won pass the parcel! Full marks to the party.
Before we've had a chance to catch our breath, Freddie's standing at the door signing "swimming" - I do sometimes wonder why we taught him Makaton! Freddie needs help changing so I take him to the disabled cubical while Richard takes the other two boys. He can undress himself but needs help sorting his clothes out, finding a locker, going to the toilet and finally, detaching his hearing aids from his head and fitting ear plugs. The second we're out Freddie sprints off towards the pool and I call him back, then, remembering he's now essentially deaf I sprint after him!
Richard and I have a quick check to make sure we know who's in charge of which children as it can be very easy to lose Freddie, or indeed anyone in a pool. Freddie signs that he wants to go on the "big green slides". We've taken a long time teaching Freddie to use the slides and he understands that he mustn't go until the red light turns green and that he must wait at the bottom. He obeys to a fault and while I'm not concentrating, leaps forward to grab an innocent man who was about to go before the light went green. The man looks startled and rather cross as he turns to see who's accosted him, but ruffles Freddie's hair and gives him a warm paternal smile as he notices that he's got Downs Syndrome. It's a reaction we get a lot and I think it's a benefit of having a disability with easily familiar physical characteristics.
After swimming, the boys watch a DVD (The Polar Express - again!), then it's off to visit Father Christmas! Freddie loves Father Christmas and is literally hopping from foot to foot with excitement. When we get there, the elves are running a bit late and we have to wait for our booked slot; Freddie doesn't do waiting!! It's all I can do to hold him back. I usually bring an ipod to distract him when these situations arise, but I've forgotten it this time. We manage.
I don't know how long we are supposed to be there but we spend ages with Father Christmas, I think Freddie's being given special attention! He has a fantastic time, his eyes are shining and he's delighted with his present of more cars. At the end of a long day we have tea in one of the restaurants. They have a children's buffet where Freddie chooses his ideal meal. Not exactly healthy, but he's very happy!