Disabled Girl in France.

I have recently returned from a family holiday to France. It was lovely spending a decent length of time with my family, as our encounters are normally rushed over a weekend and it never feels enough. I always worry that my nephews and younger cousins won’t know me enough, and that when I do see them they will be nervous or apprehensive about what their disabled Aunty/cousin can and cannot do. But after spending a whole week around them, I felt so much more comfortable that everything seems ‘okay’ for them. My two-year-old nephew must have thought so anyway, he asked me just as much as anyone else if he could go on the ‘jumpoline’ and the swings. I love that complete innocent ignorance in thinking I’d have the strength to hoik him into a swing seat, as much as I’d love to.

Being away from home and with other people is not just a learning curve for the younger family members, though. Every trip out, let alone abroad, with me and two kids in tow is never just as simple as ‘pack bags and get in car’. There are delightful logistical mares (night or otherwise), such as the inevitable game of Suitcase-Wheelchair Tetris, and which route Tom will take from the car door, via said wheelchair, to retrieve a child yelling “I need a wee!” from a carseat buried amongst various armbands, bikes and bags of beach towels, being able to retrieve aforementioned older child, 10 month old non-walking baby, and non-walking me, my manual wheelchair, baby changing bag, pushchair and Tom himself out of the car and into a lift on the ferry all in less time than those people on Challenge TV wearing lime-green lycra and army boots trying to retrieve a crystal from a cage surrounded by code-protected sawdust. It’s exciting and sweat-inducing all at the same time.

Then there’s the joy of finding somewhere accessible to sit where I can actually sit in a different chair and try to ignore the stomach-churning sensation and headache which sets in after about thirty minutes of sailing. Seriously, if you’ve ever been on a cross-channel ferry and thought you got away without any sea sickness, try doing it sat in a wheelchair. It feels a bit like being stuck in a snow-globe. Without any snow or reindeer. Just overpriced pastries and takeaway tea. And other people’s screaming children in the background whom are so much more annoying than my own.
I’ve lost my train of thought now.

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Amélie and Geneviève enjoying the comforts of ferry travel

The logistics of holidaying with incapabilities such as my own, continue at each stage of the trip. It’s all well and good knowing somewhere has ‘disabled access’ and that is great, albeit ambiguous, but holiday accommodation abroad or in my own country will never just be simple to use for me. That aside, the gite we stayed in was lovely and clean, and pretty easy to get around, this makes for a happy Lizzy. And there was a downstairs toilet AND shower, quel surprise! Normal people don’t appreciate a good ground floor toilet like Tom and I do. Easily pleased and all that.

Then there are the trips out to neighbouring French towns, not knowing what the French government regard as a statutory level of suitable facilities for disabled people. It turns out that all disabled people living in France are one-armed. At least that is what I gathered from the apparent lack of grab rails in accessible toilets. Just on one side, not both. They like to make going to the toilet that little bit more of a cryptic challenge.

Back at the gite it was pretty chilled, lots of laughing, card games and delicious food and drink, just with the added game of Locate-a-Kid, somewhere within the large gardens belonging to the gite and main house owners. In the event of child misplacement, our first guess would be the infamous ‘jumpoline’ which was responsible for such injuries as my elder nephew’s fat-lip-with-blood and also my own squashed finger. I may have ignored the No Adults rule on the trampoline, but I figured that, well, I can’t stand up and/or actually bounce, so that rule didn’t apply to me. I was merely supervising the children from within the circular edging of the CHILDREN’S trampoline. The fact that I may or may not have a broken little finger is simply the price I paid for the rebellion of having great fun being out of my wheelchair and thrown around by surprisingly heavy kids.

“Get out your seat and jump around… “

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You leave your chair unattended for one minute and it becomes open to shotgun etiquette…
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The ferry ride home seemed to go very quickly, and before we knew it we were off the boat, had said our goodbyes to our nearest and dearest and were on our way home. Barely a week had gone by much too quickly and our first proper family holiday will definitely be one to remember. I just hope the next one isn’t too far in the distance. I think I might fly next time.

Don’t get me started on the logistical nightmares of even telling an airline that you have a WHEELCHAIR.

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