Last week I was lucky enough to be picked out of a hat as a winner of tickets to the Twycross Zoo Dream Night. The zoo holds an evening each year whereby families with disabled children can come, for free, after-hours and visit the animals. There are also talks, activities, visits from the local emergency services and free food, drink, ice creams and facepainting.
I was still feeling guilty about even winning these tickets (via a local autism Facebook group I have joined) as there are so many other families out there who feel more deserving. However, I kept reminding myself that we are now one of those families too, even if it doesn’t feel like it sometimes.
We arrived at the zoo, which is only a couple of junctions on the motorway, and there was already an atmosphere of fun about the place. Families were arriving and unloading their children from cars, excited to be at the zoo when it was closed to ‘everyone else’. There was a disco setting up as we entered, so Tink, who just cannot resist when the beat drops, had to have a little boogie!
After a short wait, the gates were opened and we were in! Children with autism, Down’s Syndrome, cerebral palsy and more began to wander through to explore. First stop was the monkey houses, which Tink loves!
We moved around the zoo to see what we could find, although it seemed a lot of the animals had retired for the evening. It didn’t matter though, as the sun was warm and it was a most pleasant evening to be outdoors with my littles.
Eventually we found the new splash park that has recently opened. I had the foresight to check the website and had packed swimmers and a towel as I knew my monkeys would want to play there on such a lovely evening. Water is one of Tink’s absolute favourite things.
We spent a long time here, and it was magical, seeing not only my own children having so much fun, but so many other families too. These were families that, I would imagine, on a ‘normal’ outing, are on the receiving end of stares, and muttering behind hands, and small children asking blunt questions rather too loudly. Here, however, we were all in the same boat. We all knew, and understood how it feels to be different. To stand out. To feel a bit awkward and embarrassed, no matter how proud we are of our children and how much we love them. There was no awkwardness here. Only love, and acceptance and non-judgemental looks of kindness.
Eventually, after a few more animals, it was time to head back to the car. H decided he wanted his face painted, and, for the first time ever, Tink had hers done too! (wasn’t sure how that would go!) She chose a dinosaur…
… While H went for a tiger…
… Which he didn’t like as soon as it was finished!
After a little play with some old friends we finally meet up with, we headed outside, where the littles got the chance to explore the fire engine and mummy got the chance to chat to the very nice firemen (what is it about firemen?!).
We’d like to thank Twycross Zoo for their exceptional generosity in holding this event for families like ours. It means a lot. It was a wonderful evening and it was special to realise that we are now part of a ‘new’ family full of love and acceptance and, hopefully more fun adventures like this!