A plan approximately 150 miles the wrong side of a good idea

Family Mothering Frights has just returned from a holiday. It is the first ‘abroad’ break we have undertaken since having kids, which just goes to show, we are never going to rack up enough Air Miles to get to the local Tesco, let alone somewhere nice. Particularly as we took the ferry. But I digress. A ten day holiday, away from these shores, with two kids, for the first time in five years. It was a holiday Jim, but not as we know it. A number of things struck me during our time away  – leaving aside the football and the table tennis ball, both which struck me with annoying frequency due to a four year old’s over-exuberance and under-accuracy. So, here are six things I learned about family holidays:

1. The definition of holiday? ‘An extended period of leisure and recreation’. Really? I am guessing the person who crafted that explanation did not have young kids. It was bloody exhausting. Swimming. Table tennis. Play park. More swimming. Kicking the football around. Pedal carts. There was the shimmering oasis of a kids’ club on site, a mirage of kid-free time that would allow us to really indulge ourselves and do absolutely bloody nothing for a while. So the first day it was on, we sold it to E as an action-packed adventure and dropped him off for our two hours of peace… I mean, his two hours of fun. I walked past about half an hour in, and E was holding a paper plate with a few coloured splotches on, waiting glumly for the girl to attach some elastic to it to turn it into a mask. It was about as interesting an activity as watching paint dry. Oh, wait… E actually was watching paint dry. And what we didn’t factor in was the fact that we were still left with B. There was a club for his age, but he had to be supervised by a parent. What’s the sodding point in that? I don’t turn up to a restaurant and then have to help the chef chop all the vegetables, so I really can’t see why the organisers needed help with a bunch of 1 and 2 year olds. They were in a large tent, for chrissakes, all they had to do is zip the tent up to keep them contained. Granted, they may have all expired in the heat, but let’s not get picky.

2. Having extended bedtimes for the kids is only a holiday treat for half of those concerned. We arrived late on site on our first day, so the boys were a couple of hours late in bed. Never mind, I thought, we will get them back on track tomorrow, so we can enjoy the balmy evenings on the veranda, possibly accompanied by a small sip of the French stuff. But apparently, every other family on site had thrown the bed time curfew out of the window and it had landed right outside my bloody fenêtre. (Oh yes, I am practically bilingual, me).  Come half nine, when I was still stroking the back of my one year old – more to keep him pinned to the cot mattress than in comfort – gritting my teeth and trying not to drip sweat onto him, there were small infestations of children everywhere outside, playing football, or tag, or frisbee, all screaming and yelping at full volume. Which meant that E also had no intention of going to bed. Now, I love my children. But not enough that I want to spend every waking moment with them. Call me crazy, but I rather quite enjoy my kid-free evenings where conversation can proceed in an orderly fashion without interruptions for rescuing a small child who is teetering on the sofa arm, or shouts of ‘bum’ and ‘wee wee’ which on the thirty third repetition we still all find utterly annoying. Sorry, hilarious, I meant hilarious. So eventually, I was prodding E back into his room with a loaded corkscrew, so desperate was I to sit down, have a glass of wine, and pretend I was on holiday.

3. There are certain holiday rules that you forget if you have not dipped a toe into a sandy beach for over half a decade.  Rules like always apply sun cream before you get to the beach. So there I was, the ultimate idiot abroad, kneeling on the sand before two bare footed and swimming costume-attired children, wielding a bottle of factor 50. Within approximately three nanoseconds, my hands were covered in a delightful gritty, sun-cream paste and I essentially sandpapered my children red raw as I wilfully covered them from head to toe with cream that was three parts sand, two parts sweat and a small drop of sun cream. At least their skins would not be burnt. Mainly due to the fact that I had scraped off every layer of their epidermis in the process.

4. Holidaying in a mobile home without a television exposes our utterly poor parenting. Come the witching hour, it is not yet time for E’s bed (which was getting so sodding late he was in danger of being able to tuck me in) and yet we are all too exhausted to do anything constructive (E: “Mummy, let’s play football”. Me: “No.” E: “Why?” Me: “You’re not allowed to play football in France after 8pm”). It is at this juncture that we would usually turn the in-house baby sitter on. But without our flickering rectangle of visual delight, the situation threatened to turn nasty.

“I don’t like France, there’s no television,” E declares.

I cannot disagree. But then inspiration strikes and we set up the car DVD player for him. France suddenly becomes a lot more palatable for all concerned.

5. I had a moment of madness before we went away. I spent a few quid and bought six books for my Kindle. Well, I was going on holiday, what else did I want to do with my time? Oh yes, that’s right, apparently not reading. I managed the sum total of nine pages. And that’s nine Kindle pages, so it probably actually means that I read about three paragraphs. B was asleep and I was determined to start one of the books I had bought. One minute in and E spots me:

“Mummy, what are you doing?”

“Reading.”

“Oh.”

“It’s quiet in here, isn’t it?”

“Not as quiet as it could be.”

“What’s the this button do?”

“Don’t press th…”

“Whoops. Can you play with me now?”

6. Long car journeys are a plan approximately 150 miles the wrong side of a good idea when you have a one year old on board. Our four hour drive to the site on which we were staying was bearable for the first three hours: B had a sleep, woke up, stared out of the window for a bit, ate the snack that was waved in front of his nose, stared out of the window a bit more, practised not saying ‘mummy’ and generally had a pleasant time. Come the fourth hour, and he was wailing, whinging and basically letting the other occupants of the car know that if they didn’t let him out of this fucking car right now someone was going to pay. A succession of toys were handed to him, which he lobbed around the car. Feet were tickled, which just increased the decibels. Songs were sung, accompanied by the incessant howl of someone who really, really didn’t want to hear that the wheels on the bus went round and round.

So there you have it. My tan is already starting to fade (or maybe it’s some of the dirt being washed off now I can have a shower that is more powerful than the one we had on holiday, which was about as invigorating as standing under five weeping fairies) and I am back at work. Ahhh, it’s so peaceful in my office. Today, I have not donned a swimming costume and spent forty minutes bouncing a heavy one year old around in the water. I have not spilt sun cream on any item of clothing as I chase an incalcitrant boy round the kitchen. Nor have I attempted to keep two energetic, fidgety children indoors to shield them from the blistering midday sun. You know what? I am actually rather enjoying this holiday-from-my-holiday. I should do it more often.

Going on your hols? Fancy something to read? Obviously, if you have small kids don’t waste your money, but for everyone else, you can get a copy of Jodie Newman’s book Womb with a View from http://www.jodienewmam.co.uk for just £6.99 to take with you. That works out to just 0.05p per gag. Or get it on your Kindle for £3.99 and… oh, sorry, my gag calculator has run out of batteries.

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