Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Holidays with children. How not to relax.

'A change is as good as a holiday' they say. And in theory, my holiday was a change. I was in France, rather than England (although it still rained). I ate ten times the amount of bread and cheese I normally consume. I had fabulous adult company every evening. And I had no access to TV or the internet. But really, that's where the differences end (and I'm not convinced that last point is a good thing).

You see, a holiday with children is something of an oxymoron. Holiday = relaxing. Children = not.
Think back to the BC years (Before Children). Holidays meant flinging a bikini in a bag with a couple of sarongs and a pair of flip flops. You'd jet off somewhere hot and exotic that inevitably had palm trees, sunloungers and frozen strawberry daiquiris. You'd roll out of bed at some point before lunch, spend the rest of the day horizontal reading chicklit while working on a tan, possibly doing the occasional bit of exercise or sightseeing, with lots of eating, drinking and generally RELAXING.

Fast forward to the AC years. As mentioned in my last blog post, the packing alone is enough to make you want to cancel the trip and stay home. But then there's the journey. Gone are the days of lovely gins and tonics on board a flight while you listen to your iPod in peace. Instead you're in a car so that you can cart half of Britain with you. As the mother (and this inevitably means you're not the driver) you spend most of the journey swivelled in your chair facing the backseat so that you can:

  • catch vomit in carsick bags

  • wipe up vomit

  • break up fights because someone has put their hand on someone else's side of the seat

  • pick up toys that have been dropped into the most inconvenient place that require elastigirl arms to reach them

  • hand out snacks on an ongoing basis

  • receive the half chewed remants of snacks, wrappers, banana skins, apple cores and find a place to stow them all

  • play eye spy ad nauseum with children who don't actually spy the item in question and tell you that it starts with a letter which it doesn't and isn't the correct colour they claim it to be. And then get cross when you can't guess what it is.

You arrive at your destination with a crick in your neck, a good dose of car sickness yourself thanks to constantly facing backwards, and a vile mood.

Your destination is self catering. It has to be with kids. You need the washing machine, dishwashing and snack making facilities on call 24/7 - something no hotel can supply, not without having to remortgage your house. For about five minutes you embrace your inner little girl as you get to 'play house house', unpacking your supplies and figuring out who is going to sleep where. But that novelty wears off pretty fast.

And thus commences the holiday, filled with the promise of exciting thing to do - like canoeing, go-karting, seeing caves, fishing, sightseeing, going for walks, visiting markets and attempting to speak French - badly. I'm not such a killjoy as to claim that none of this was enjoyable - and indeed it was a change from the normal cycle of life.

However (and you just know that there had to be an however coming up) it never once felt like a holiday. Each outing required the same mini packing nightmare of spare clothes, nappies, snacks, cameras etc, etc, etc. If we stayed at home, the theory was that our children would gaily entertain themselves while we lay in the sun reading books. As I said, that was the theory. But as any parent knows, lying down, reading books and actually relaxing simply doesn't happen when there are small children remotely close by. In fact, children seem to have a built in homing device that alerts them to a parent who is approaching a state of rest. It immediately triggers an activation switch which propels them towards the said resting parent to annoy them, like a swarm of wasps buzzing around your head.

Just as you finish applying your sun cream in comes the first request. 'I need to poo.' Shortly followed by 'I'm hungry.' 'I'm bored.' 'Come play with me.' 'Watch this.' 'Can I sit on you?' 'Yowl!' 'He hit me.' 'He hit me first.' 'I had it first......'. So you give up lying down and attempt to play cricket with children who are incapable of hitting a ball so stand there swinging a bat at the air repeatedly. Or you push them on a swing. Or watch them paddle in the ice cold paddling pool. None of which is awful. But it's not quite the same as lying on your big fat bum doing nothing in peace, is it?

Then there's the merry go round of thinking about food, buying food, making food, serving food, washing after eating the food - and repeat. There's laundy and tidying up. And when you holiday with other people, there's an unwritten rule that you all need to pull your weight, so you end up doing more than you might ordinarily do at home (our laundry pile at home for example can sit unwashed for weeks on end) because you want everyone to be happy.

And then there's the fighting. As a holiday wears on and the novelty of having new friends to play with wears off, the children look for any opportunity to have an argument (for that read: beat the bejesus out of each other). Breaking up fights is never a deeply joyous affair, but it gradually starts to affect the parents and the thorny issue of parenting techniques starts to peep over the parapet. Thanks to a change in routine, later bedtimes and more sugar than usual, the children's behaviour dissolves into Lord of the Flies badness with tantrums the order of the day, putting your parentings techniques even more firmly in the spotlight.

And so your relaxing holiday turns into a merry go round of chores, fun activities that the kids will enjoy but probably don't top your list of things you must do before you die, and parenting battles.

Of course in my case it wasn't helped by having my husband leave after the first week so that he could return to work, leaving me to cope with the beastie boys on my own. The return trip alone wiped out any de-stressing that might have taken place in the odd stolen moment.

So I got home not feeling well rested. In fact feeling fairly shattered and in need of another holiday of the BC variety. But that isn't going to happen for at least another 16 years at the earliest, at which point we'll be booking ourselves onto a SAGA cruise and I'll have traded in my bikini for a one of those fetching granny swimsuits with low cut legs, built in tummy constrainer and a matching floral swiming cap to stop my blue rinse running. Now there's something to look forward to.


katyboo1 said...

welcome back!
Profound sympathy. You indeed speak the truth about holidays with small children. My mum made me laugh once when she said something along the lines of 'well at least you'll get a break' when I announced an impending holiday. I looked at her and said: 'Did any holiday with us ever feel like a break?' to which she looked humbled and then replied that on reflection, 'no' was the best answer she could give me.

Welsh Girl said...

It makes you realise that maybe the Americans have the right idea with Summer Camp.... send your children away all summer and have a blissful month of your house to yourself...... Welcome back :)

Home Office Mum said...

Thank you for the welcome back. I am completely and totally and utterly going to be sending my children off to summer camp the minute they're old enough to terrorise the camp organisers. My sun lounger and tall drink with clinky ice cubes is waiting for the glorious day...

Anonymous said...

Oh my, I was just googling and came across your site. I am a HOM too with only 1 daughter. I am going on a girls week long holiday and leaving hubby and daughter at home so I can do all the things you mentioned BC. I even have my ipod fully charged and down loaded my fave songs I haven't listened to in years. You are SO RIGHT, holidays with kids are just HARDER! I had a tiny little hint of guilt going alone, but hubby is going os with the guys to ski in the new year. I think it's really important to do it and get in touch with your BC self. I truly believe this break will make me a better mum on my return....well that's the theory. Or will I totally fall in love with the BC lifestyle and hate coming home?!!!! Either way, I think you need to get on that banana lounge in some tropical island resort with your gf's lady!