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Why holidaying with children can make you need a holiday.

Writer, comedienne and generally funny lady Emma Kennedy wrote a piece for The Guardian this weekend about how happy she is not to have children, particularly when it comes to going on holiday. The article is hilarious, although after reading it part of me wanted to lie on the floor and weep.

You see, what Emma has said out loud is that taking children on holiday is hard work which sort of negates the whole point of having one.

‘Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, the results are in. Taking children on holiday is like some sort of ghastly self-inflicted punishment. Why are you doing it to yourselves? You work hard all year round. Don’t you deserve a bit of peace and quiet? Don’t you deserve some fun? Children can’t even help with the driving. What is the point of them? Going on holiday without children is brilliant. There. I’ve said it’

She certainly has and… shit, she might be right.

As far as I can remember, pre children, booking a holiday basically consisted of deciding which country I fancied lying down in. After that I’d consider the best time of year to go. If going to Europe, June and September always seemed like the most beautiful months. If, on the other hand, I was desperate for a bit of winter sun, then the Caribbean in March was an option or South Africa in February. Whatever we decided upon though, we would always avoid the school holidays knowing it would be A/nine thousand pounds cheaper during term time and B/ that we wouldn’t be surrounded by screaming brats and their weary parents. Bliss.

This system inverts the minute you’re a parent and goes something like this…

Right, so let’s pay an exorbitant price so we can be on the beach with the rest of the WORLD in August when it’s so hot we risk our skin actually sticking to the seats of the hire car on a permanent basis, and can’t make it to our lounger without consuming a three litre bottle of water first. Or, we could go away at Christmas when the only other people who can afford it are Simon Cowell and Roman Abramovich, and simply live in poverty for the rest of our lives. Fantastic.

Now, before I continue, I’m going to have to do the pre requisite statement about how much I love my children (maternal guilt means you have no choice other than to make this declaration before you say anything even remotely negative about the experience of parenthood so here it is.) I adore my children, love them to bits and now they’re getting older they are getting easier and easier and don’t require me to watch them every second of every day. Furthermore, for fifty weeks of the year I have precisely no issue with putting them first, looking after them and genuinely relish and enjoy their company. I’m their mum. They’re amazing kids. Looking after them is my job.

However, would I like to be able to cryogenically freeze them for two weeks out of every year so I could recover from the rest of the time when I’m running around after them? Hell yeah. Do I miss being able to sleep for twelve hours straight? Er…yup.

Would it be nice to actually be able to have sex on holiday without having to sneak into the bathroom because you are all sleeping in the same room? I can’t remember.

And, after a day spent mainlining cheap local wine, would I prefer not to have to think about feeding, bathing and entertaining little people? Affirmative.

Sorry to labour the point but also, could I do with a bit of silence/ some spontaneity/ staring into space, without anyone demanding that I blow up their water wings/ get them a drink/ find their missing crocs. Yes, yes and thrice yes.

Still, at least as I said earlier, children get easier as they get older. Thank god because the first holiday we ever had as parents was by far the worst. It still makes me shudder just thinking about it.

So, our daughter, Lily, was three months old. Ergo, I hadn’t had a decent night’s sleep for three months. Three months! Childless people (quite rightly) complain of being weary when they’ve had a heavy weekend. Three months of never sleeping for more than three or four hours straight leaves you, not tired, but pretty much dead.

Anyway, at three months we were just about getting a handle on things. Sort of. A vague routine was starting to emerge. We weren’t letting her have the dummy in the night, which meant a bit of grizzling, but also that we weren’t getting up on extra occasions to search wearily in the dark for it every time it came out. And then, my mother in law decided to ‘treat’ the whole family to a week’s holiday in Portugal in March.

Now, I’d heard of some mother’s doing things like taking their babies to India in papooses when they were two days old, so couldn’t understand why the whole idea of going away was making me feel so stressed, which was great because it gave me something else to berate myself about.

Two weeks before we went I started making lists of what we should bring. The list was alarming, endless and I wondered how we were going to physically transport all of this stuff to a foreign land. Once finished, our hallway resembled a scene out of the Eddie Murphy film ‘Coming to America.’ I was spent and the only time I’d cracked a smile in a fortnight was when the baby’s passport had arrived in the post. (Seriously, baby passport pictures are hilarious and definitely one thing a child free holiday is lacking)

In her article, Emma Kennedy asks one of her ‘mum’ friends about her forthcoming holiday

She stares at me, her left eye twitching. “I am taking my children on holiday in four days. We are going away for a week. I have now been planning this holiday for three months. I have been packing for a fortnight. I think when you’ve got to a point where you are planning your packing and then physically packing for longer than you are actually going away, your chore-to-enjoyment ratio might be out of whack. I have 15 suitcases. I can’t even fit them in the car. Two of my children get car sick and I’m not sure I even like the third. I haven’t looked my husband in the eye for five days. I’m going to come clean. This is not my definition of fun times. I don’t even want to go.”

We arrived in Portugal at our villa after a hellish journey during which I vowed never to attempt to change a pooey nappy in a plane toilet ever again. If she did it on the way back, fuck it, she could sit in it.

It was March. The complex we were staying in resembled Brookside and it was cold. Then, my father in law suggested that all the boys should go and play a round of golf.

‘Is that ok honey?’ asked hubby, looking older than he ever had before and very crumpled. For three months nothing had been ironed.

I thought about what I wanted to say, but in a stroke of evil genius he had asked me in front of his parents…..

Yes, of course it is,’ I answered between gritted teeth as the baby started wailing. ‘Have a great time and I’ll just start unpacking and try and locate the MASSIVE sterilizer we’ve lugged to another country because my baby won’t latch on, before finding somewhere I can express some milk. Have fun.’

‘Ah,’ said Mother in law, watching him amble off. ‘He needs a rest doesn’t he?’

The ‘holiday’ continued in a similar vein for the rest of the week. After the first night, my brother in law admitted that they could all hear the baby when she woke in the night through the villas’ paper thin walls. So, abandoning all efforts to establish some form of routine I unpicked all my hard work by giving her the dummy on a pretty much permanent basis and took her into our bed, which meant that even when she was asleep, all I could think about was how I was going to cope when we got home.

I can genuinely say that getting home was the best thing about the week and will even admit to shedding a few tears of sheer relief. We didn’t go on holiday again for nearly two years.

The next holiday was reasonably successful, pregnant with my second, I actually came back fairly rested. Then, when Freddie was born, older and wiser we simply didn’t go away during those early months. We had learned!

However, when he was about eighteen months old, the mental scars from Portugal had started to heal a bit and I was willing to give this whole relaxing lark yet another crack of the whip.

‘Let’s go away,’ I ventured one day over breakfast.

My husband’s eye twitched almost imperceptibly ‘With two of them?’

‘Er yes,’ I replied. ‘Unless I’m mistaken I don’t think they do kennels for small children, otherwise believe you me I would have looked into it.’

And so it was that I persuaded him that ten days in Barbados in March, (taking advantage of having children not of school age) was a great idea, and something I needed because if I stayed in the vicinity of my house anymore I was going to lose it. Going to a different supermarket had become a change of scene, something had to give.

It was a nightmare.

The flight to Barbados is about seven and a half hours. Lily was good as gold, happy to stare at the telly, or do colouring in. For seven of those hours however, my toddler son wanted to be ‘not sitting down’. The minute he started being a pain, my husband’s eyebrows rose in an ‘I told you so,’ fashion, meaning I was forced into proving a point.

And so it was that for seven hours I either walked up and down the plane or held him on my knee while trying to prevent him ploughing his chunky legs into the seat in front of him or playing with the table. I read Fireman Sam more times than is probably reasonable and hung on to the thought that once there all would be well. It had to be…

The only thing my boy hadn’t done on the plane was cry. He’d been perfectly happy but also just incredibly active. However, queuing up at passport control, as far as he was concerned it was suddenly approaching bedtime. He was knackered, it was very hot and we weren’t moving. He started to wail but wouldn’t let his dad carry him. It had to be me. He was very heavy. I nearly joined in with the crying.

That night we got the children settled. It was eight o clock Bajan time but obviously we needed to stay in the room so we both tried to read in minimal light before calling it a day. Wired, it took ages to get to sleep but Freddie kindly woke us at 4 am. It was 8 in London you see so, time for Alpen. Even in the dark I could hear hubby’s eyebrows rising.

‘Don’t worry, I’ll go,’ I said, nauseous with tiredness but desperate that Freddie didn’t wake up our daughter who was fast asleep.

Wearing a t shirt, flip flops and a hastily found pair of pants I walked around the dark resort, pushing my wide awake son in the buggy. I passed at least three other parents doing exactly the same thing all of whom I exchanged rueful ‘what the fuck are we doing?’ type looks with.

The rest of the holiday was ok. I’d go so far as to say I enjoyed it. The kids had a brilliant time and happily went to the kids club for a few hours most afternoons. It had been hell getting there and very expensive but I’d read a book so didn’t care.

Others weren’t so lucky. In fact, one afternoon we watched with morbid fascination as a grown man got down on his hands and knees outside the kids club begging his son to go in ‘Please,’ he said, practically crying. ‘Just half an hour? Please.’

The boy simply shook his head. Immoveable.

Unfortunately because of being surrounded by people like this, my other half decided he wasn’t wholly convinced that it was all that fun being there.

And so it was that for the last month or so, hubby and I have been debating where to go on holiday this summer. (Feel free to exchange the word debating for arguing.)

I was determined to book somewhere with a kids club. He was determined not to be somewhere where the restaurant felt like a canteen, that was soulless and where you were privy to hundreds of people dealing with their offspring.

And so it is that we are booked to go to a beautiful Mamma Mia type village in Corfu. There’s an infinity pool, sea views, friends who we love are going to be there. It looks idyllic.

 ‘If we go here, I promise I’ll be quite happy to take the kids off for a couple of afternoons while you chill out. You could even take your laptop, do a bit of writing.’ ’ said hubby, as we sat drooling over the website.

‘Done,’ I said, forced to acknowledge that the place was supremely more enticing than any of the vast concrete blocks I’d been perusing.

‘Besides, if you can’t relax there, you’re a freak,’ he added, going off to look into flights.

I’ll keep you posted but will also tell you this for nothing, if I’m not relaxed, it’ll be my eyebrows doing the raising.

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