‘Holidays with kids’ is an oxymoron. And I’m an actual moron because I always forget this and am surprised when I come home exhausted. So I’d really appreciate it if someone could invent an alternate word for ‘holiday’ that doesn’t imply rest and relaxation. Because then, parents everywhere would have a more accurate way to describe their Christmas break.*
If you’re a working parent, holidays are a great reminder of the difference between spending quality and quantity time with your kids. Kids need both. Quantity is harder.
Without the buffer of childcare, grandparents or even the occasional babysitter, it can be gob-smacking to discover how much hard work full-time parenting is. “Mums in the playground often say ‘I don’t know how you do it’” sighs a friend of mine with three kids who works crazy hours in her small business. “But work is the easy part of my life. I have staff, a nice office and a brilliant nanny. I’m never as knackered as after our annual Christmas holiday. As much as I love them, entertaining three children 24/7 is harder than the toughest day at work.”
This is the part where stay-at-home mums (and dads) get to high-five themselves while wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with: “I TOLD YOU SO, SUCKERS!” I endorse their smugness and I salute their t-shirts. I’ve always thought it’s far easier to spend your day at work where no-one demands you share your food, drink and toilet time or fractures your concentration span into a million teeny pieces. Full time at-home parents are legends.
But a lack of match fitness isn’t the only holiday challenge. It’s also the lack of props. Homes with kids contain mountains of stuff. Toys, DVDs, play areas, childproof cupboards, computer games, ergonomic change tables, cots, car seats, high chairs, no-more-tears shampoo, bikes, playstations, piles of assorted plastic crap and snacks and on and on. You start accumulating this stuff while pregnant and it never stops. Until you go on holiday when you’re suddenly cut loose from your stuff mountain and are forced to fend for yourself.
I’m sure there are resourceful parents who embrace the opportunity to fashion a make-shift high-chair out of a dog-eared yellow pages and three rubber bands. But not me. Nope. I like my stuff. I neeeeed my stuff.
And I’ve never needed it more than after the one holiday I spend two weeks trapped indoors with two bored children while so much rain fell on the North Coast I began texting friends “PLEASE SEND ARK”.
To keep my spirits up and my perspective in check, I’d regularly remind myself how lucky I was even to be on holidays. How lucky I was to have happy, healthy children I adore. How lucky I was not to be camping. Or homeless. When all of this lost its cheering power, I dug deeper, trying to summon gratitude for having limbs and the ability to blink.
Eventually, around day 10, when the rain became so torrential it was falling horizontally, I said buh-bye to my gratitude and my sense of humour. Then I threw such a spectacular tantrum my husband threatened me with time out and my toddler looked at me with new respect.
Even when the sun is out, family holidays can leave you in need of a stiff drink and a long lie down. Or, in the case of 10 consecutive rainy days, a straight jacket.
You know your Mother Of The Year crown is slipping when your child points to a sleeping Wiggle on the DVD and asks – admittedly for the hundredth time – “what’s wrong with Jeff?” and you snap “Jeff’s dead.” I’m not proud of this but in my defence, I was very very tired. This is because, at the time, my daughter was sleeping in a small nylon travel cot next to our bed, waking herself and us every hour as she thrashed about noisily. Are we having fun yet, people?
Well, we’re certainly not having sleep. For those without kids, holidays are an all-you-can-eat buffet of sleeping opportunities. Afternoon naps, morning sleep-ins, snoozing on the beach, early nights…..it’s all about filling up the sleep tank until it’s overflowing.
Fortunately, once you have kids, you stop wanting to sleep. What really gets your juices going is working out how little sleep you need to maintain basic brain function and then halving it. You will never sleep less – or worse – than when on holiday with your kids.
I have one friend who always packs blackout fabric and a staple gun which she uses on the kids’ bedroom windows wherever they’re staying. I used to laugh at her. Until I found myself texting her at 5am for advice on how I could improvise with alfoil and some sticky tape.
One of the best things about holidays is long leisurely dinners. And cocktails at sunset. I find children – especially if they’re small and tired – integrate seamlessly into these activities.
My digestion is always enhanced by a wriggling toddler on my lap, trying to hurl the pepper grinder across the table while shoving fistfuls of sea salt into her mouth. Another drink anyone? Oh no, I’ll just inject a daiquiri directly into a vein thanks.
As long as you don’t want to actually spend time with your partner, it is possible to get a break. This is called divide and conquer. It requires complex negotiations about who’s had more time to themselves and quickly deteriorates into recriminations. “You got to sleep in this morning while I took the kids to the beach.” “Yeah but you went shopping in town by yourself yesterday. “Going to the supermarket to buy nappies is hardly me-time and the baby was asleep when I was out so THAT DOESN’T BLOODY COUNT.”
Despite the challenges, there is something wonderfully bonding about all that quantity time in a confined space. And it helps that I’m a goldfish. How else to explain why I’m already planning our next family holiday? Somewhere dry. Please.[*update: I've just remembered that on my last 'holiday', I called a girlfriend with a same-aged baby to have a big fat whinge about how tired I was. She said "Don't call it a holiday, call it "Moving The Baby To A Different Location"]