Yesterday, we came back from Camp Bestival. It took us 7 hours to travel the 3 and a half hour journey back. I am now surrounded by washing. My living room has been overtaken by camping paraphernalia which I can’t imagine myself ever being bothered to sort out. While there we endured torrential wind and rain, three poo disasters so bad they resulted in clothes being abandoned forever and so many ‘emergency snacks’ I fear my children may actually be turning into giant bear crisps.
Sound like the worst holiday ever? It wasn’t. It was awesome.
I know for many of my friends the idea of camping with kids alone is frightening, let alone a festival. The weather was mostly horrendous and I totally sympathise with the many families near us who gave up and packed up mid-festival after almost two days of solid rain.
But I love festivals – the music, the atmosphere, the people – and no amount of kids or rain would stop me from going!
There were certainly low points: the ‘poonamis’ on day one certainly put a downer on things, at one point I thought the tent was going to fly into the air and transport us over the rainbow to Kansas, and it is never helpful to have a child who likes to throw his wellies away when you’re in the middle of the world’s boggiest field and the festival shop has already sold out…
Still, where else would we get to dance with Ubercorn* next to the world’s biggest disco ball, see my son laugh so hard at Big Foot the clown I worried his vein would pop out of his neck and bounce around in the pouring rain to Mark Ronson as if we were teenagers again (thanks to the babysitters for that kiddy-free moment)?!
If I was to give any advice to people thinking of taking kids to festivals, it would be this – there is strength in numbers. There are times when you want quality time just you and your family, but this isn’t one of them. Take friends. When you’ve spent nearly an hour dealing with poo, everything you own is damp and you and your partner are on the verge of throwing tent pegs at each other’s heads, what you need is someone to laugh at you, hand you a plastic cup of wine and remind you that it is all actually quite funny.
And if my raving about it isn’t enough to persuade you to give it a go, here are my son’s wise words:
“Being at a festival is great. You can eat loads of junk food and because you don’t have to wash, there’s so much more time to play Uno!”
*A giant disco dancing, go-jetting unicorn. Do I really need to explain?
“You’re going to a festival? With a three year old? While 7 and a half months pregnant? Are you mad?!!”
Erm, yes, looking back I probably was. We knew it would be tricky, but had been whining for some time about missing live music since the onset of parenthood, so when a friend suggested we all go together we threw caution to the wind and booked our tickets to Latitude.
As the months progressed and my bump grew bigger, tiny doubts grew in my mind. My first pregnancy had been a walk in the park compared to the aches, pains and exhaustion of this one. However, the internet reassured me festivals were full of pregnant women: one source told me Glastonbury even has an on-site midwife just in case anyone goes into labour! How had I never spotted all these pregnant women before? Looking back, I guess they didn’t feature in my early festivalling years of bouncing around to Rage Against the Machine at Leeds.
Despite having done my research, practically I was no better prepared than before, but I felt optimistic. If they could do it, so could I! My only concession was to buy a set of camping chairs – we didn’t have a tent, or anywhere for the toddler to rest during the day, but hey, we could sit down if we wanted. Let’s go!
I won’t say it was all plain sailing. For a start, we forgot our son’s bed, meaning the three of us and my by now ginormous bump had to squeeze up on a smaller than double blow up bed. The up side was it kept us warm as temperatures plummeted in the night, a possibility we hadn’t considered when we decided to forego sleeping bags in favour of a couple of cheap blankets. Our blind faith in the English summer and the warmth of canvas proved to be as idiotic as you would expect. Turns out our optimism was more to blame for insomnia than my pregnancy, but I guess we’d better get used to sleepless nights!
The low point came on Saturday afternoon. After having failed miserably to get my son to nap, we began the trudge from the tent to meet my husband and I attempted to ‘nip to the loo’. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to fit in a festival toilet cubicle with a three year old, a backpack, two camping chairs and a baby bump, but it’s not easy. Then, with truly hideous timing, my freakishly laid back son finally discovered his ability to throw a tantrum. Thank god we hadn’t yet left the family camp site. I’m not sure my crouching, head in hands, so close to the urinals would have been so sympathetically received elsewhere.
Still, despite our odd moments, we found our family festival mojo and I can only describe the weekend as bloody brilliant!
Watching my little boy air drum to The Vaccines ‘20/20’ on his Dad’s shoulders was a true polaroid moment; listening to Naomi Shelton in the glorious sunshine while 3 toddlers attempted to throw popcorn in my mouth was one of my most fun festival moments ever; and, while it may not have been my finest moment of parenting – letting the boy fall asleep at 10.30pm in the middle of a field with a sugary lollipop in his mouth – I have rarely been happier than reliving my teenage years and shouting along to ‘Don’t Look Back in Anger’, my little man and other half by my side. Plus, maybe listening to Noel Gallagher in that field as he drifted off to sleep will endow him with a little more cool than I ever had as a kid.
This is not normally the type of blog I would write. If you’re looking for some political ranting or scathing comments about children’s clothes, better look in the archives or check back next week.
I know there are many blogs which exist which take sponsorship or freebies from companies in order to promote them. Just to make it clear, this is not that either.
This is me, genuinely and honestly, raving about a truly brilliant family experience. No hidden agendas. No advertising. Just a few ideas and suggestions for any families who might be thinking of going away.
Pre-parenthood, my husband and I were like most people: we weren’t exactly what you’d call seasoned travellers, but we liked a holiday and we liked to explore. We were never fans of the package holiday or lazing around on a beach all day – you can’t enjoy that if, like me, you’ve got itchy feet and the attention span of a gnat. Plus, after an ill-judged last minute holiday in Majorca at the end of the season, where the highlight was being presented with a carrier bag full of Bacardi Breezers because we were the only customers and the bartender was clearing out, while spending one memorable evening looking after the poor child of a couple so drunk they could barely pronounce their own names, we realised resort holidays were definitely not for us!
So we’d save up for our big adventures, like visiting temples and scuba diving in Thailand, or exploring hidden ruins around Mexico City. In between, we learned the values of mini-breaks near home. We spent an amazing week discovering the beauty of Northern Ireland and a slightly less beautiful week in rainy Devon, where the highlights were a trip to a rather muddy Maize Maze (so much that the woman at the gate genuinely tried to turn us away and avoid our disappointment rather than take our money) and a day out at the House of Marbles (yes, it really is a house full of marbles).
We had a great time – you always do when you’re away with someone you love – but I had very much come to see UK holidays as a second best; something to be accepted before you could afford to fly somewhere more exotic again.
Last year we ventured abroad again and I was certain we had found our family holidaying mojo. A week in Barcelona was the perfect antidote to the stresses and strains of modern life. Culture for us, a beach and aquarium for the little one and a city apartment with a balcony on which to enjoy wines and nibbles after toddler bedtime. It was amazing. I can thoroughly recommend Barcelona, and was looking forward to repeating a similar experience this year.
So, we started to look for the next alternative, but it was not as easy as we thought. The fact that the boy is now over 2 and we have to pay for his flights suddenly made a huge difference to what we could actually afford. Plus, the absence of a buggy and any guaranteed nap time meant that dreams of exploring old towns and cultural highlights were unlikely to been born out.
Reluctantly and, to be honest rather petulantly, I came to accept that a week on the continent was looking unlikely, and suggested a ‘staycation’.
We agreed, and I acted excited, but inside I was gutted. While single and childless friends posted stunning pictures of their smug faces against the backdrop of shimmering beaches and glasses of Prosecco, I was going to be attending village fetes and huddling under anoraks in the English countryside.
But then I discovered something unexpected…the UK is awesome! Or, more specifically, Cornwall is awesome!
It helps of course that the BBC seemed to lose its knack of weather prediction for the week, and what we expected to be a week of cloud and rain turned into such unexpected glorious sunshine that we ended our holiday rather pinker than intended. Low expectations definitely have their advantages.
Still, Cornwall truly has merits which I cannot put down solely to the weather.
The beaches are among the cleanest and most beautiful I have ever seen: peaceful enough to take a bracing walk on a chilly drizzly morning, and perfect for a family day out in the sun. No giant commercialised Coca-Cola awnings trying to brainwash you into wasting all your money, no one harassing you and trying to sell you stuff while you relax and no one blaring our hideous music or trying to organise a mass game of volleyball among people who just want to be left alone to sunbathe. Carbis Bay is quiet and beautiful, St Ives is cute and quirky, while Fistral Beach in Newquay is fun and, ultimately, too cool for the likes of me (though loomed over by the hotel where they filmed The Witches, so I kept my eyes peeled for purple eyed old women coming too close to my son!).
Then there are the attractions. Truth be told, my husband and I had started to drift into the odd reminiscence/moan about all the holiday things we’d miss out on having a child: no late nights out, no long lie ins, and, as I’m pregnant and he had to drive everywhere, there was no sipping wine while watching the sunset.
Yet, without a child we would never have been up early enough to enjoy a lazy breakfast in the garden and then have a full day out. We wouldn’t have got the steam train, played crazy golf, had a picnic and gone canoeing all in one afternoon. We wouldn’t have visited the seal sanctuary and discovered that we were more interested in them than our son was. If we hadn’t been so determined to get an overexcited boy to nap, we wouldn’t have driven around aimlessly and accidentally ended up in Lizard, the most southerly point in England, enjoying cream tea in the most precariously located coastal café with the some of the most stunning views I have ever seen. Perhaps best of all, if I hadn’t been holidaying with my family, I would never have enjoyed the hilarity of watching my husband struggle to free himself from the clutches of the sand, having persuaded our son it would be fun to bury him, then realise he couldn’t get out: trapped by a two year old!
I love being a mum – I really, really do. Yet I find myself all too often reminiscing about things which were better or easier before I had to factor in a child. Thankfully, I’ve been shown that missing out on exotic holidays doesn’t matter. It’s as easy to have an amazing time an hour away from where you live as it is to have a crap time in a place you spend hundreds of pounds to get to. It’s all about the company and the attitude. Plus, it helps if you go somewhere as a wonderful as Cornwall!
As I said earlier, there is no promotion or sponsorship involved in this blog. Just because we had such a fab time, I have listed below all the places we used, where we stayed and how we travelled, just in case someone is lazy and wants to copy our holiday ideas. I cannot recommend Cornwall enough. It was beautiful, fun and ridiculously friends: I have never had such good service anywhere in my life.
- Travel: We flew from London City Airport to Exeter with Flybe. Sounds extravagant but it was a similar price to the trains and so much quicker and easier. Important when you have small children to entertain! You can easily hire a car from the airport which makes life a lot easier for getting around.
- Accommodation: We booked through Cornish Cottage Holidays and stayed in a lovely little village called Lelant. The house was lovely, , walking distance to the nearest beach and easy driving distance to everywhere we wanted to go and right next to a pub
- Paradise Park: A wide selection of tropical birds, an indoor play area with the most fun slides I’ve seen (ahem, and been on – though they’re not really designed for pregnant women!) and, most importantly for us, a completely incongruous but very popular dinosaur trail!
- Lappa Valley Steam Railway: Possibly the best family day out we have ever found. nestled amidst beautiful lush green surroundings is a paradise of family activities including crazy golf, a boating lake, one of the best parks I’ve visited and s lovely steam train ride to get you there and back. An absolute must visit!
The frenzy is finished. No more wrapping paper, no more Mariah, no more botch-job homemade cards cluttering your living room. The festive season is done and dusted.
In some ways it’s a relief; it’s bloody exhausting trekking the country visiting everyone. In other ways, it’s a sad time; no longer are we socially obliged to dole out good will to all men. Now everyone is free to be the grumpy, miserable old gits they really are, with no mulled wine to lull them into a sense of communal festive cheer.
There’s another downside to the end of Christmas: post-Christmas guilt.
There are the obvious reasons: too much food, sneaking the best chocolates behind the cupboard when no one was looking, too much booze, secretly putting the handbag your mother-in-law bought you on eBay the day after she leaves. But I’m not talking about these. I don’t consider these valid reasons to be guilty; you’re supposed to overindulge at Christmas! I won’t worry about whether I can do up the top button on my skinny jeans until at least the spring, when I can no longer get away with big baggy jumpers to cover it up.
This is a more specific kind of post-Christmas guilt. Parental post-Christmas guilt. Otherwise known as ‘Dear God. How did my child end up with so much crap and will they grow up to be a spoiled brat?’ guilt.
Despite all pleas for restraint, our living room now resembles a small day centre. There is a big electronic dinosaur, complete with flashing eyes and hideous roar, teetering precariously across the gap between an old battered jigsaw box and a brand new fire engine. Just in front, a wave of tiny wooden trains lie scattered: any moment now a man in a battered hat and waistcoat will stroll into our living room, slip on a stray wheel and fall promptly and comically on his arse, grabbing the shelves and bringing mountains of books on top of himself in the process (thinking about it, I really should clear up). Not to mention the books, clothes, plastic food, toy cars, DVDs, Mr Tumble Annual, baking sets, spelling boards, bingo and god knows what else.
Our boy is lucky, with a big family who love to spoil him. He loves his new toys, and one day I’m sure he’ll learn to appreciate them. Still, the greatest response to a present on the day came as he delved into his stocking to pull out the obligatory Christmas orange. He peered at it carefully, his face lit up and he held it aloft above his head like he had just discovered the Holy Grail, screeching ‘An orange from Santa! An orange from SANTAAAAAA!’ before promptly ripping off the peel and eating it on the spot, savouring each piece like it had been hand crafted by Saint Nick himself.
The only other presents to receive such adulation were a single sheet of stickers and a box of second hand jigsaws, handed to us by family members clearly more experienced and aware of the need to clear out before the annual present onslaught. So it is that, despite having a living room which currently resembles a floor of Hamley’s, our son will mostly be found completing the same jigsaw 10 times in a row.
I’m not complaining. I’m really not. He does love his other toy and plays with them. Still, he has far more than he needs. That’s what causes my post-Christmas guilt. Try as I might, I failed to stem the ever-growing tide of materialism sneaking into our home and his life. Not only did I fail to stop it, I propagated it. I introduced the idea of Father Christmas, I insisted on making a stocking, I oohed and aahed at everything he opened in a manner so enthusiastic it rivalled Louis Walsh for unwarranted excitement. I am the one to blame for my post-Christmas guilt.
Shelter reports 90,000 children are likely to have spent this Christmas homeless. It’s not a case of whether they would have any presents, but whether they would have anywhere to open them. Here, in one of the richest countries in the world, thousands of families had to rely on food banks to provide a meagre Christmas dinner, unable to find money to provide it themselves. This, of course, says nothing of the hundreds of thousands of children across the world who will have been sheltering from violence, war and abuse this Christmas.
It is neither feasible, nor desirable, to imply we shouldn’t enjoy Christmas because other people can’t. But it is selfish and ungrateful not to recognise how lucky we are.
I made no New Year’s Resolutions. I won’t swear off chocolate or wine (come on!), nor will I join a gym or set myself arbitrary targets about learning Spanish by April. Neither should you. None of us will keep them and they’re all, ultimately, pointless. Instead, whenever we’re enjoying spending time with our families, or playing with the new train set, we should be a little more aware of how lucky we are and think about what we could do this year to help those who are less so. Maybe that will alleviate some of the post-Christmas guilt.
Christmas is absolutely, 100%, irrefutably the best time of the year. That is a fact.
No one and nothing will ever detract me from my evangelical adoration of the festive season. Everything about it is brilliant: the food, the mulled wine, the music, the parties, the presents, squashing every member of your family around a minuscule table and realising at the last minute that you haven’t got enough chairs so you have to eat your roasties perched precariously on an old packing box piled high with threadbare cushions. I even like the shopping.
The only downside is that when you’re a 17 year old, or 22 year old, or 30 year old who loves Christmas that much, people quickly get tired of you or brand you a loon and a child.
But it’s ok now; I’m no longer branded a child, because I have a child. A child is the passport to all things Christmas! No one tells me off anymore, because it’s ‘not for me, it’s for him’.
Now that my son is old enough to sing ‘When Santa got stuck up the Chimney’ , and has a vague grasp of the concept that when his advent calendar runs out he’ll inexplicably be showered with presents, we can really go to town and indulge my…erm, I mean his… festive desires.
We’ve been to the panto: he was terrified of the witch and asked to go home within 2 minutes. I said no. He was going to enjoy shouting ‘cooee!’ at a man in a dress whether he liked it or not!
We’re making our own Christmas Cards; he doesn’t want to. He’s made it clear he’d rather build Lego towers, but it’s a festive family activity so we’re doing it – I’ve already bought the Christmas stickers.
We’ve scrambled through crowded Christmas markets, we’ve watched the most uninspiring Christmas lights turn on in the world, and I’ve traumatised him forever by forcing him to watch The Snowman. After much moaning about wanting to watch ‘dinesoor fiiilm!’ he relented. We cosied up on the sofa and I watched delighted as he was slowly mesmerised and won over by the Christmassy wonder. By the time of the snowman party, we were up on our feet, joining in the dancing and pretending to fly back home. It was only moments before the end I realised my mistake. I watched my son’s smile fall from his face as he stared at the screen and mumbled ‘Mummy. That boy looks sad!’. I had forgotten how horribly and suddenly the beauty of The Snowman comes to an end. It was a significant flaw in my ‘get the boy to love Christmas as much as me’ master plan, and a bit of a traumatic moment for us both.
Undeterred, we have, of course, been to see Santa. I knew he wouldn’t like it. Why would he? Being dragged into a tiny dark room, pushed towards a man in a ridiculously ostentatious outfit whose beard is so large you can’t see his face and being instructed to reveal your innermost desires. It’s weird! Yet we pushed ahead and when the inevitable ‘No! I don’t like Santa!’ came, we laughed, gave him a cuddle and continued to sit there in the grotto. When we finally left, the boy was still baffled but cheered by clutching a cheap plastic penguin. Swiftly, we set about the inevitable task of reordering his perception of life: ‘Wasn’t it exciting to see Santa? Shall we go tell everyone about it? If you’re a good boy he said he’d bring you a train set. Isn’t that nice?’
When you think about it, the whole concept of Father Christmas is weird, selfish and a little bit cruel.
First, it’s clearly a construct of a purely capitalist society. Aside form the fact that we’re essentially voluntarily indoctrinating our own children into a lifelong obsession with Coca Cola (did you know the red outfit and beard were their invention?), we’re teaching our children to value stuff above all else: behave well, get toys and you don’t even have to thank the person who gave you them, because you never see them.
Next, let’s focus on the weirdness of forcing our children to embrace (sometimes literally) a complete stranger, contradicting every other safety message we give them. Then, as if forcing them to meet him wasn’t enough, we tell them that this man is going to break into our house while we’re all asleep and vulnerable, where he’ll feast on snacks we gave him so he has the energy to carry on breaking into our neighbours’ houses too! Finally he’ll help himself to some booze and head on his merry way, keeping up the age old Christmas tradition of drink driving. I wonder what the limit is when you’re in charge of a reindeer powered vehicle.
Finally, perhaps the biggest issue for many parents, is the lying; sugar coat it however you want, but that is basically what we’re doing. We’re lying, telling them to believe in something which we know isn’t true. Knowing their innocence is going to be shattered in so many ways as they get older, why do we choose to add an extra disappointment? For all the fun it provides through the early years, for every time we trundle down to Santa’s grotto, for every mince pie and brandy we place carefully by the fireplace, for every letter we send to the North Pole and for every relative we get to phone up and put on a funny voice to persuade the kids to be good and go to bed, we should know there’s a big old disappointment waiting somewhere down the line. One day when some mean old bully at primary school leans over after the Carol singing and whispers in your little treasure’s ear ‘you know Santa’s not real…’ And they run home in tears, in many ways you’ll only have yourself to blame.
I ramp up the Christmas excitement in our house knowing that I’m setting us up for a fall. It will be The Snowman all over again: caught up in the warmth and fun if the season, we’ll get carried away and forget the inevitable ending, until one day my son’s face falls. He’ll have to face the sad reality which has been hidden from him for so long, and I’ll have to face the guilt that I knew it was coming, and let it happen anyway.
Ah well. Sod it! It’s just a bit of fun. It’s years before I’ll have to tell him the truth. Now pass me the mulled wine and a mince pie.
T S Eliot once said ‘The journey, not the arrival, matters’. I can only deduce from this that he never had to travel with small children.
There was a time when travelling anywhere could be a joy, a time to be cherished rather than a trial to be endured. A good book, a hot coffee and a big fat muffin meant any train journey could be a delight. Then you had children.
The thing is, I don’t really find travelling with children that difficult. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not easy – I learned my lesson not to stuff your toddler full of cheese and tomatoes before their first ever flight if you don’t sent to spend two hours smelling like sick and sitting in stinking pink-stained trousers, and when recently faced with the possibility of a five hour coach journey with a two year old I quickly arranged alternative childcare for the weekend – but on the whole I reckon I’ve cracked it travelling with my kid. In fact, it can be a fairly enjoyable experience (not as enjoyable as with a good book and a muffin obviously, but still ok).
No, the problem is – as always – other people’s kids. No, scratch that. The problem is – as always – other kids’ parents! Bumbling, hapless, moronic parents who don’t consider that sitting on a plane, train or automobile for four hours might be a little dull for a child. Weirdos who haven’t thought that the passing clouds and the low hum of the engine might not provide enough entertainment for a child with the attention span of a gnat and whose go-to activity when left to their own devices is either running around in circles or shouting loudly, neither of which go down well on public transport. Worse still are those who vaguely realise that they need to structure the journey and do so using only food, opting for the ‘why don’t we spend the first half an hour eating Haribo and crisps then wonder why you’ve gone so mental for the rest of the journey?’ technique.
I like to travel. I may not be off anywhere exotic, but I want to be able to take my boy out and continue our journeys in relative peace and quiet. Even more so, on those rare, beauteous days when I am blessed with a stretch of time travelling sans-child, with nothing to do except read and relax, I do not want my journey ruined by a useless parent-traveller. I make my point clear here. I have no problem with children – they are just doing what comes naturally – I will just never understand parents who can’t foresee and at least try to prevent the hazards that come with such a family journey.
So, in case you are one of these poorly planned travelling families (and, as the cliched comedy stand up goes, if you don’t think you know any, it’s you!) here are some basic tips for getting through a trip with your hair and nerves thoroughly in tact, and without making enemies of the other passengers.
1. Go by train wherever possible. That way if they get bored, you can get up and wander around: it’s dull and futile, but better than getting into a fight with a seatbelt and a raging toddler.
2. Plan in advance and choose your times. There’s nothing worse than a buggy taking up half a carriage while every other passenger crouches with his nose crammed into some sweaty businessman’s armpit. The fact that many people have already realised this is what I credit with creating ‘buggy rush hour’. Between 4 and 5pm there is clearly a spark in most parents’ heads shouting: ‘Bugger. I need to get home before rush hour!’ meaning buses and trains are suddenly abound with more children than The Sound of Music. Clever parents – they clearly remember what it was like commuting pre-baby.
3. Take books. Lots of books. Pack your bag full to bursting, then balance a few more on top. Read in a quiet voice, keep your child calm and avoid massive dirty looks form strangers who really don’t need to hear what the hungry caterpillar ate on Saturday for the fourteenth consecutive time.
4. Take snacks. Lots of snacks. Pack another bag full to bursting point, balance a few more on top, then cram a load more in your pocket. Worry about the perils of encouraging overeating when you get there – right now you just need something to keep them quiet. Anything but Haribo and crisps.
5. Dress your kid cute. If all else fails and the other passengers are staring at you with hatred in their eyes, you can always have it up your sleeve that when you whip off their jumper, your little one is wearing a t-shirt with a grinning tank engine and an irresistible slogan that says ‘I’m choo-choo cute!’ or some other mush to pull at their heart strings until they can’t hate you any more!
Right, now we’ve cleared that up, anyone for a day trip?
I bloody love the summer holidays – I would, I’m a teacher.
Months and months of never having the headspace for anything more than lesson plans, making and exam prep are finally relieved. After the inevitable first few days of illness (end-of-term-itis), there stretches ahead of me several weeks of carefree abandon and something finally resembling a normal life – at least until results day.
Now I’m a parent, I appreciate it even more. I appreciate there are some parents who dread the holidays – their normal routine is disrupted with the need for childcare, holiday clubs and, scariest of all, whole days of family time which need to be planned, organised and endured. For me though, it’s the best time of the year, the only time I can fully devote my attention to my son without rushing out of the house while he’s still in his PJs and rubbing his eyes, or trying to play jigsaws whilst also reading a stack of essays I promised my year 12s I’d hand back the next morning.
In the summer we can really get to know each other: building towers for hours on end, running through the fountains in the park on a hot summer day and reading Peppa Pig books ten times in a row (ok, I’m less keen on that last one).
There’s just one thing that threatens the bliss that is my summer holiday.
Bloody kids, they’re bloody everywhere.
A quick trip to the shops becomes a mission. Gangly teenagers lurk around every corner looking hopelessly angry or angrily hopeless at the prospect of having to entertain themselves for six whole weeks. Hyperactive children charge out from under racks of clothes, turning corners at a pace which would make Jenson Button envious. Where they don’t knock you down, you’re likely to knock them down, or else maim them by running over their toes with your buggy.
Buggies: there’s another thing I hate. I hate having one and I hate the way everyone else’s gets in your way. When did everyone in East London meet up and decide to have babies at the same time? Walking through Boots is like an obstacle course – The Krypton Factor meets One Born Every Minute.
In a previous life, I would have escaped to a museum, though you’d have to be careful which you picked. Head to the British Museum and far from a peaceful exploration of our nation’s history, you’re liable to be confronted by hoards of holiday club children. Underpaid, undertrained, overly stressed and largely hungover students and graduates attempt to herd round rowdy groups of kids who in theory are using their holidays to expand their minds, but in reality are just scouting for the nearest corners to lurk in while they post selfies on Snapchat or Instagram. ‘In museum. Everything old and boring. Lolz.’
There are of course a few more ‘boring’ museums from which you can escape the masses, but while they may have nominally fitted a changing unit in order to class themselves as ‘family friendly’, they’re really not. They’re trying to keep out the under-18s riffraff to please grumpy old gits like me, who don’t want their peace disturbed by noisy children. The problem is, I now come with one of those permanently attached. It’s fair to assume no one in the British Library wants their afternoon disturbed by my son singing Old McDonald at the top of his voice, no matter how impressed I might be with his impression of a cow.
Finally there’s the park – every cash strapped parent’s best friend. If, like me, you’re lucky enough to live near one of London’s big parks, there’s enough to keep you occupied for days on end: paddling pools, water fountains, swings, slides, climbing frames, boats and of course big open spaces to run around on and have picnics. It’s perfect for when people visit and, when the weather’s right, it’s near paradise.
Except for those bloody children.
Everywhere you turn, there they are. Toddlers having tantrums, brats on bikes and scooters, pre-teens giggling and taking up the equipment clearly marked ‘under-10s only’. If you’re really unlucky you’ll be hit by another holiday club group – packs of little monsters in hi-vis jackets, storming at you in a scene reminiscent of the stampede which killed Mufasa in The Lion King and causing just as many tears. Perhaps the hi-vis jackets aren’t really to help the workers keep an eye on the children – they’re a beacon warning innocent bystanders: ‘LOOK OUT, HERE THEY COME!’
I don’t mind children. Contrary to current appearances, I actually quite like them. While most parents lurk in the corners of the play area sipping on a coffee, I always seem to end up stuck in the middle orchestrating some kind of elaborate game which inevitably ends with me getting covered in either water or sand.
It is my curse in life to spend all my working time surrounded kids, only to get a break and be surrounded by more somewhere else – and this time I’m not allowed to tell them off when they’re naughty!
Someone disabuse these children and their parents of the mistaken notion that this is their summer holiday. It’s not. It’s mine.
Half term is over. A couple of days and I’ll be back at work: refreshed, rejuvenated and raring to go.
The last few days before the break I was struggling. I had zero tolerance for rude teenagers (why is it so difficult to say please and thank you?). Parents were driving me crazy (yes, your son is being challenged enough, or at least he would be if he bothered to bring in a pen and open his book without me nagging him twenty times!). I was losing enthusiasm for my subject (I’m running out of different ways I can host a discussion on whether we have any sympathy for Caliban).
I was struggling so much that when my husband asked me the question: how was your day? I responded immediately with ‘Rubbish!’ and entered into a tirade of reasons why I was exhausted, fed up and needed a holiday. So hell bent was I on explaining the negatives of my work day, I neglected to tell him I’d been given an outstanding in my most recent observation and that my year 9 class had made me a valentines card to apologise for their previous bad behaviour with the message ‘we really do appreciate all your hard work’ – an act so sweet and unexpected it nearly made me cry in front of them (it didn’t though, and I still made them write an essay!). I just couldn’t focus on the positives.
Ultimately, I was just knackered…and missing my boy.
One week later and I am almost unrecognisable. 6 blissful days of quality family time has made all the difference. We haven’t done anything massively exciting – visited my parents, been to soft play, watched the Gruffalo on DVD, a trip to the park (more specifically Alexandra Palace, where I sat in a pub next to Kenneth Branagh – that was pretty exciting!) – but it’s been lovely, and even though it was interrupted by the inevitable boring day of exam marking, it was everything I hoped for when we first decided to have a family. I feel rested and happy.
In the last week I feel like I’ve truly witnessed my little man growing up. His speech has come on leaps and bounds and there must be some link with how much more time I have to talk to him. Yesterday, after much procrastination and some quite frankly wimpy behaviour, he faced his fears and pushed himself down the slide for the first time. Before you know it, he won’t need me at all.
I don’t want to be a stay at home mum – despite appearances at times I love my job and want my son to see me as a strong, independent woman with interests of my own. Though I know my husband would never leave me high and dry, I need my own financial security. I need to know it’s there and it’s mine.
How do you leave work at work? How do I reach the stage where I can step through the door and focus 100% on my family? How can I make sure I never miss those tiny milestones? How can I switch off enough to make sure I notice that my son has started talking in his sleep, stifling a giggle as he rolls around at nap time muttering ‘Apple piiiiiiie’ with a look of pure satisfaction on his face.
As an English teacher, I use a lot of rhetorical questions, but this isn’t one of them.
How do you do it?
For someone whose pen name is Sceptical, you’d think Christmas time would be easy pickings in terms of blog topics. So much to be cynical about. So much moaning to be done: the constant stream of Christmas music, gift sets in the shops in October, the unnecessary stress it places on people, the money wasted, the manic rushes to the shops, the treks around the country to see all your family members within the space of two weeks, and what my husband festively referred to yesterday as a ‘giant, territorial pissing competition’ to see who can buy the little ones in the family the biggest and best gifts.
Ironically though, I can find nothing sceptical or cynical to say. The truth is, I bloody love Christmas!
As I type, I am listening to Fairytale of New York and facing a giant stuffed Santa we bought on a whim in a charity shop last week. I am facing a day of cleaning and clearing out in preparation for the relatives who will gradually arrive over the next two days. There will be no Nigella or Jamie inspired Christmas dinner in our house (I only discovered when my mum told me last night you were meant to have specific turkey gravy, not just normal Bisto granules) and if Kirstie Allsopp tried to instill a homemade Christmas in our house the nearest she’d get would be a scrappy bit of tinsel wrapped around the bookcase corner and a rather misshapen bauble the little man made at the childminder’s. Nothing will run on time and there will be no getting dressed up for Christmas Day. I’ve already realised a multitude of things I forgot when I did my one organised thing for Christmas and did a very early online shop, so I’ll still have to join the queues of manic shoppers in the supermarket on Christmas Eve. But I don’t care…
I love Christmas! It’s the one time of year I lose all scepticism. I love the surly shop assistants who attempt to get into the festive spirit by sticking bits of tinsel in their hair. I love saying ‘Happy Christmas’ to strangers as I do my Christmas shopping, I love seeing the lights turned on. I love decorating the tree. I love Christmas jumpers. I love rushing around the country visiting family and friends, even when it means (as it did last week) getting 7 trains in one day with a toddler, three days worth of luggage and a bag full of presents. I love listening to Nat King Cole and getting a little teary as I recall childhood memories of my Nana secretly trying to open presents on Christmas Eve despite being the oldest person in the house!
I may be a fairly cynical and sceptical person, but I cherish this one time of year when I can put all that to one side and just enjoy my family and friends.
This year it’s even easier to put the scepticism aside as I watch a crazy little toddler so excited to see all his family, finally mastering how to say Nana and Ampa (grandpa). It was easy to get over missing my work do when I picked him up from the childminder’s with a bag of tree decorations he’d made and wearing the world’s silliest reindeer hat. Ultimately, my suspicions have been proven correct – however great Christmas was before (and I have always loved Christmas) it’s a whole different and more wonderful thing with a child around.
So, on that note. Have a very merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
Having a family is a huge life choice and one that I do not regret in the slightest. In fact, I love it! I am probably the happiest I have ever been.
I can’t deny I miss elements of my pre-baby life.
So, last week we dropped the little man off with his Nana and Granny and headed up to Edinburgh for 5 baby free days and nights of care-free, grown up fun (steady on now, it’s not that sort of blog!).
I may have gotten weepy during bath time the night before we left, and yes my husband had to pry the little boy out of my arms that bedtime, and I have never left it so late to head to the station for a train, but once we had broken through that invisible, emotional barrier, it was brilliant! One week in Edinburgh for the Fringe, the place where we got engaged and spent the week before our wedding. 21 shows in 5 days. Drinking and dancing til 4am, then sleeping in until noon. Having a picnic at the top of Arthur’s seat with some of our closest friends. Staying up chatting and drinking wine with my best friend until 3am. Even the simple bliss on first arriving of just sitting down for two hours, uninterrupted. Amazing.
Of course I missed my son, and I was desperate to get him by the end, but the massive smiles and hugs all round when we got home left me in no doubt we’d done the right thing.
Still not convinced? Here are ten reasons why I’d recommend time away from your kids to anyone:
1. Parenting is bloody hard work. Holidays from any other job are a legal right, so why not a holiday from being a parent?
2. Your children are allowed to love people who aren’t you. As the people who brought them into this world and sacrificed months/years of our life to sleep deprivation in order to run and cater to their every need, it’s difficult to accept that anyone else could be the source of comfort and affection. Some of my happiest childhood memories are of spending time with my Nana, and while he’s not yet old enough to remember, it was heart warming to see the amazing bond our son had built with his two grandmothers in his week with them. If anything, I worried he was happier there than with us at home!
3. You are not the only person who loves your child. I’ve never realised it before, but I do hog my son. He’s mine: I grew him, I gave birth to him, I alone fed him for months. No one could love my son like me. They couldn’t…but they can love him just as much in their own way. It’s not something I find easy to admit but I know it to be true, and a week without my unintentionally watchful eye was clearly bliss for the grannies.
4. Just as children need a range of people in their life, so do adults. It’s so easy to fall off the face of the social planet when you have a family. Even when you do catch up, where you used to head down the pub or see a girls flick at the cinema, now you’re suggesting lunch at a shopping centre ‘because it has such good baby facilities’. Good friends will love you no matter what, but it’s nice to be able to sneak a bit of time to yourselves and chat about the things that made you friends in the first place.
5. Relationships need work, even more so when you have kids. Those of us who are lucky enough to be in a relationship can easily take it for granted. When a kid comes along, romance goes out the window and all the attention transfers to them. It’s easy to think that the family will take care of itself, but your relationship is the cornerstone of your family and for a successful family life, you need it to work. Taking time out to be a couple now and then isn’t selfish, it’s vital!
6. Absence makes the heart grow fonder. I don’t love my child any more since going away, but I have a hell of a lot more patience. It’s easy to be a parent when you’re splashing in a paddling pool or giggling over silly noises. It’s a lot harder when they’ve decided they no longer need to sleep and you’re battling to get them down, knowing you have a million and one other things to do before you can finally sit down with a cuppa. Ones week away and suddenly it’s not ‘Oh bloody hell, he’s still awake. That little git hates us!’ It’s more ‘Aw. He just wants a cuddle. I don’t mind sitting in his room in the dark for 20 minutes, it’s quite nice actually’. (Though I make no guarantees how long that lasts).
7. It’s really fun! I love singing wind the bobbin as much as the next person (well, erm…) but it’s amazing to be able to indulge in some real, grown up entertainment (look, I told you, it’s not that kind of column!) of the sort you used to without thinking: pubs, theatre, comedy clubs and all the other places you couldn’t get into with a buggy.
If none of those things have persuaded you, maybe you just need an idea of what you could do. For the final three reasons to have a break from your kids, here were my top three shows of the Edinburgh Fringe. If you can get a babysitter, definitely go and check them out some time.
8. Richard Herring‘s show ‘We are all going to die’. I have to admit, I’m a little bit in love with Richard Herring. So clever, so funny and so lovely. Name me another comedian who gives away a free programme to everyone in every show and then collects donations for Scope. This show also features an excellent in-depth analysis of the song ‘there was an old lady who swallowed a fly’ which wil change your view of nursery rhymes forever.
9. Max and Ivan: The Reunion: The Reunion. We discovered this double act during our first trip to the fringe 4 years ago and have been to see them at every possible opportunity since. I can’t even begin to describe it except to say it is the most energetic and cleverly structured sketch show I’ve ever come across. Also nominated for this year’s big comedy award at the fringe.
10. Casual Violence: The House of Nostril. As a rule, I steer clear of anything compared to ‘League of Gentlemen’, which totally freaked me out, so I’m glad I missed that comment on their flyer. This weird sketch show/play was hilarious and disturbing in equal measures. The chimney sweep sketch has left my husband saying ‘step in time’ after every other sentence ever since.
So, to the person who asked me ‘don’t you feel guilty‘? NO! In fact, we’re already planning next year’s trip.