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?
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!
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?
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.