Holidays are my thing; experiencing new cultures, reading by the pool, cocktails on the beach, random tourist attractions (the more random the better!) However, that type of holiday is LONG gone! At least for a while. 18 months ago, I gave birth to a beautiful baby boy, who grew into a romping, stomping toddler, nicknamed ‘the whirlwind’. Even the thought of taking him on a plane fills me with fear. I can totally see my little monster bursting into the cockpit and grabbing the controls. Then – as the plane nosedives, and oxygen masks fall – everyone will stare at me, the irresponsible woman who brought him aboard. Plenty of people travel abroad with young children. I applaud you if you’re one of them. But I can’t get my little boy to sit still for 5 seconds while I put his shoe on, never mind strapped to my lap for three hours, with someone’s tempting head of hair in tugging reach (he has a thing about eating hair!) So, for the past year and a half, we’ve sacrificed our usual holidays abroad for staycations in the UK.
Holiday 1 – was a disaster; the Lake District cottage wasn’t at all child-friendly. Cold stone floors and an open fire meant baby couldn’t roll or crawl around. The second bedroom was down a flight of stairs from the master, so baby slept in the room with us. And in the unfamiliar setting, he cried the entire time; from the moment he woke up, on and off all day, and at multiple times through the night. Mortifyingly, he also wailed every time we dared to cross the threshold of a pub or restaurant! After five days of sensory torture, we gave up, and went home early – I felt like a bit of a failure, but at least the whirlwind was soon back to his usual happy self.
Holiday 2 – a holiday park in the north-west, was more of a success. My son was just over a year old, and there were plenty of kid’s activities, plus a creche. The creche meant my husband and I could have a few precious moments to ourselves. We ate a meal at normal human speed, with both hands! Admittedly, looking across the table and not seeing my mucky little monster in his high chair, was so strange, and kept giving me moments of panic, but a little glass of fizz soon helped me relax. Towards the end of our stay, the whirlwind started to get cranky. Back home, tell-tale spots appeared…chickenpox! How annoying to think some irresponsible parent had let their child roam around, passing on a contagious disease. We visited the doc, who informed us our little boy probably caught it at nursery, long before the holiday, so I was that irresponsible parent! To my fellow guests – sorry! (Or you’re welcome – if you wanted to get it out of the way!)
Holiday 3 – our most recent staycation, and we chose a holiday park in the south. Getting there meant a 5-hour car journey with a very active 18-month-old, but we bought a seat-organiser, equipped it with an iPad, and strapped it to the back of the passenger seat. The night before our holiday saw me panic-buying downloads of cartoons, and I was shocked when I got a bill of £40!! Admittedly, it kept the whirlwind entertained, and for the most part, the journey was a breeze. The ‘pod’ we stayed in was beautiful; clean and child-friendly, with plenty of space to run around, and even a hot-tub for the grown-ups. There was a nightly kid’s disco, which turned out to be a stress-fest, as I spent most of my time chasing my son round the dancefloor as he snatched toys from other unsuspecting mini ravers. Since the second bedroom didn’t have enough space for the travel cot, whirlwind moved in with mummy, and daddy got the spare room. I secretly enjoyed this; it reminded me of the early baby days. I was the first person he saw when he woke up every morning, and I felt like it boosted our bond.
Following directly on from the holiday park, we’d arranged a couple of nights in a small, country hotel. I was conscious of the noise from our room, as our son ran back and forth over the old squeaky floorboards, banged wardrobe doors and squealed in delight! When we arrived at the restaurant for breakfast, I could feel all eyes on us. Our fellow guests were three older couples, who’d probably anticipated a quiet break prior to our arrival. To my surprise, one diner complimented me on how well-behaved our little monster was. I was still recovering from the shock, when he went on to say that children should be taught to be quiet in public places. I took a deep breath and replied: ‘with the best will in the world, kids will be noisy, and sometimes parents can’t do much about it.’ I do want my little boy to have good manners, but I also want him to play and have fun – and not always feel like he’s under military orders!
Next day we cut our holiday short again, BUT this time, I didn’t feel like a failure. I’ve accepted parenting is hard – and can be even more so when your child’s away from their usual environment. It doesn’t make me a bad parent, or the holiday a flop. I’d been feeling my son was becoming closer to his dad because they spend so much time together while I’m at work. But our time away proved my little whirlwind still loves to be with mum. On my first day back at work, my son stretched his arms out after me, shouting ‘Mama, Mama’. I had a little cry as I drove away. My husband cheerfully informed me later, that in under a minute my son had forgotten our tragic goodbye and was happily trundling about with his wheelbarrow.
Now that I’ve found my ‘holiday mojo’, maybe it’s time we ventured abroad? Coming home early won’t be an option of course, but hopefully we’ve got enough holiday experience under our belts to deal with whatever comes our way. No matter where our travels take us, I’ve discovered the most important bit of the holiday is simply the luxury of all that quality time together … and at least we don’t need to worry about chickenpox now I guess!
Kim Ryan loves being a mum, hates changing nappies. Works in advertising, is obsessed with Jennifer Lopez, and dreams of having a penthouse in New York. And London. And a villa in the South of France. Kim likes to daydream.