It’s summer holiday time: that must mean lazy days sipping cocktails by the pool, long lunches followed by indulgent siestas and G&Ts in the early evening sunshine. Erm, no. One of the hardest adjustments to having children is accepting the reality that the annual holiday has changed unrecognisably. In fact, it’s no longer a holiday; it’s like being at home, but worse: the children are even more excitable than usual, they rise at dawn, demand ice cream for breakfast, run around in pants like Mowgli, go feral and pee in the flowerbeds, don’t let you nod off on the lounger even for a second in case they fall in the pool /slip and hit their head /run off and get lost or abducted. And try putting sun cream on hot, sticky, sand-covered and writhing octopi-offspring.
And that’s not even the worst part. Nope, much more hair-pullingly stressful and, at times, excruciatingly embarrassing, is the actual preparation for and journey to your place of paradise.*
1. Going away pre-children
a) A month before you set off you cut down on chocolate and take up running. It doesn’t do much but you feel better about wearing a bikini (not realising that your 20-something body is pert and toned compared with what is to come. Yup, that’s the best it’s gonna get).
b) You organise a haircut, mani/pedi, wax and spray tan for a few days before you head off.
c) You plan your day and evening outfits well in advance, with co-ordinating shoes, bags, flowing scarves and jewellery. You have three different bikinis, sarongs and a large sunhat.
d) Your suitcase is full of heels, toiletries and make up. In your small handbag there is a Kindle stocked up with great summer reads.
e) The night before you leave you read the Lonely Planet and make a iPod playlist especially for your interesting and far-flung destination.
f) At the airport, you wheel a well-behaved suitcase behind you, head for the bar and hope that there aren’t any young children seated near you on the plane.
g) During the flight you have a glass of wine and watch the latest feature film.
h) You return two weeks later, tanned, well-rested and probably quite hungover.
2. Going away post-children (3 young ones, to be precise)
a) A month before you set off you make a six-page spreadsheet of things to buy, to take and to do, which you keep adding to at 2 in the morning when you awake in a panic. You still forget your phone charger.
b) You clip your toenails one evening when you’re sitting on the loo.
c) You make a last-minute internet purchase of a “flattering one-piece swimsuit”. There’s no such thing as ‘bikini-ready’ any more.
d) Last season’s maxi dress for evenings lies crumpled in your suitcase beneath bottles of ready-made formula, plastic musical toys and inflatables. Your enormous hand luggage holdall contains snacks, tissues, nappies, wooden cars, dummies, Frozen stickers, Lemaze crunchy toys and board books.
e) You do 7 loads of washing the day before departure and in the evening you sit weeping beside piles of unironed laundry. Your holiday playlist consists of the Frozen soundtrack and 8 Julia Donaldson audio books. There are 32 episodes of Peppa Pig on the iPad as they love Peppa.
f) After a noisy ride in the too-small airport taxi, at the airport there are long queues for your budget airline and the children keep running away, so you push a buggy with one hand and pull a toddler along the polished floor by the ankle with the other. There is no time for the coffee and pastry you’d been hoping for so you all eat Garibaldis.
g) On the flight you have a kicking toddler on your lap. He wants to lie on the floor and your only potty-trained child needs the loo but the ‘seatbelts’ sign is displayed for most of the bumpy flight. They won’t share the iPad. They now hate Peppa. The baby is crying and sicking up the milk that you gave to placate him. The person sitting next to you who was initially friendly sits stony-faced with spilt squash in her lap and crumbs from your children’s Organix snacks hand-printed on her shoulder.
h) You return home two weeks later, exhausted and sunburnt (through lack of time/motivation to apply suncream to yourself), with squashed raisins, crushed mini cheddars and broken smarties in your handbag. The children cry all the way back. There are no more healthy snacks so the children, including the baby, eat pain au chocolate. You’re covered in snot and sick but you’ve run out of wipes and don’t have a change of clothes. If you did you wouldn’t bother changing as you don’t care anymore. You’re probably quite hungover.
*obviously it’s all worth it, they’re wonderful really, blah di blah.