On the Beach

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Holidays with kids

I’m one of those people who has always had the travel bug- it’s in me, passed down the generations.

But things used to be different. Or putting it another way: I now have kids.

I remember the heady days when my husband and would, on little more than a whim, book a plane, a train, pack a couple of backpacks and head off. Sometimes we got lucky (Kandy in Sri Lanka- a taxi driver took us to an idyllic house on the outskirts of town where we ate Onion Stars and drank beer on the balcony while monkeys swung through the trees). Sometimes we got unlucky (Cordoba in Spain- a room with a single (open) window on a communal staircase, the décor making a prison cell look like it has been designed by Elle magazine. Bare light bulbs, metal beds and scratchy blankets. Not quite the lap of luxury).

And the thing was, it didn’t matter- it was always a great adventure and we were together: adults with a sense of humour (mostly), street smarts and a great love of exploration. New York, Provence, Rome, Madrid, Havana, Sydney, Ho Chi Minh, to name but a few, we always had a great time- just us, our passports, books and a couple of rucksacks.

In the midst of all this travelling and working, I found out I was pregnant. Equally thrilled by and petrified of what the future held, we set about ensuring that the best travelled foetus ever. Panicking that we would possibly never, ever travel again (we’d seen what happened to people with kids) we took the growing bump to Paris, Amsterdam, Brussels, New York, Copenhagen and finally, Suffolk (by then I wasn’t allowed to fly anymore).
As the due date approached my pace slowed and I occupied more and more space on transport.

Buoyed by the experience of the globetrotting person within, we thought: “Hey, how hard can it be? It’ll be just the same. We’ve taken the pregnancy in our stride. The baby will JUST FIT INTO OUR LIVES”.

So in the last weeks of my pregnancy, we booked a holiday in Cornwall, England (we lived in South-East London at the time).
We thought we were being cautious. We decided to wait until baby was 3 months old.  It was near the beach (“Won’t the baby LOVE the beach!?” we said, thrilled with our insight into baby world- and not yet parents!)  
Looking back on it now, it’s like watching a car crash in slow-mo.

After the baby was born, nothing was as it had been before. Nothing. But, foolishly, we really looked forward to our first family holiday.

The first indications that all might not go smoothly were when we complied the packing list (yes, now there were lists). The list grew by the minute and it quite quickly became apparent that the amount of luggage was inversely proportionate to the size of the traveller.

High chair, travel cot, toys, bouncy chair, nappies, wipes, formula. Steriliser, bottles, washing powder, 50,000 baby outfits, bibs, baby toiletries, baby bath, baby towel. Calpol, Baby Nurofen, thermometer….Wars have been won with less equipment.

 And the list went on. Somewhere at the very bottom were our clothes and toiletries. No books- the last 3 months had made it abundantly clear that reading was just not going to happen.

Having compiled the list, it was obvious we needed a lorry. Fortunately my parents were kind enough to lend us their SUV.

We set off, the baby had been unwell but we figured it was a car journey and she’d sleep. Perhaps that would have worked better in practice had it not taken us 8 hours to get there. An abiding memory of that trip is seeing my husband in the rear-view mirror, feeding the baby as we inched across Bodmin Moor in a traffic jam in torrential rain.

How did the holiday go? Well, the baby screamed every time we went on the beach because she wasn’t too keen on being sand-blasted. She also didn’t like her room that much. Or the rain cover on the pram which was almost in constant use (have I mentioned yet that this was a summer holiday?). And then she started teething (why does no one tell you about teething before you have kids?). The only thing that stopped her was my husband singing to her in a particular spot in the garden (cf torrential rain).

 A combination of, a tiny teething baby, another sodden English summer, traffic and a heavy dose of naïveté on our part did not serve us well.

Fast forward four years or so and now we have not one, but two girls. We’ve learnt a lot over that time– don’t take them away at 3 months, let them stay up as long as they want watching TV on the overnight flight to London – but most of all we have learnt how to enjoy holidays as a family. 

 As they have grown, their capacity to occupy boot space has decreased and their capacity for wonder has increased. We don’t try to cram too much in and we’re guided by what all of us as a family enjoy. There isn’t too much writing in the journal in street cafes or pounding the streets looking for the perfect bar or restaurant to plan the next day’s events in.

 And now that we have moved to South Africa, we even love the driving - the empty roads and the huge skies – even if we do have to listen to Disney classics on loop.

Sometimes the world moves too fast and it’s no bad thing to slow down. Sitting in the garden of our holiday cottage in Plett in the afternoon sun, looking at bugs in a bug catcher after a day of exploring rock pools is a huge adventure for my girls. And watching them, infected by the enthusiasm, astounded by the observations and questions, it’s certainly an adventure for us as parents.

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