Saturday, August 6, 2011

Happy Holidays?

Holiday fun with the children in tow? What contradiction is this?
Is it possible to negotiate airports, mealtimes and toilet breaks whilst simultaneously organising enough energy consuming activities to render the rugrats tired and compliant instead of bored and whiny?

Yes, it absolutely is possible. Controversial perhaps, but emminently doable.

I've read a few newspaper articles recently describing the sheer hell and torment to be had on a package holiday with anyone too small to tie their own shoelaces or understand that Mummy would quite like half an hour to read her novel, or even just a measly five minutes to speed read the trashy mag she picked up in the departure lounge at Luton.
And I understand.
I really do.
Because I have children. Two of them. They're eleven and eight now, so far more self reliant than they were five years ago. I no longer have to endure the hell of changing a nappy on the beach or apologising because my toddler has knocked (another) glass tumbler off the table in a restaurant oddly devoid of offspring except ours. I remember, with toe curling embarrassment six years after the event, leaving a restaurant in some sleepy hamlet in Normandy, before the waiter could even take our order, because youngest daughter was doing fart noises and it was clearly not 'that kind of venue.'

So yes, I've stared down the barrel of that gun and it aint all pretty.
Some of it is damned ugly.
Some of it made me reminisce fondly over fantastic childless breaks in my twenties when we could sleep in and do city breaks without a chorus of 'where's the beach, I'm bored of old houses now' ringing in my ears. But most of it is fine, magical even. (when you're relaxed enough to lower your standards and expectations just a smidgen)

Let me tell you about the magic.
We took the girls to see their grandmother in America last summer and in between fitted in a road trip between Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Phoenix. A road trip with little people, I hear you scream? What fresh hell is this? Endless hours of dull insterstate interjected with frequent requests for drinks, snacks and toilet trips? Well no, actually. It was fun with a giant F. We talked for hours. The girls were endlessly fascinated at each new town, each new motel. The fun was in being somewhere totally different, new. And it was fun imagining this experience through their eyes. Their unfaked childish enthusiasm was contagious.

I'm too old to wake up in a fit of girly hysteria because we're off to the airport. But my daughters are the perfect age to savour this sort of moment. When we woke them at five in the morning to get ready for an early drive down to Heathrow, they were beyond ecstatic. And the novelty didn't wear off. Everything rendered them delirious with joy,from the colour of the Virgin flight attendants uniform (it's red Mummy, my favourite colour) to the type of hire car we had, to the 'funny, weird' accents everyone had and how 'big and wide' everything was and how wonderful/amazing/brilliant the food was. They'd never had a corn dog before, or been to an Ihop before. (International House Of Pancakes before you ask; place where you can buy about three dozen pancakes with an assortment of atery furring condiments to drench them in for less than a can of Pepsi back home). And that was before we arrived at the hallowed gates of Disney. I despise hackneyed old phrases, but you know that old saying, 'Happy kids, Happy parents?' Well, it's true.

Drag the kids around Gothic architecture in Barcelona at your peril. I guarantee that, even if you shove a constant supply of ice creams and bribes their way, it will only take half an hour for them to trill something along the lines of 'no fun...where's beach.. I'm bored... feet hurt..where's beach?' ad infinitum, until your ears bleed and you start maniacally examining your map to find out where the local beach is. (luckily, Barcelona has one)

But if you go to a beach, a zoo, or a pretty public park (with swings, naturally) or a theme park or a museum with things-of-interest-to-smalls, you will have a super duper trip devoid of angst and kidborne misery. Holidays with children are always fun if you find out what they enjoy and just do that instead of looking around ancient cathedrals. (we 'did' Barcelona again sans smalls a few years later, after depositing kids with relatives and stayed up till the early hours drinking mojitas safe in the knowledge that we could lie in the next day. And we looked around lots of beautiful old buildings)

I agree that holidays can be tough with kids. But only if you're trying to replicate childless trips of years before. Find out what they like and (almost) everything falls into place.
(it helps if they have a good holiday club too)