Then: once upon a time (pre 2009) a brief chat about budget would definitely start the ball rolling about what we wanted for a holiday. We’ve shared the same tastes about this sort of thing (good job, as we’re married) so destination would be an easy decision and generally, we would book a holiday at the travel agent or latterly on the Internet. Job done. We’d rebook it once my husband realised he’d double booked himself in a way that couldn’t be fixed. After an evening of incessant nagging and ‘I told you to check your work calendar’ – we’d be sorted.
Now: we need a holiday. Oh god we need a holiday. What, wait. We have to take them with us?? Immediate phone call to grandparents to see if they can bear to come with us. Luckily they are all utterly delightful and still under the illusion that a week with our 3 children (and us) will be ‘lovely’. Give grandparents a choice of 3 places that are feasible for destination. One will be an hour away from where we live, the second will be France, the third will be somewhere they took either of us as a baby/child on the assumption that we’re still here so it can’t have been that bad.
Then: anything goes. Self catering, full board, all inclusive, apartment, villa, hotel…. Where shall our whims take us? (And yes, we’d still whinge about it.)
Now: it has to be some type of self catering as the children generally won’t eat many things not prepared like we do at home. Also, they don’t *really do ‘quiet in the mornings’. Nice, but not too nice, if it doesn’t say family friendly on the description, we don’t bother and if it looks like you can’t replace any of the home furnishings in Argos or IKEA, it’s out of our price range. No balconies, no ponds, steps have to be scrutinised, we need a washing machine and dishwasher is desirable.
Then: again, depends on the destination, we’re both happy with all modes of transport. I used to find the notion of a long flight quite dull, all that time to read my book, watch a film, sleep… pfft. What an inconvenience.
Now: last week we drove what should have been a 5 hour journey in 10 hours (though if you ask our son the time increases every time the story is mentioned). Wow, that was a journey. It began with giddy hysteria and over the top excitement, soon descended into head banging boredom, winding up techniques to impress Horrid Henry, Houdini-style routines to get arms out of car seats, and all round ‘tellings off’ and standstill traffic. By the time we rolled into our Premier Inn stop-over all 3 children were completely spent. The receptionist was bright and cheery and quickly asked if we were aware of their ‘Good night guaranteed’ policy. At this point, me and my husband fell into maniacal laughter which carried on as we walked up the corridor and into our room with 2 sleeping toddlers and a stroppy 6 year old. Once we had settled the children my husband’s only (and most essential) task, was to sneak over to the attached pub and smuggle in a couple of G&Ts. However, because we were all sharing one room, we drank these in the dark, staring at the wall in silence. Ace.
Then: this is sad to admit, but much of our day would be spent thinking about evening dinner. In the morning we’d discuss last night’s dinner – was it nice? Where was it? What did we eat? How much was it? What did we want to do tonight? In the afternoon a walk would be to source out potential places, perhaps book and peruse the menu. Then an hour preparing for the evening out. Long showers, hair drying interspersed with book reading and make-up application followed by a long and lazy stroll to the restaurant holding hands with maybe a cocktail on the way.
Now: oh god, it’s time for them to eat again, how is it time for them to eat again already? If we’ve gone down the self catering route (highly likely) then meals are planned in advance but as we’re on holiday, we do try and eat out occasionally. Even the homecooked meals (prepared in exactly the same way, often using exactly the same ingredients) are sniffed at because they are presented on different plates with different cutlery. Eating out means finding somewhere that a) dishes out crayons or b) has toys or c) has a children’s menu. If it has all 3 guaranteed we will eat here every time we eat out during the holiday. The first 10 minutes are spent clearing the table of everything, the next 20 minutes are spent arguing over who is eating what (‘You can’t have bread and butter again!’) When the food arrives, everyone has changed their mind so you swap and chop food until everything is cold, bribe all 3 children with an ice cream and leave when someone has ‘turned’ unexpectedly with Dad and Grandad arguing that they each want to pay the bill (Dad, doesn’t want Grandad to pay for the hideous experience we’ve all endured, Grandad, wants to treat everyone).
Then: long and relaxed, with walks, meals out, drinks and sometimes dancing. Repeated every, single, night.
Now: nobody speaks between the hours of 7 and 8. No one is allowed to visit (or at least flush) the toilet. After 8pm*, we generally crack open a beer or have a glass of wine and sigh, contentedly – quietly. Bed at 9pm to counter the 5am get-up that is sure to happen the next day.
*Ok we have a drink at 7, but the first one is usually in silence, staring absently at the wall/TV on mute, I just didn’t want you to judge me.
Then: in a historic location? Why not visit a castle! Arrive, stroll round, read a few boards, learn a bit, leave.
Now: the children want to see the castle, castles are cool looking, old and really big. Start walking around the castle marvelling at what a family friendly activity you have happened upon. This will entertain everyone for hours! Brilliant. 30 seconds later pick up 3 year old daughter from the path when she splatters her knee and screams at a pitch that may wake the knights buried under your feet. Tell off son who is laughing at daughter’s misfortune. Chastise husband for making us look like the ‘shouty family’ so early on in the visit. Realise in the first turret that castles are god-awful toddler death traps. There are gaping arrow slits that the 2 year old wants to do nothing more than climb out of (she could fit) the steps are narrow, winding and uneven, everything is suddenly lethal, you no longer care about being the shouty mum and start hollering death warnings to all 3 children (which they think is brilliant) and sympathise with other parents doing exactly the same thing with a despairing shake of the head, before chasing after one of the children with ‘DON’T RUN AHEAD!!’ Spend ages at the colouring in table as the children are all 3 sat down and safe. Scoff at the sign warning parents to tuck the chairs in to avoid accidents ‘Yep, there’s your hazard – right there! One toddler chair could end it all.’ Wonder how children haven’t yet died from visiting castles, swear blind that you will never again visit a castle until all 3 children are in secondary school, leave after an hour shaking and muttering. Visit next castle in approximately 2 days’ time.
Then: Find a spot nowhere near anyone who looks like they may talk to you, carry a towel, book and perhaps bottle of water plus mobile phone and some money in case you want, anything. Sit for an hour, reading, people watching behind sunglasses, take it in turns to go for a paddle because you don’t want to leave your valuables. Get bored, return to hotel.
Now: Arrive shortly after dawn because you’re fed up of the ‘are we going yet?’ questions. Unload the car: 5 beach towels, 5 swimsuits, 5 spare sets of clothes, deck chairs, wind breaker, picnic rug, bag full of beach toys, 3 buckets and spades (2 exactly the same to avoid fights between the toddlers) a cricket set, 5 bottles of water, 3 crabbing lines, 2 fishing nets, a picnic hamper full of snacks, a huge bottle of sun cream, wellies, flip flops and probably trainers on the children’s feet. Sit next to family exactly like us, in the hope the children will make friends and that you can chat with the parents. Build sand castles, paddle, eat sandy sandwiches and laugh when Daddy gets chased by a wasp. Coax our son out of the car after Daddy has been chased by a wasp, chastise our oldest daughter for telling him the wasp is exclusively hunting him down and is going to eat his ice cream (whilst secretly laughing). Spend what seems like hours finding things in rock pools, and proudly bring the bucket back to show the rest of the family (my son stopping everyone he walks past to show off and boast about ‘the biggest crab you’ve EVER seen’ that happened to get away). Enjoy family games of cricket cheering loudly when Daddy is bowled out, laughing when Mummy fails to catch (again) and marvelling at how much more confident our son is in throwing the ball and swinging a bat. Play in the sea until gone tea time and leave realising we’ve been there hours and no one has been bored.
The fun factor
Then: holidays were relaxing, quiet, an opportunity to recharge and talk. A week was enough though, all that ‘me time’ can get a bit boring.
Now: imagine being slapped in the face with a good time, dragged through the a hedge backwards, by your hair and then repeatedly hit over the head with a comedy squeaky mallet. Constantly, for a week. It’s amazing fun, but you feel as though you’ve been in a vortex of enjoyment, spat out 10 years older and 13 loads of washing richer.