Holidays (with children)

A holiday to North Devon in a heatwave. What could be better? I imagined it as an opportunity to reconnect with my wife to the backdrop of glorious sunsets and a soundtrack of tinkling wine glasses. Something like this, in fact:

DSCF4410
Heaven.

Alas, that’s not us. That’s some random childless couple we found while driving around at 21.45 trying to get the kids to fall asleep (without much success, I hasten to add).

The reality of holidaying with children couldn’t be further from the above image. I know that sounds kind of obvious, but my God, I had no idea the true horror of spending seven days in a static caravan with a nine-month old, a three-year old, and a wife. Dante’s Inferno is nothing next to this.

It’s not just the whining and the crying, the constant distraction, having to watch this one nearly drowning in the pool while wiping the other one’s nose, remembering to apply the suncream, saying no to the third ice-cream of the day and enduring the tantrum, taking this one to the toilet after that one has just pissed all over your lap – it’s the fact that the sun doesn’t set until half-nine, the van is like a furnace inside, and they don’t go to bed until midnight even if you start trying at six. Far from reconnecting with my wife, there was no time to do ANYTHING without the kids. And I mean anything.

I haven’t had a pee or poop for a week without an attentive audience.

It’s not as though we didn’t cram the days with activities to wear them out. I’ll take one day as an example, the day of the above photo. It started at the Valley of the Rocks in the morning, where we did a 3-mile round trip along the cliff path, with me pushing the double buggy while carrying a heavy backpack loaded with water, milk, biscuits, nappies, wipes, suncream, hats, spare clothing, maps, plasters, painkillers, dolls, rattles, camera…

IMG_1768
My daddy, the hero.

…while my wife carried herself. We then went to Lynton and rode the railway down to Lynmouth, explored and ate ice-cream, and I took some beautiful pictures of the harbour.

DSCF4149
Pretty.

After riding back up again, we drove to Heddon Valley, where there’s a track to Heddon’s Mouth that’s ‘suitable for all-terrain pushchairs’.

IMG_1896
My arse.

After struggling a mile down a rough, rocky track with a double-buggy and heavy backpack, we made it to a pebble beach where my eldest threw stones into the sea while I fed the little one…

IMG_1904
All right, wait for it!

…and then I struggled the mile back UP the rough, rocky track with the double pushchair and the heavy backpack, now loaded with stones my wife thought looked pretty, while she continued to carry herself. And did I mention the temperature was 30-degrees-plus? I must have lost a gallon of sweat.

After a bite to eat, we headed back to the campsite and went for a swim, and then tried to put the children to bed.

Well, you already know how that one ended. At midnight. With me exhausted, dehydrated, and just about ready to undo the brakes and watch the caravan roll down the hill into the sea, kids, wife and all.

In fact, instead of improving my relationship with my wife, this holiday gave it a bloody battering. I don’t recall ever having bickered quite so much. Where’s this, where’s that, why did you do that, why can’t you ever…? Oh for goodness sake, for crying out loud, what the hell, oh come on, and on and on. As an illustration of how innocent I was, I packed a book to read and a DVD for my wife and I to watch one evening. Ha! Read a book? Watch a DVD? Are you freaking kidding me?

But at least it wasn’t just us. One night, I put the kids in the puschair and walked down the hill, and from inside every caravan I passed I heard a similar tale of woe – crying, screaming, bickering, shouting. I wonder if anybody enjoys going on holiday with young children.

I think it would have been easier if I’d realised, going in, that it would be full-on as a daddy and zero-on as a husband or even an individual. Perhaps when they’re a little older, things will be different, but at this age, holidays are all about the kids.

But don’t ever make the mistake of thinking this will make them happy, or grateful, or even pleasant to be around. It doesn’t matter if you’ve spent seven hours with them in the swimming pool, or taken them to the amusements to blow a fortune on 2p machines, or carried them strapped to your back or chest up and down mountains, or gone to an interesting castle only to spend the whole time in a playpark, or read to them a million stories – the next time they’re hungry, or hot, or tired, or just irritable, it will be your fault and they will make you pay.

So why go on holiday? Why indeed. I mean, you’re still doing all the crap you do at home, only it’s far harder because the routine has gone out of the window and the kids are overstimulated so they’re harder to handle. But then, perhaps this sign I saw in Clovelly can explain it better than me:

DSCF4261
The best things in life are the people we love, the places we’ve been, and the memories we’ve made along the way.

And while changing a nappy is always changing a nappy, when you’re doing it in a place that looks like this…

DSCF4492

…it can’t be all bad, can it?

Advertisements

Time away from baby

Like many parents, the thought of leaving my twelve-month-old daughter with somebody else overnight fills me with dread, regardless of who that somebody is. Therefore, the thought of leaving her for four nights with her Granny while I went on honeymoon was a real crisis of character.

Regular followers of this blog will be aware that, when booking said honeymoon, all was not well in the Galton-Drew household. Lizzie wanted to go away for seven nights; I wanted to go for a maximum of four. She accused me of being unable to let go; I accused her of finding it too easy to let go. She wanted our old life; I wanted our new life. And so it went round.

Ultimately we went away for five days, four nights, a result of both my need to be a dad and be there for my child, and the fact we’d misinterpreted the website and couldn’t actually afford seven nights anyway. Building up to it, I wasn’t over eager to leave my troubles (I mean, my daughter) behind. How would she cope without me? How would I cope without her? What if something happened? How could I possibly enjoy myself knowing I’d abandoned my parental responsibility in order to have a jolly?

You know – normal, obsessive, neurotic parent thoughts.

For all parents considering time away from the baby, it’s of course entirely up to you and you should always do what you’re comfortable with, but having now had a holiday without the little one, perhaps my experience will help you make up your mind.

I needn’t have worried. At all. About myself or the baby.

If we start with the little one, she was absolutely fine. She didn’t seem to miss us, went to bed without a fuss and was thoroughly spoiled by her grandmother. Actually, that’s possibly the only real problem: having been fed home-cooked finger food she could feed herself with, she now steadfastly refuses food from jars and food that requires a spoon. Thanks Granny!

Not to blow my own trumpet, but I think the reason it went so well is that we’ve done a great job creating a confident, outgoing child. We’ve been there in the background but we’ve allowed Izzie her freedom, been ready to catch her when she falls but let her explore where and how she wants. It means she’s fearless, ready to face the unknown because she knows there’s a safety net beneath her and rescue just a chirrup away. It’s certainly confirmed there’s nothing wrong with our parenting style.

Going back to the baby-less holiday, I was fine too. Surprisingly fine. I put her out of my mind and barely thought about her. True, there were moments – when I saw someone pushing a pushchair, when I heard a baby crying, when I saw a strawberry-blonde toddler waddling awkwardly along the quayside – but for the most part, I didn’t find it as crippling and debilitating as I thought I would.

Perhaps this is because I’m a person, and not just a dad. It’s easy to forget, when you’re at the coalface, that there’s a whole other side to you – several sides. Lizzie and I finally got to do what we love doing: exploring. We drove down unmarked roads and walked along overgrown tracks, ducked through caves and peered into rockpools, squeezed up spiral staircases and descended into dungeons, danced on beaches in the rain and stared at Pagan trinkets scattered around Neolithic stone circles in celebration of the solstice, and still somehow found the time for hot tubs, steam rooms and meals out. That is who we are as a couple, and what we haven’t been since the baby was born.

Despite my previous claims that you can holiday just fine with a baby, the truth is that you can’t do everything. You can’t just stop at the side of the road because you’ve seen something interesting poking out of the long grass, examine it for five minutes, then jump back in the car. You can’t decide on a whim to explore this ruined castle, or wander across that causeway, or climb down these two-hundred steps to that isolated beach. Around a hundred times I thought, ‘We couldn’t do this with a baby.’

And it felt so good! Not having to think about nappies and food and waterproofs, being able to hold hands with each other instead of constantly focusing on someone else, is amazingly therapeutic after a year of unremitting parenthood. I saw many young families out with kids, and all of them were struggling, arguing, flustered, overloaded with bags and equipment, and it was such a relief not to be similarly encumbered for once.

Lizzie and I connected in a way we haven’t since forever. Of course, when you become a parent you don’t cease to be a partner, but it’s very easy to cease making an effort for one another since you’re so knackered and emotionally overwhelmed by the whole world of baby care. The arguments that characterised our lives over the past six months have gone. And that doesn’t just make you a better partner, it makes you a better parent too.

Before this honeymoon I could barely countenance the idea of going away without my child; now I think it’s a great idea. Parenting is a team sport, and the occasional team-building weekend is essential to keep it running smoothly.

So, anyone know of any cheap getaways?

A Baby-Free Holiday

In June, Lizzie and I are walking down the aisle – rather, she’s walking down the aisle while I stand sheepishly at the front awaiting her arrival. As magical as this event might be (of course it’s not, it’s a wedding! The most common phrase in our household right now is: ‘Don’t let the wedding ruin the marriage!’), it has thrown up the worst imaginable dilemma: the issue of the honeymoon.

My parents have offered to pay for us to go to the Channel Islands. Lizzie’s mum has offered to look after Izzie. All well and good, you might think. But we’re having an issue with the duration of said vacation.

Lizzie says seven nights. A proper honeymoon. A way for us to reconnect after a year’s parenting, because you don’t stop being a couple the moment you become a parent. And the best gift you can give a child is a pair of de-stressed parents who are committed to one another.

I say four nights. I became a dad to create a family. Families go on holiday together. And I don’t think I could leave her for seven nights without feeling I’m abandoning her and being a horrible, selfish, unfit father. Even four nights will be a stretch.

There seem to be pluses and minuses on both sides. You trawl around the internet and 95% of people seem to say: do it! The kid won’t even notice. You need time as a couple. You don’t want to be a helicopter parent, constantly hovering over your child, unable to let them go. If you bring the baby with you, you won’t be able to relax.

And she loves it at her Granny’s.

On the other hand, there are the 5%, who, to be fair, come across as a little holier-than-thou and judgemental, who think it is a terrible thing to go away without the baby. You gave away your rights to grown-up time the second the little one plopped out. Her routine will be ruined and she’ll suffer separation anxiety, and then you’ll be sorry.

I want to do the right thing. The trouble with this is that there is no right thing.

Lizzie maintains I have a problem letting go, and she’s probably not wrong. Be that as it may, just because I struggle to let go doesn’t mean it’s okay to leave Izzie for seven nights.

It’s my choice, at the end of the day, but I’m utterly torn between my future wife, who wants a nice honeymoon, and my baby, who I don’t want to leave. And I guess that’s what it comes down to: not whether it’s right or wrong to leave her, but whether I’ll be able to live with myself if I leave her for seven nights.

I’m not sure that I can.

 

Travels With Baby, Part 2: The Experience

If you imagine going on holiday with a baby is horrendously difficult, you’d be absolutely right. You’d also be quite spectacularly wrong. So work that one out.

By way of introduction, we went glamping on the Isle of Wight from Monday to Friday. Of course, you can call it glamping all you want, but a ‘canvas cottage’ is still a tent in a field buffeted by September winds and rattled by the first rains of autumn. Once your clothes are wet, they stay wet, the bed is made of foam on the floor, and at night the temperature drops to around twelve degrees.

I'm happy in my hat, daddy!
That’s okay, I’m warm enough, daddy!

As I have mentioned in a previous post (Out and About With Baby), the anxiety that goes hand-in-hand with Asperger’s Syndrome means just going to the shops by myself is a major ordeal. However, this doesn’t preclude the possibility of going away – since going out’s already so stressful, the anxiety from a holiday is a difference of kind rather than intensity, and if you’re going to struggle anyway, it makes a pleasant change doing it somewhere other than home.

For a similar reason, since looking after a baby is already so difficult, holidaying with one isn’t that much harder. At home your life revolves around sterilising bottles, making up feeds, changing nappies, and ensuring the little one is wearing clean clothes, is the right temperature, and you have enough spares of everything to stock your own branch of Mothercare. On holiday, the same applies. The main difference is that instead of popping to the supermarket, attending mother-and-baby groups, walking the dog or heading into town for a coffee, on holiday you’re visiting a stately home, taking part in an axe-throwing competition, playing crazy golf or searching for somewhere that does gluten-free cream teas (not common, I can tell you!).

Of course, there are other difficulties specific to travelling with a three-month-old. You leave home with the car piled up to the roof because you don’t know what the weather’s going to be like or how the baby will develop – one day she’s happy with the carry cot/pram, but the next she spends the whole day doing stomach crunches as she tries to sit up and you need to use the pushchair instead, or else she’ll have abs to die for. In addition to the travel system base unit, carry cot, pushchair and car seat, sunhoods and raincovers, parasol and umbrella, you have to add the steriliser, bottle warmer, changing bag, extras with which to refill the changing bag, baby’s suitcase containing warm weather and cold weather outfits, your partner’s suitcase, your backpack, a couple of rucksacks of food, drink, formula, a paperback (like you’ll ever find time to read it!), 6-way adapter plug, phone charger, Glo-egg. I have no idea how people can go away with two kids because we maxed out the available space with one.

Then there’s the fact you’re out and about for most of the day. When we go away, Lizzie and I tend to burn the candle at both ends, so to speak – Monday to Friday, and we checked out Alum Bay, Freshwater Bay and Ventnor, played crazy golf at Shanklin, enjoyed the arcades at Sandown, explored the WWII ruins at Culver Down, saw the windmill at Bembridge, walked the beaches at Whitecliff Bay and Ryde, visited Osborne House, East Cowes and Cowes, scoffed tasters at the Garlic Farm, shopped at Arreton Barns and Newport, navigated a hedge maze in Godshill, and still found time to go swimming twice with the baby, win a pub quiz and have a meal out. Such a heavy schedule means you need your sleep at night, and if the baby sleeps through as she started doing a few days before she went, then all is good.

Except the baby doesn’t sleep through. Because the routine has been altered, she alters with it. She knows things are different so she behaves differently. She doesn’t get tired when she usually does, doesn’t want to miss things, becomes overstimulated by all the sights and sounds and smells – ‘look, daddy, Queen Victoria’s bed, and a gold chandelier, and what sort of wax are they using to clean these marvellous wooden floors?’ So she keeps going, gets over-tired and grumpy, crashes suddenly early evening, and wakes at two am and five am. So holidaying with a baby means you’re horribly tired, and when you get home you really need another holiday.

Then there are the smaller practical considerations. Playing crazy golf, for example, is exceedingly awkward when you keep having to move the pushchair down staircases, over speed bumps and around lighthouses and windmills. You can’t play air hockey in an arcade with just the two of you, and nobody to watch the baby. Every time you get out of the car you have to debate whether to use the carry cot, pushchair, car seat or sling. And all the while, the clock is ticking between feeds, so you keep part of your brain focused on where you’ll be and whether there will be a cafe there where you can warm the bottle.

I think one of the hardest things about holidaying with a baby is that when she’s having an unsettled day, you’re stuck with her. At home you’d put her in her Moses Basket, rock her to sleep, perhaps go for a walk, put on some music or the television, and when all else fails you can take turns with your partner, allowing one of you a few moments of respite. On the last day we left the campsite at half ten and the ferry wasn’t until after seven. Izzie spent the whole day grizzling, crying, having mini-tantrums and demanding constant stimulation. This culminated in an utter refusal to sit in her car seat, and endless screaming when she did. Every time I tried to put her in the car seat she would straighten out and go stiff as a board, so I’d have to try and get her to bend at the waist, force her bottom into the seat, and hold her there with one hand while I attempted to put her straps on with the other. She might only be three months old but she knows what she wants and what she doesn’t, and boy is she strong!

But it’s not all bad. Going away with a baby didn’t stop us from doing most of the things we’d normally have done without her, and her smiles and chuckles made up for just about all the tears and screaming and inconveniences. Her fascination with every trivial, insignificant detail is a wonder to see and makes you look at things with new eyes. And you get to feel like a proper grown-up.

But not too adult to pass up a sundae that's bigger than your head!
But not too grown-up to pass on a sundae that’s bigger than your head!

All in all, going on holiday with a baby is hard work, but so is everything when you have a baby. It’s a slightly different experience from holidaying as a couple – you’re more focused on the baby and her welfare than on the things you’re actually doing – but by taking you away from the everyday grind, you can enjoy one another’s company and bond as a family without the usual stresses of home. That said, I’m in no hurry to repeat the experience unless it comes with a guarantee of four nights of uninterrupted sleep!