Nothing demonstrates with quite such clarity the difference in your world, and that you are no longer the centre of it, as going on holiday after you’ve had a baby.
Pre-kids the holiday starts before you depart, with body prepping and shopping for flimsy summer clothes that make you feel good and will enhance the tan you’ll be picking up from all those hours lolling by the pool, dabbling in a bit of reading and supping something cold. The airport provides another opportunity to shop and buy a few magazines for lazily flicking through, before you casually stroll to the plane and sit next to your loved one holding hands.
Our first holiday as a couple was a luxurious and magical two weeks in Mexico. We mooched, we ordered room service in the middle of the night because we could, and we’d…er…worked up an appetite. In the middle of the night for goodness sake. We’d just got engaged and the world was beautiful. I did make a shocking discovery about my husband-to-be on that holiday that threatened to prematurely end our blossoming relationship. Before we left he mentioned that he’d pack his black bag for our passports and money. ‘Practical and thoughtful’ I thought, possibly a bit smug at my catch that kept getting better. Turns out this black bag was a bumbag. That’s right, the man of my dreams owned – and used – a fanny pack. In 2007. The saving grace and what stopped me from having to restart the search for Mr Right is that he wore it on his shoulder. He still argues it was simply ‘a bag with an optional use for the strap’.
Fast forward a few years and I’m wishing that had remained the most offensive thing about our luggage. Normal, day-to-day running of babies requires a lot of stuff; nothing prepared me for the holiday packing. The combination of babies and a fear of the unknown leaves you with only one option: pack everything you EVER owned for EVERY eventuality and then shove in a few other things just in case. The black out blind, the sun tent, the toys that will hopefully bypass a meltdown, the thicker-than-paint suncream, summer clothes, warmer clothes in case it gets cold because you can never trust the forecasts, beakers/bottles/spoons, travel steriliser, favourite snacks that they can’t possibly have in a country such as Spain. As much as possible gets crammed in to your hand luggage because you might just need it on the plane. The space for your own clothes is reduced to a tiny corner of the suitcase, but you don’t care because *sniffs* it’s just old crap anyway and you’ll look rubbish in it. Then when you’ve spent the best part of a month planning, buying and packing everything, you’ll be expected to stand on ceremony when your partner finally gets involved to put it in the car. He’ll repeatedly mutter that he’s not sure it’s all going to fit (as panic rises in your stomach – you NEED the goddamn fold-up stairgate) and then will finally stand back looking proudly at his efforts, like his skill at packing the boot can be directly linked to the size of his manhood.
So you arrive at your destination and think ‘ah, now the holiday can begin…we can go out this evening and put the kids to sleep in the buggy whilst we enjoy a few drinks and some dinner and reeeelax’. How hard can it be, right? My friend took a double buggy abroad with just that in mind. “We took it in turns to manically rock the baby whilst the other momentarily sat with a drink, diving up every two minutes to run after our toddler Evie, who was high as a kite and keen to explore. Then Evie disappeared and I had the hotel on lockdown and the DJ making missing child announcements. We recovered Evie (in the toilet) and eventually got them both to sleep, managed to neck a glass and headed for the lift to go to our room on the 10th floor. Except the only way we could get the stupid fucking double buggy in the lift was to partially fold it in on itself, whilst trying to avoid crushing two sleeping children’. My friend finished the story ‘It goes without saying the hotel flooded within two hours of our arrival due to horrendous storms’. Welcome to Hellidays.
How does all this play out for the happy couple?
I can only speak for myself and Doug when I suggest that there were moments both of us thought ‘why have we bothered’. Stress levels can get quite high and the through the teeth ‘isn’t-this-lovely-you-forgot-the-fucking-sandwiches’ bickering isn’t fun for anyone. When those pictures of Simon Cowell and Lauren Silverman on the beach with their fresh-from-the-womb son were in the paper, everyone was talking about her body or the fact that they were out and about so soon. I found myself searching the pictures for tell-tale signs of her muttering ‘for the love of god Simon, would you cover his skin from the sun’.
A few friends have used the term ‘same shit, different location’. One friend said she wept the entire way home from her first holiday – one of those slightly awkward times when the tears just won’t stop coming even when you’re saying ‘I’m fine’ on repeat. She was in mourning for holidays of old, and aggrieved that time she had so been looking forward to with her little family felt like anything but a holiday. Another said on her first holiday with two kids she was counting down the days until she got home, and felt like an old person that couldn’t wait to get back to the safety of her own house and the comfort of her own bed. I think it’s quite common to feel this way on those first holidays with kids – it’s impossible not to have an expectation that you can recreate what holidays used to be ie relaxing, leisurely lie ins…Sir Cliff promised us no more worries for a week or two, and he wouldn’t lie. Except if it involves a baby in their first year or so, it’s unlikely they’ll suddenly sleep in until 9am, there are timings and naps to incorporate, restrictions on what they can eat and, let’s face it, mum is possibly still a bit unhinged and hormonal, and sad because the thing she needs most in all the world is a bloody holiday. Plus someone always always gets the shits or a virus. Doug and Mabel both ended up in ‘I love Palma Aquarium’ t-shirts when Mabel got through two outfit changes and covered her dear old Dad on a day trip last year. I know there are people that love travelling with kids and don’t feel like babies need to put a stop to their adventurous holidays. They must be considerably more laid back than me.
I found the first couple of holidays with a baby like pretty much all the ‘firsts’ of anything that could be directly compared to my old life – hard work and a bit disappointing. That’s not to say that I didn’t still enjoy them and spend time in between meltdowns enthusiastically chanting ‘this is the life’ and ‘aren’t we having a lovely time’ (possibly whilst holding a gin). It’s just so very different. However, I have some good news. With each trip I have got more accepting that holidays are no longer what they once were, I am able to embrace a different kind of holiday, and they have become something lovely again. We were in Wales for five days last week. We drove there at a leisurely pace, we stopped on the way at a pub for lunch where both kids could eat from the menu, and – best of all – now that Mabel is 20 months we didn’t need all the extra shit! Partly because she can just use normal cups and chairs, but also because I’ve learned from lugging items such as foldable stairgates that didn’t even fit the doorways that it’s unnecessary shit. Perhaps I no longer have the fear that is all encompassing when they’re younger. I should probably also acknowledge the power of the iPad as an excellent holiday weapon for travelling and general moments of angst.
We went to the same place in Wales when Mabel was 7 months old and Buster was two, and it felt so bizarre because I could completely remember how I felt when we were there a year ago. Sad, lost, exhausted – desperate for ‘me’ time, but too anxious to actually take it. Looking back I was still in the fog. I’d just stopped breastfeeding so my hormones were going wild, I was anxious about keeping to a routine so we didn’t screw up everything we’d been working for in order to get some actual sleep. Once they’re a bit older all the timings are a bit more flexible and the all-important food and sleep is a bit more reliable. The place we were at had activities like bug hunts and hobbit walks and the kids were so bloody happy it was infectious. Buster – previously terrified by the wave machine – doggy paddled his way down the lazy river, panting and spluttering ‘Mum I’m doing it!’. I watched Mabel happily spend 30 minutes kicking and throwing a beach ball around the pool, one delicious dimpled bum cheek permanently hanging out of her swimming costume, and batting off any kids that tried to take her ball. Come the evenings, the kids would go to bed exhausted and we’d have a whole uninterrupted evening to ourselves, no washing to do, no work to get ready for, just us. Necking wine, talking (can you imagine?!) and doing what a married couple in their 30s do with their alone time…that’s right, we watched Breaking Bad and ate paté.
The best thing about a holiday now is that it gives us a chance as a family to capture a moment in time that will never be the same. Both of us are there to witness whatever phase the kids are going through, lots of photos are taken and memories made, and getting the evenings to ourselves we find that we actually rather like each other. Yes, I miss lying on a beach without a care in the world. I have it on good authority from parents with older kids that this phase, where they’re testing your agility skills as they make another dash for the water, is shortlived. These people return from holidays looking rested and with a TAN. I shall hang on to that reassurance and in the meantime feel incredibly grateful for my lovely little family and all the new things they – and we – are learning
And if it’s more of a helliday, well there’s always gin. Lovely big holiday measures of gin.
Have you found holidays a bit…different? Do you still manage to be adventurers? I’d love any comments