A week ago we returned from our two week summer holiday, this year to wild, wet, sunny, cold, foggy (yes, all in one day usually) rugged, north Devon/Cornwall. Loved it.
The scenery was breathtaking, the pace of life slow, the wild flowers exquisite, the surf energising, and the sand between my feet was sublime (even if cold). I rarely looked in the mirror, used a hairdryer or applied make-up.
What was particularly special about this holiday was that it was the first family holiday I’ve had since becoming a parent that I returned refreshed. Yes, actually refreshed. Astonishing isn’t it. That’s it, pick yourself up off the floor and I’ll tell you why.Our youngest is almost 6, and the pair of them can now get up in the morning without disturbing us, go outside and play with friends (on the yurt campsite or in the large holiday manor), feed the chickens and collect duck eggs, colour in (yes, at last my son is colouring in of his own free will!) or (dare I admit it?) turn the TV on. Yes, we weren’t actually in a yurt, tempting though that was, but in a cottage on the yurt site, precisely for this reason – getting a breather from each other first and last thing at night.
In short, we could have a sort of lie in. At least, on most days.
And then, there’s the wonderful fact that they are both old enough to start doing the things we enjoy – swimming, body boarding and cliff walks (ok, well actually only one of them had the stamina for a long cliff walk, and it wasn’t my eldest, my 5 yr old leaving me exhausted by the end of it!) The bliss of us ALL getting wet suits and ALL getting in whatever the weather was enough to make me smile.
And despite the sometimes damp nature of the Cornish weather, we didn’t even set foot in a soft-play centre. Ok, again, I concede, that there were a couple of days where I was sorely tempted, but I stuck with my husband’s determination to let the kids get on with it, whatever. Playing cards together as a family are one of those wonderful pastimes that gets revived when the weather is bad and there’s no TV. Brilliant. But then we were lucky not to have more than three rain-all-day days… Boredom is such a rare experience for modern day children, that we feel we need to give them the chance to get used to it. It’s hard on us, but necessary.
And so, for the first time in years, I have not returned from a so-called holiday sorely wishing I could somehow put up with an all-in-one hot package break in Turkey. It’s simply not us (the all-in-one package bit, not the Turkey bit – I adore the sun) or that we had grandparents who’d come on holiday with us to give us some reprieve. I used to dread hearing the ever-so-nicely intended question from some school head, radio person or other public speaker “I hope you’re all feeling refreshed and ready to embrace a new term/school year!”. I’d privately want to kill them. No, I wasn’t feeling refreshed, and no, I’m not feeling ready to embrace a new whatever.
Now, for those of you who aren’t at this stage yet, or may never be, I apologise profusely for doing exactly what I used to hate from others – banging on about the wonderfully refreshing time they’ve had. If it’s any consolation, it didn’t come anywhere near to what holidays used to mean, you know, the sort of holiday where I got to read a whole book, or sit still for more than 5 minutes on a beach, or have an uninterrupted conversation with my husband, or not have to chivvy my children to bed every single night. That would be simply miraculous.
We had plenty of squabbling, fallings-out or us losing our rag with their over-excited antics (often in the car when trying to drive up round some precipitous bend or through driving rain). My husband rarely enjoys the first few days of holiday as he tries to reconcile the promise of rest with the reality of packing, driving, and screaming kids. That’s why we need 2 weeks away (oh to be Canadian or Swedish who take the entire month of August off… so very sensible).
Holidays, and how one perceives them, are probably one of the hardest things that you have to re-programme your brain for in the world of parenthood. You know, those things that change for life but take you at least 10 years to mentally accept and adjust to – like Saturdays being relaxing or Friday evenings being for energetic fun – ?!
We can never expect holidays to be the same once we’ve had kids. The more we do, the more frustrated we’ll be. When they’re under 5 we have to find other times for actual rest or bring along a grandparent to help give some reprieve. But there comes a time when it becomes less exhausting and more fun, and to be honest, I’d miss my kids enormously if they didn’t come on holiday with us. I love the way I can marvel at things with them, laugh and giggle at silly things and then let them run ragged far too late into the evening whilst we accidentally on purpose forget the meaning of ‘bedtime’.
Here’s to the beginning of a new kind of holiday that now I’m actually looking forward to. And for those of you who’ve yet to reach this stage, hang on – it’s coming (hopefully).
(Scroll down for more photos that I couldn’t find space for above. Sorry they’re all in a boring long line, but I can’t work out how to present them better!)