Tuesday, 27 September 2011

The A-Z of Family Holidays (Part II: M-Z)

Motherhood:  (also, interestingly, Murder.  Not entirely uncoincidentally I think).  Motherhood barely takes a nap, let alone a holiday, so best not to get your hopes up about having a break from the responsibilities of parenthood (see also:  Expectations).  Unless you are a Russian Oligarch with a 50,000 square foot Balearic villa and a staff of dozens (and, frankly, little interest in the raising of your children*), you will either be on an all-inclusive package deal (see also:  Buffet; Laundry) or will be in a 500 square-foot insect-infested villa (see also:  Kids; Laundry; Old Woman); either way you’re going to remain shackled to food gathering / preparing, off-spring clothing, as well as the hell that is the Bath and Bed-time Shit Show.  The bottom line is that while you may have gotten away from your neighbourhood, there’s never any escaping motherhood.  Sigh. (*That bitchy comment is entirely due to jealousy).
Novels:  Or rather, novel.  You can pack as many as you want, but you won’t get through more than one.  And seeing as there’s nothing more annoying than picking up a book seventeen times a day and trying to remember what the flip was going on when you were last interrupted (see also:  Kids; Motherhood), you might as well forget the latest Booker / Pulitzer / Orange winners – your brain will not be in any position at any point on the holiday to digest them (see also:  Alcohol; Old Women).  In fact, forget even Richard and Judy’s choice, and go straight for Jilly Cooper / Jackie Collins. (Somewhat embarrassingly, for the longest time I thought they were the same person; though from a literary perspective, they might as well be.) Depending on your holiday destination, you might also want to bring a high-brow magazine behind which you can hide your reading choice.  
Old Women:  On arriving at your holiday destination, you are likely to catch a glimpse of some haggard old dames, their eyes hollow and blood-shot, their pale, un-tanned faces creviced and drawn.  These women will have a couple of bronzed, hyper children hanging out of them, and will be walking into the airport as you walk out.  Do not sneer or feel superior.  Just avoid all mirrors on your way back to the airport in a fortnight’s time.
(Also, as pointed out by Heaton, for Open Wallet. However, you can instead opt for all-inclusive, and swop Open Wallet for Buffet, Ice-Cream, and Vomit;  it’s a tough call, both will result in Old Woman).
Packing:  Packing is to holidays what childbirth is to motherhood – a really shit way to start the journey (Except it’s even worse because you have to do it all over again at the end of the journey...) Packing is truly the work of the devil.  A devil with Alzheimer’s. You will forget everything you swore you’d remember the last time you packed, and either completely overpack – in which case you’ll end up with forking out thousands of pounds to Michael O’Leary and dressing your children in everything at once, just to get your money’s worth – or completely underpack, and your children will be wearing the same rags day in, day out (see also:  Laundry).  It goes without saying that whatever your packing madness, you will fall into the latter sartorial category. 
Queues:  To fully prepare for your family holiday, go to your local Post Office and invite seventeen of the most stupid-looking customers* to hang around your home.  Ideally they should loiter in your bathroom first thing in the morning and last thing at night, hog the cooker / fridge / kitchen sink before, during and after mealtimes, and stand in front of the door just as you’re trying to bundle both kids into the double buggy and out to a class which started ten minutes ago.  The only risk with this exercise is that you’ll decide that, actually, there’s really no reason to go on holidays at all, and may lose your deposit. (*Admittedly, deciding such may not be the easiest of tasks.)
Routine:  Or lack thereof.  All that hard work creating a routine will have gone the way of the Dodo by the second morning of your family holiday.  You can expect your children to embrace jet lag (despite it only being an hour’s time difference) with a fervour reserved only for lollipops and Peppa Pig, and to treat bed-time, naps and set meals like they do a plate of greens.  Eventually they’ll fall into a routine of sorts, which will involve (bathroom/closet/balcony/wherever they insist on sleeping) lights out at 11pm, and a dawn chorus comprising toddlers bellowing for Octonauts dubbed in Turkish at 420am. In a strange twist of physics, the routine which you have spent your entire parenthood trying to implement will be entirely eradicated by this short holiday stint, and the meagre 7 (or 14, or however long or short, it won’t matter) days of new routine will be burned on your child’s mind forever more. (See also:  Jesus; Old Women).
Sex: Once upon a time, a VERY long time ago, there was a mummy and a daddy, and they loved each other very much.  Several times a year they’d read about some lovely destination, immediately pack their books and beach-wear into teeny tiny carry-on bags and then loll about, bored, in airport lounges, reading papers and sipping coffees.  Eventually, after a long, dull flight, with nothing to do but watch movies, drink, and read magazines, they’d get to their boutique hotel, in beautiful, tropical, multi-stepped surroundings - without a safety-fence in sight - flop into a crisp, clean, crumb-free bed, and shag like bunnies.  They had to, you see, because back in their normal lives they only managed to have sex three or four times a week...  A small part of your brain will convince you that the family holiday will be no different in this (or any other) element of those (holi)days of old (see also:  Expectations), but the reality is that all that will be no different will be the calculation you’ll both make when you flop into bed and do the sleep v. sex arithmetic. Now, however, sleep will (naturally) win (not least because by the time you’ve finished with the math, the other party to the calculation is already snoring).
Television:  See the entry for Ice-cream and replace the sentiment. 
Vomit: It might be that children vomit a lot anyway, and you tend not to notice – or count – it so much at home (because really – what’s one more sleepless night and another load of laundry?) but for some reason it seems that children really do vomit an awful lot on holiday;  certainly, alot more than is fair or reasonable, particularly when you’re PAYING for the privilege of it.  As they sit there, seemingly uncaring that the contents of their stomachs are covering your feet, you will come up with more and more ludicrous explanations for the sudden increase in barf:  Germs, Foreign, the heat, exhaustion, heat exhaustion, excitement, too much television, too much Foreign television, etc;  deep down however you know that it’s because they ate four plates of chips and two double ice-creams for lunch, and you did NOTHING to stop it. (Helpful tip: ants like vomit.  Good if the vom is on the balcony, not so good if it’s on your feet.)
Whining:  The soundtrack to Family Holidays would be a child’s whining voice on a loop. “Mummmmmmmmmeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee”, “Nooooooooooooooooo”, “I DON’T CARE,” “Pleeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeasse” “I feel siiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiick” “It’s all saaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaannndyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy” “It’s all wettttttttttttttttttttttttttt” “I don’t LIKE it” and a million other variations thereupon.  (See also:  Kids; Old Women; Murder Motherhood)
Xenophobia: No matter where you  go on your Family Holiday, you will come home hating Johnny Foreigner.  Not just Johnny Foreigner who comes from your holiday destination, but all foreigners who happen to also be visiting there at the same time.  The French (snooty and surrender-monkeyish);  Germans (authoritative and sun-lounger-hogging);  Swedes (dull, and oppressively good-looking);  Irish (provincial [who brings tea-bags and rashers on holiday?] and so damn loud); Italians (queue-hoppers, and way too stylish) and of course Americans (cocky and wear stupid baseball caps). Don’t be too concerned  about this however – you are not a racist.  You’re going to come home hating EVERYBODY, irrespective of nationality. 
Yelling:  Bring ear-plugs.  And lozenges.
Zen:  And finally, the key to surviving Family Holidays?  Be Zen.  Breathe In, Breathe Out. It’ll all be over soon, and within weeks you’ll be looking back on it with fondness and nostalgia.  I swear to (a Zen) God.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

The A-Z of Family Holidays

Part I:  A-L
Alcohol:  Generally considered a vital ingredient in holidays for the untethered, unburdened 18-30s, alcohol is also a fundamental component of family holidays and the survival thereof (see also:  Kids).  If you’re lucky you’ll find yourself on a 5am outbound flight with scores of people who already understand the importance of this element,  be sure to follow their lead (see also: Flight).  Alcohol will numb the pain, mess and boredom of family meal-times (see also: Buffet), will encourage the onset of sleep (see also: Hotel) and will generally give the holiday a much-needed rose-tinted sheen.  Don’t be too sniffy about the calibre of the alcohol on offer;  there’s nothing that ice and Sprite can’t render drinkable, and by the end of the holiday you’ll be following your new friends from the plane into the local supermarket and carting cases of fire-water home.
Buffet:  A mainstay of family holidays, buffets initially give rise to all manner of excitement.  By day three however you’ll be realising that what Sartre actually meant to say is: “Hell is other people milling aimlessly around in the vicinity of scalding over-cooked unidentifiable food” (see also: Queuing).  Resist all temptation – overpowering though it may be - to load up everything on your plate at once. Rice, chips, noodles, lettuce and gravy do not happy bed-fellows make, notwithstanding how tempting they might each individually look (see also:  Germs).  The trick with buffets – apart from avoiding them completely in the first place - is not to put anything on your plate until you’ve scoped out the entire joint and seen everything that’s on offer.  Or at least that’s the trick in theory.  The reality, on family holidays, is that you have a window of about 90 seconds before the kids work out how to undo the straps keeping them seated and disappear into the thronging masses.  Don’t worry – by the start of the second week you’ll all have developed a taste – indeed, a fondness – for rice, chips & noodles etc (see also:  Expectations).
Childcare:  If you want any semblance of a holiday, any glimmer of those carefree vacations now long gone, don’t even consider one without some form of childcare.  These range from the obviously preferred option of round-the-clock nannies, to the less salubrious on-site Kids Clubs.  The former will require a lien on your income for the next fifteen years or so, as well as introducing the element of staff management (see also:  Work).  The latter is a more pocket-friendly option, however it suffers the disadvantage of being limited to mornings or afternoons only. Neither of which work for the benefit of the disorganised or the tardy (see also:  Alcohol; Routine).  A third option is to invite amenable family members to join you “on holiday”;  grandparents are ideal candidates for such a kind offer, and can generally be relied upon to not realise that you’re inviting them along for one reason, and one reason only appreciate the importance of an opportunity to spend quality time with the children.
Down-Time: Previously the entire point of a holiday, now to be welcomed as a mini-holiday within the family holiday.  Only possible if children are asleep, anaesthetised, locked in a cupboard somewhere (see also: Childcare) or have been bribed with ice-cream and iPads.
Expectations: Whatever your expectations of your family holiday may be, lower them.  Then lower them again.  Use as a bench mark that flight you took several years ago, (back in the olden days) when the toddler behind you kicked your chair for fifteen hours straight, and the newborn to your left stopped screaming only long enough to vomit (see also:  Flight).  You are that passenger again, except this time the flight is for two weeks, and the children are yours... Thus lowered, your expectations cannot be crushed, and only then do you have any hope of enjoying yourself.
Flight: Whatever chance your family holiday has of being enjoyable, this will be reduced by about 80% if you opt for one which is sandwiched between flights.  The hell of flying with small children is no surprise, having been addressed previously in detail;  what is a surprise is that, like dentistry, childbirth, and the eating of anchovies, people seem to forget the full extent of the horror and blithely embrace the experience over and over again.  There is no panacea for the horrors of flying with children; no amount of in-flight entertainment or sugary treats will lessen the torment.  Your only hope is to shield yourself from it by STEPPING AWAY.  Slip the check-in assistant a tenner if he can allocate you a seat several rows away from your brood. For this to work, you must (a) have a travelling companion who can sit with the children in your stead (a circus monkey is ideal, otherwise a co-parent, friend or relative), and (b) be sure to approach the check-in desk before your travelling companion. You must also practice, in advance, donning a mask of bewilderment and disappointment.  DO NOT ALLOW GUILT TO INDUCE YOU TO SWOP SEATS BACK AGAIN.  Guilt is your enemy, the check-in assistant is your friend.  If all else fails and you end up sitting amongst - and beneath -  your rowdy brood, set your watch to 6pm and start ordering drinks from the trolley dollies (see also:  Alcohol).
Germs: Despite having never picked up a copy of the Daily Mail in your life, within 15 minutes of being with your children on foreign shores you will have started thinking in terms of Disgusted From Tunbridge Wells. “Foreign” is teeming with germs, and you must not touch a single surface of Foreign without dousing yourself with disinfectant. Sadly, notwithstanding having rubbed everyone’s skin raw, teeny pieces of Foreign will still manage to crawl into your offspring’s pure little mouths and contaminate their innocent little systems (see also: Vomit).  Obviously this is due to no actions on the part of your children;  their propensity to roll around in the dirt, french-kiss every passing dog and cat, and lick long-since melted ice-cream out of dusty floor corners is their RIGHT.  It is, of course, the fault of Dirty Stinking Foreign, and as they vomit a plate of chips into your lap, you’ll wonder why you ever left the comfort of cold, bland Blighty.  Why indeed.
Hotel:  Most family holidays take place in a hotel.  The other, more sensible, option is a house or villa but the hotel brochure will lure you with promises of childcare, entertainment, kiddie-friendly swimming pools, and of course the all-important Family Rooms.  What it won’t mention is that these rooms are designed with a family of elves in mind, elves whose children are deaf and mute and can sleep happily in upturned waste-paper-baskets. Next door, on the other side of walls which have been spun by the elves using spit and air, a family of buffalo resides.  You will learn quickly that buffalo are largely nocturnal creatures who cannot get enough of German television.  The day before you leave you will finally have worked out the optimal sleeping arrangements (one kid in the bed, the other in the closet, you in the bath, co-parent on the balcony), until which point you will undoubtedly drive yourself – and everyone else – demented in the quest for a few hours’ sleep (see also:  Expectations).  With any luck however, your room will have a minibar, and you will soon come to love the local raki for its ability to render you impervious to all external - and internal - noise.
Ice-cream: Despite your iron resolve and your steadfast determination not to deviate from your usual rules, your children will, by day four, be eating a diet that consists purely of chips and ice-cream (see also: Buffet; Germs; Vomit).  Pour yourself some more raki and resign yourself to it (see also:  Expectations).
Jesus: Whatever your religious disposition, this is a word you will be using alot on your family holiday.  Devout Christians amongst you will be imploring the Lord to come and deliver you from the evil you have bestowed upon yourself;  the rest of us will just be screeching His name every thirty seconds or so. (A helpful hint if your hitherto non-speaking one-year-old starts to copy you:  clapping your hands and saying: “Cheeses! Clever girl!” will deflect suspicious glares from neighbouring tables.)
Kids: The crux of family holidays, without kids it would just be... well, it would be a holiday.  The sole purpose of your time away is for the children to enjoy themselves*.  As long as this happens, at least for a few moments a day, you can consider the holiday a roaring success.  (*Don’t question the means of enjoyment too much.  Provided that they’re knackered every night and leave childcare with all limbs intact, you can considered this box ticked.)
Laundry:  Like death and taxes, laundry never takes a holiday (see also:  Work). Despite all of you wearing next to nothing and being in and out of water all day, you will awaken every morning to find that a large mound of dirty laundry has materialised overnight.  Forget about ignoring it – no matter where you are it’ll eye-fuck you from the furthest reaches of its grimy little corner. Forget too about packing those cutesy little travel sachets of detergents;  for anything more than a weekend away you’re going  to need a full family-sized box of bleach-infused biological warfare. You can either resign yourself to it (see also: Expectations) or traipse down to dinner like a troupe of performing tramps.  (The latter is the obvious choice if dinner is a buffet – few people emerge from the bun-fight-feeding-frenzy looking less than dishevelled, so you’ll blend right in).
(Next week:  M – Z.  Any suggestions welcome...)

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Relentless Laundry is on holidays...

(sort of...)
So the Boy's passport came through, and this week's (very brief) briefing is being brought to you, courtesy of an iPad, from the shores of the Aegean. I'm still not convinced that holidays with toddlers are worth it, but that's another day's musing, when i don't have my new favourite holiday drink - crap red wine topped with Sprite (which renders the red wine drinkable and the Sprite alcoholic; an example of a perfect symbiotic relationship) - waiting for me. The ice is melting in the 35c heat, for goodness sake; I need to be quick.
We are trying to remember how to relax, although I suspect that, given that our main topic of adult conversation is our crap parenting skills, we've already lost that battle. In any event I'm putting the iPad away (or at least the Blogger function) for a week or so. I have Turkish wine to drink (uuugh), Jilly Cooper to read (I know I know - but the Turkish wine really doesn't allow for anything more taxing) and - horror of horrors - a large bag of dirty clothes to wash.
Holiday schmoliday.