We went away for a lovely family holiday last weekend, spending quality time together and relaxing. At least that was the plan. You see, my foolish, ever-hopeful brain chose to forget how fraught holidays with young kids can be. It sold me the dream of a family-friendly hotel where my husband and I could kick back, read the paper and drink beer while the kids happily frolicked on the lawn. The reality, as you can probably guess, couldn’t quite live up to that. In fact, it was about a million miles away from that at times.
It didn’t start well. The journey to the Cotswolds that should have taken us two and a half hours ended up going on for six hours of endless traffic jams and an exploding tyre.
After about four hours of travel pain, we hear the ominous whump whump whump of a tyre flapping about and exchange a look of something close to despair. My husband artfully limps us across three hectic lanes to the hard shoulder and squeezes out of the car, past oncoming juggernauts, to investigate.
I join him outside the car and we peer at the shredded tyre together and then look blankly at each other for what feels like a good month as we try to steel ourselves to deal with this. We have a spare, but it was in the boot under all our holiday bags, pushchair, etc. Plus, changing a tyre inches from a motorway doesn’t exactly seem like a wise choice.
OK, so we call our breakdown cover and get someone to rescue us, right? Easy, if we had the phone number with us – which we don’t – and if we could remember who we have insurance and breakdown cover with – which we can’t. My husband finally reckons he can remember who we need to contact, so I start making the call and get put on hold. And on hold is where I stay for the duration of the following trauma, phone balanced on my shoulder, hideous music being piped into my ear,
I climb back into the car to explain what is going on to the older two kids (T is sucking Batman’s cape and looks far from interested). No sooner have I said “flat tyre” than H totally loses it. In his stressed out little head, this means we are stuck for good. He is screaming and crying as we both try in vain to calm him down.
Just then we notice that we are about 200 yards inside the free recovery zone for the roadworks we’ve just driven though. Yes! We are saved, we just have to wait.
And we don’t have to wait long either as an oil-covered guardian angel called Rich arrives within five minutes. H is still sobbing uncontrollably in the back as Rich explains through the window what he is going to do, namely get us all out, get the car onto the truck, stick us all in said truck and take us to the next service station, where we can call for breakdown recovery (which I am still on hold for).
We are all under instructions to get out on the passenger side and cross the safety barrier, trudge along to the truck and wait there for Rich while he loads up the car.
The baby isn’t as freaked out as H but he knows something is afoot and decides that his best course of action is to turn into a small clingy monkey and attach himself to me as if his life depended on it. Just giving him to Daddy while I climb over the barrier causes him to go beetroot red from yelling his head off, only to revert to complete silence again when handed back.
We are all finally out and over the barrier, where we are faced with a stinging nettle strewn walk of some 20 feet to the truck. It is hot, we’ve got bare legs. I’ve got a monkey clinging to me and a phone latched to my head. My husband is talking to Rich and I have a frightened looking four year old and a crying seven year old beside me. And we’re all standing in a nettle patch. When he gets back, my husband picks up M but, with arms full of kids already, we can’t carry H too. So, I walk ahead, treading down the nettles as best I can to clear a path for him, getting stung to buggery as I go. H is also getting stung, poor soul, and is crying even more now.
It is difficult to explain the sinking feeling you get when you know you have no choice but to walk through nettles in flip flops. It’s not something I wish to relive.
Rich struggles to get the car onto the truck for a while but eventually manages it and comes back to help us all in. The kids are scared and confused but the baby suddenly comes into his own, loudly shouting ‘guck’ in delight at getting to ride in a boiling hot, stinky old breakdown truck.
Five minutes later and we are at the service station, filling in paperwork with Rich. Then, hallelujah, the phone is finally answered! I give the operator our car details and breath a sigh of relief. Until I’m told that our cover expired in 2011. Yes, I know, we are idiots.
Rich polishes his halo with a oily rag and says he’ll take us to a nearby garage, who fit us with a new tyre, while we feed the kids tasteless cakes in the shitty petrol station cafe (where M throws an entire bottle of water all over me and T, who is still clinging to me).
Six hours after setting off, we arrive at the hotel. We are all knackered and stressed and the first thing we do is have a beer, which helps quite a bit.
But, even travel trauma aside, the stay wasn’t quite what I’d hoped, in my unrealistic brain. It was far from ‘family friendly’. No sitting sipping beer while the kids played in the garden for us. The garden opened onto a busy road with no gate to stop rampaging toddlers. The toy box in the lounge was full of broken crap you wouldn’t give to a charity shop. Our room was OK but the curtains fell down immediately that we got there, with some poor barman charged with sticking them back up with sticky tape. There was just too much wrong.
We definitely had some special moments and two brilliant day trips. The kids had a fantastic time, once they had recovered from the tyre incident, and we both had a giggle in the evenings, especially on the night of the ropey local music act.
But relaxing, it was not. With three kids sharing a room, the sleep was pretty dire and we got back home utterly exhausted and shadows of our pre-holiday selves, desperate for our own bed.
So, what is the lesson from this slightly disappointing weekend? It is one I never seem to learn: not to expect too much from holidays with young kids. That road only leads to disappointment. To remember that it is always still same shit, different location, no matter how lovely the location is.
Holidays with kids can be brilliant and I wouldn’t be without them for the world. They are something to be cherished, to count the sleeps to. They are the stuff that my own best childhood memories are made of. But I do wish I wasn’t always surprised and disappointed when they aren’t as perfect as I’d like, when we get next to no sleep, when the real holiday doesn’t live up to the holiday in my head. We’ve got a week away at the end of August, so I’ll see if I have learnt to follow my own advice by then.
Oh, and the other lesson? Join the AA (we now have).