Holidays take on a new meaning once kids arrive, but a change of scene can still leave you re-energised, writes Cassie Hamer.
Nappies? Check. Wipes? Check. Blender? Check. Toys, books, muslin, baby shampoo, rattles, food, clothes, pram, port-a-cot, teething gel, crayons? Check. It's a tick-and-check fest in our household as we pack for a holiday – 10 days in the country. All 48 items are checked off, and that's just for our two-year-old and 10-month-old daughters. It's lucky my husband is good at jigsaw puzzles because packing our boot will require such skills.
Our two year old is wildly excited and hounds us as my husband and I bundle the luggage into the car: "When are we going?" "Are we going yet?" "Why aren’t we going yet?" Finally, we're ready to go. However, thanks to a major traffic jam, an hour later we are barely out of the city and ready for a stop. I need an intravenous shot of caffeine and we've been promising our toddler a babycino for about 10km.
We pull in to a roadside service area and enter the cafe; my husband joins the 10-deep queue for hot food and drinks while I find a table. He returns with two coffees and absolutely nothing for our babycino-loving toddler. (Stay calm. Breathe. This is a holiday.)
I find a shorter queue for cold drinks only, returning with a strawberry milk that placates my two year old and, revived by the caffeine and sugar, I start feeding the baby some yoghurt. Hubby disappears to the bathroom and chaos erupts. The entire contents of the strawberry milk are spilt and as I ineffectively dab at the spillage with serviettes, our baby uses the spoon accidentally left within her reach to smear yoghurt all over her face and clothes. My husband returns to find two children covered in dairy products and a wife wondering how, exactly, this could constitute a holiday? At the neighbouring table, a mum and dad with older children look at us with a mixture of bemusement and sympathy, as if to say, 'Yes. We've been there. Don't worry, it gets easier.'
Needless to say, holidays aren't quite what they used to be. The word itself conjures up images of rest and relaxation; sleeping in till 9am, having a late breakfast, and then generally forgetting about the time, day and date altogether. Indeed, that is the very definition of holiday – until children are in the picture.
So, once babies enter the scene, what exactly does a holiday represent? Can it be enjoyable? Of course it can and I have a theory to prove it. But first, back to our 'cafe calamity' and how we handled it. We did the only constructive thing we could; my husband and I laughed. We laughed at ourselves, our kids and the challenge of the situation. We knew it was a moment that one day would seem very funny; we just had to fast-forward through the part where we felt stressed and frustrated.
From that point, the holiday improved markedly. We spent lots of time playing, swimming and enjoying our family time together. Was it restful? Not really. We were still up at 6am and the baby decided to start waking again in the middle of the night for feeding. But did we enjoy it? Hugely. None of us wanted to come home.
It was during our break that a revised theory of what constitutes a holiday struck me. We’ve all heard the saying 'a change is as good as a holiday', but have you ever wondered where it came from? My bet is that it was created by a parent trying to figure out how a holiday could still be enjoyable when it was neither relaxing nor restful.
I now know it is possible to return from a vacation feeling recharged and re-energised, even when you don't get any extra shut-eye. Here's why: our holiday was a change – a change from our normal routine, a change of scenery, a change of pace, a change of activity. It was a true break from our everyday lives – from work, from mobile phones, from emails. And with kids, a change is a holiday.