Someone once told me a story about a couple with three small children who were about to set off for their annual break. It was a fortnight's self-catering by the sea, so the car was full to bursting – beach towels, travel cots, wellington boots, Calpol, teddies, toilet rolls, emergency plasters and waterproof factor 50. At long last, they strapped the children in and climbed into the front seat.
"Well," said the dad, "that's it, then. Ready to go?"
She looked at him, exhausted. "No," she said. "I can't do it. I'm much too tired to go on holiday."
Going camping with small children is much the same. All the preparation before you go leaves you feeling like a used teabag.
And even when you get there, you're still on duty. Sometimes it seems that unless you've booked into a luxury hotel with round-the-clock babysitters and an all-singing, all-dancing kids' club, you don't end up getting a break at all.
You spend two weeks rushing round after your children in an unfamiliar place trying to stop them getting lost, sunburnt or swept out to sea. It's too hot to sleep, and you're all covered in mosquito bites. You do exactly the same amount of work as you do at home but with a less efficient washing machine and no corner shop.
"And the worst thing," says my friend Jane, "is that you're meant to be enjoying it."
So what's the answer?
You could try to persuade (or bribe) grandparents to come with you. Or you could join up with another family.
But great big holiday events that try to please different ages, generations and interests can, sometimes, end up pleasing no one. Rows flare up because of thwarted expectations.
"It'll be about 10 years," said a friend of mine, "before I talk to my sister-in-law again."
So maybe the solution is to take the help you need with you. Everything will be that much easier with an extra pair of hands. So you pay for someone who's happy to come on your annual holiday and look after the children while you relax.
Obviously, if you decide to do this, you need to pick someone experienced and responsible. But you don't even have to go through the whole process of advertising, interviewing and checking references yourself. A specialist company like Holiday Nanny will do all the hard slog for you.
As it says on the website, "The agency tailors the nanny to each family – carefully matching skills, qualifications, personalities and talents to the family they are accompanying and the children they will be looking after."
This year, by popular demand, Holiday Nanny is also offering 'Holiday Mannies' – male nannies (who might also be qualified swimming coaches or drama teachers or surfing champions) who will spend all their good-humoured energy keeping your children occupied while you stretch out in the sunshine with a good book.
It sounds like bliss – the kind of holiday where everyone is happily occupied doing what they love most.
But for some parents, the idea of taking a nanny on holiday is completely shocking. "The whole point of a family holiday is that you're together as a family," says a friend with two girls aged six and four. "You don't want a stranger with you. It's the one time you can all do what you like without having to think about anyone else at all."
"Why have children if you never want to spend time with them?" says another mum crossly,
For most of us, though, the real issue is cost. Like all holidays with built-in childcare, taking a nanny with you can work out pretty expensive.
Holiday Nanny's standard fees are just over £450 for a week, or nearly £900 for a fortnight. On top of this, you pay for your nanny's flights, food and accommodation.
If you've got two parents working full-time, or just one parent earning a small fortune, I can see how this could work. And if you think what you're getting for the money – a brilliant childcare specialist keeping the kids happy – it's worth every penny.
But if you haven't got the money (and unlike London mayor Boris Johnson most of us don't spend our child benefit on skiing holidays, luxury safaris and Chateau Lafite), the idea of a holiday nanny will remain an impossible dream.
If we're lucky enough to get away with the children at all this summer, the majority of us will have to resign ourselves to the usual kind of holiday – one where we end up even more tired at the end than we were at the beginning...
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