Every year, bright-eyed and innocent, I look forward to going on holidays with my kids. And every year, I am taken by surprise to find that the holiday isn't quite the restful experience I expected. Here's what I have, in theory, learned this year - but will forget all over again by next year:
Holidays don't mean extra sleep
For some families, letting the kids stay up till 11pm means a sleep-in all round the following morning. With my kids, this mostly results in one or two of them being up at 6.30am, jumping on my head, and demanding to go to the pool three hours before it opens. Then the same one or two kids are like weasels on crack for the rest of the day. But they learn nothing from the experience, and still want to stay up till 11pm the next night (so a bit like their parents really)
Trying to get down to the pool "early" is a fool's errand
"Let's just grab our stuff and get down to the pool early this morning will we?" is what we say to each other every day after breakfast. Cue calling kids to put on swimsuits while we finish tidying up, as they completely ignore us in favour of counting their holiday money (again), dressing the toddler in a princess costume, or something equally important.
Eventually, we get the three of them into swimsuits, and then begin the long and arduous task of applying sun-cream.
I try using the spray on my five-year-old's tiny little arms, but it goes mostly into the air on either side. I chase the toddler around the mobile home, while my husband tries to remember if he put sun-cream on the six-year-old's arms already or only her legs. Did I do the five-year-old's face? I can't remember and neither can she. Right, I'll do it again, just in case.
Forty-five minutes later, the three kids are duly sun-creamed, and I realise that I forgot (again) to put a swim nappy on the toddler, so take him back out of his swimsuit to do that. As soon as the girls have put shorts and t-shirts on over their swimsuits, one or both remember that they've forgotten to go to the toilet, which reminds me that I haven't packed anything for the toddler to wear home from the pool.
Eventually, about ninety minutes after we start our quick dash to the pool, we are on our way. Unless someone is hungry. In which case, it's just easier to have lunch first.
Sun-loungers are a cruel taunt
I know the time will come when we can sunbathe while the kids swim, but for now, the sun loungers are just a place to leave our bags. And the swimming is lovely, honest. I mean, it's a bit cold. And I don't really like getting splashed in the face. And I'm not mad on the fountain things that keep spraying water everywhere when you least expect it. But if I was lying on a sun lounger, soaking up the sun, I'd be bored. At least, that's what I assume. I have no way of knowing this as I've had no opportunity to try.
Holiday-reading is an optimistic and mostly unachievable goal
Just like sunbathing, I know this is something that will change when the kids are older, but right now, the only reading I do is when the kids go to bed at night. Yep, reading my book in a mobile-home is the extent my holiday night-life. Oh, but I do have a glass of wine with my book, so that ups the glamour stakes a bit. And I can hear the music from the campsite bar, so I can almost imagine I'm there. Almost.
Kids don't know the universal rules of holidays
Adults know that if the campsite doesn't seem quite as good this year, the rule is to point out the great stuff and gloss over the minor details. Kids on the other hand just say things like "I don't like it here. I want to go the place we went to last year" and burst into tears (perhaps just my kids).
Adults know that you don't sweat the small stuff - holidays are about chilling out. Kids however continue to squabble every bit as much as they do at home, if not more. Elbow room in the car, sandy feet on a sibling's bed and ownership of the water-pistol are all sources of argument (and again, perhaps it's just my kids)
And actually, I don't mind that they're not into suppressing irritations or faking cheerfulness - because when they sometimes say "I love it mum, this is the best holiday ever!" I know they really mean it.
And the wonderful or terrible truth of it is that if we go away again next year, I'll have forgotten all of this. I will look forward to the holiday with the excitement of a small child. Or three small children as it were. How ironic really.