Once you become a parent your expectations shift. You can no longer veg out on the sofa. Or lie in bed reading the papers. Trying out different hair styles on a Sunday afternoon is off limits. Yesterday I went to work with a cornflake glued to my sleeve. It's the small things that matter. Little pockets of unexpected pleasure. A cup of tea that hasn't gone tepid. Speed reading your favourite columnist. Take your pleasure where you can - that's what I say.
But one of the key areas where expectations really shift and I mean REALLY shift is holidays. Pre-children holidays were probably all about sitting by the pool reading a good book, contemplating what restaurant to visit later, napping in the afternoon, then slathering yourself in some glittery, body oil (that you only ever wear on holiday) - then imbuing as much lovely food and wine as possible before falling into bed - only to repeat the self-same routine the next day.
And the problem with holidays is that by their very definition they are supposed to be relaxing. A holiday is time doing exactly what you want. They are also a time of high expectations. If you leaf through any magazine right now they'll be stacked full of white lace, ethnic kaftans, 'beach curl' hair products and 'pool to bar' accessories. The myth is that we all become these amazing creatures- full of effortless style and grace. We know it's all bullshit but we buy into it nevertheless. We envisage ourselves perched on a sun lounger with our silver sliders, oiled up limbs, cocktail in hand- looking like Talitha Getty. But even without kids you don't get to change into somebody else. You're just you but in a warmer, stickier location.
Holidaying with kids is a whole different ball game. It's compromise central. And yet the expectations can still run pretty high. I found it tricky to be realistic about what our holiday would be like. It was our first trip abroad. And I thought my daughter would sit and play in the sand whilst I caught up on the latest Nick Hornby. I thought she would nap peacefully whilst I listened to music and stared out to sea. I thought I'd get an opportunity to catch up on sleep. What a chump!
Here are a few things I learnt from our recent trip to Greece. Some of it may be useful for those of you with holidays planned. Some of it is just stuff I need to vent about.
1. Don't go anywhere where there is sand. Sand is really fucking annoying. I lost count of the amount of time I spent trying to shake wet clumps of it off nappies/ hats/shorts etc. There was a point when I wanted to cry and just go home again. Sand mixed together with sun cream is a bitch.
2. There is never a beach bag large enough to get all your shit into. And even if you stack it with beach balls, armbands, sun cream, bathing suit and swim nappies - there will always be something you've forgotten. You'll spend half your holiday rummaging around in this enormous tombola-of-a-bag only to discover that the Dentinox is in the bag you left at the hotel.
3. Shops on holiday don't sell nappies. They only sell beach balls, postcards and Cheetos. You may need to resort to drying them in the sun so you can re-use them again. There is no shame in doing this (unless a number two was involved).
4. There will be a lot more hard surfaces than at home. All furniture will be made of marble, glass and stone. There is no way to avoid injury so brace yourself. Hopefully it won't involve a trip to the hospital.
5. Your child's diet will be crisps and Haribo. Unless they are one of those kids that likes fish served with their heads on. If there is pasta on the menu then you will order it and your kid will stare at it like it's a tub of pig's intestines.
6. Use ice-lollies strategically. You only get one shot so don't waste that precious quiet time whilst they sit slurping it up. Make sure you're lying on a lounger and can really relish it.
7. There is no point taking any books (unless they have Peppa Pig as the main protagonist). My partner took two books and I laughed ruefully in his face as he quietly set them back in his case unopened as we packed to go home.
8. Don't bother with nice clothes either.
9. The IPad will be your ally. Other parents will probably judge you on the plane when you thrust it into your toddler's hands but ignore them. Drawing is not going to cut it for a four hour flight.
10.You will argue with your partner much more than usual. Especially if they get a tummy bug. You will end up resenting them and wishing you had a tummy bug so you could lie down for a bit.
On my return I spoke to a few other parents and they all said the same thing- 'There is no such thing as holidays anymore.' I found that depressing but also quite liberating. Maybe that was the problem- I had expected a holiday. All I needed to do was lower my expectations and relish the small pleasures instead.
So for those of you who have holidays planned and are trying on your floor-length kaftans as we speak, take heart. Toss aside the image of Talitha Getty covered in body oil and the romantic evenings with cocktails. Lower your expectations and remember holidays are just like home but without the convenience factor. Nothing is going to change. And enjoy the small moments- their expression when they jump into the sea for the first time, the excitement when the plane takes off, drinking a vat of wine whilst you watch the sunset. It's all worth it. And don't people say 'these are the things that memories are made of'?
But remember sand is really fucking annoying.
It just is.