Center. Parcs. Two words I didn't imagine myself typing in the same sentence as 'holiday' when I text my mum about our newly booked break.
"Guess what?! We've booked a four night holiday to Center Parcs in January, wahoooooooooooo"
I'm not going to lie. The Idea of Center Parcs pre kids, was just a bit, well "Why? Why would you?"
And yet, here I am - genuinely excited at the prospect of riding a bike (most likely with a friggin trailer attached) around a hilly forest and dining in restaurants with connected soft play areas - for four whole days.
Our latest foray into the realms of 'UK family friendly' holidays initially chipped a teeny tiny fragment away of our desire to 'keep the dream alive' - the 'dream' being we have always wanted to at least try and not be defeated by the challenges that having little ones brings to your recreational activities. Comical I know. Nonetheless we aim to give it a crack. We like (the idea of...) taking the girls out for brunch when we can, a trip into London town or simply (snigger) 'tea in the pub' - it means we get to feel like we're out, doing something non spawn specific for, um an hour or so before we head home to undertake the weekly food shop, ballet lessons or surrender ourselves to the sofa of an evening - phone in hands, ignoring one another whilst we watch another film that we're likely to fall asleep halfway through.
Now when I say we like attempting to keep the dream alive, that is pre aforementioned activities actually occurring. Post the event, more often than not - we leave said café or pub having had a row, hissing "we are NEVER doing this again, it's a COMPLETE waste of money and time" But we do. We always do it again, and I know why.
We adore our girls. We live, breathe and graft for our girls, but we graft bloody hard - we are both eternally knackered and we would still like to nibble a miniscule wedge of the good life - pre our little firecrackers. We've always appreciated and relished trying out new places (pubs) and generally being social, and so, despite the magnificently good, bad and ugly that the girls bring - we'd like to attempt to keep, if only - a flicker of that dream alive.
Like I said - more often than not, the plan goes to shit. In fact, I frequently have to tame the excessive expectations of 'the plan'. Jamie likes to think big. Even by my standards.
A recent suggestion over breakfast one Saturday morning, which I promptly shot down was 'popping' to Maltby Street market for the day.
Ahhhhhhhhhh Maltby Street Market - a slight and narrow avenue nestled in Bermondsey, situated under the railway arches - congregating an eclectic selection of London's finest food and beverage stalls, with a local onsite brewery to boot. Heavenly. Visiting this wonder of a space was a beloved past time of ours, that pre the girls, we would have wholly relished.
I can effortlessly reminisce on how it might have played out. A slothful day (post lie in), starting with a slow journey up by train, hot latte in hand, phone or magazine in the other and a dawdling saunter ready to hit the food stalls. Maybe we'd pick up a breakfast burrito? Or maybe a freshly hand crafted ham and cheese toastie? (served on artesian bread with gruyere cheese & mustard mayo no less) Ah fuck it - we'd have both, no haste here! After an hour of meandering, come 12pm, it would now be acceptable to indulge in an alcoholic beverage (Clearly I'm lying. It would be 11am) We'd sniff out the kitsch cocktail bar and order bloody Marys (poured into vintage cut glass tumblers) and leisurely glug away as we sit beneath the railway arches festooned with serrated industrial knives and machinery that dripped from the ceiling. This place bloody SCREAMS child friendly right? Negative. I did try to envisage us there, I did. Except THIS is was the vision (hallucination) that acted out in my mind....
All four of us would peg it to the train station (you know those parents you see with those special three wheeler buggies that you can run with? Yeah, well visualise the COMPLETE opposite of that) I would be gagging for three shots of coffee but alas, we were running late and of course there were limited trains on the weekend. Elsie would need a wee at Clapham Junction. We would miss the direct train, and so have to wait on the platform for another half an hour where Marnie would be relentlessly fed snacks (which she would chuck on the floor) and I would become anxious about how I would then keep her restrained in her buggy for the majority of the train journey and subsequent walk to the market.
You know the drill. Hopefully.
And so, the train journey would be spent haemorrhaging rice cakes, various forms of technology (snapchat filters) and threenager threats until we (thank the lord) arrive at our destination - caffeine still yet to pass my lips by the way. The walk to Maltby Street is surprisingly sprightly - I can smell the Artisan coffee, Jamie can smell the steak burgers, the girls are mildly amused by the surrounding London kerfuffle - the finishing line is within sight.
We would arrive hungry to sample the delights of the food stalls and in need of somewhere to 'perch', or moreso somewhere we can safely let Marnie 'escape'. Marnie being the 15 month old, who - given the opportunity will sprint free like a cheetah on speed. Look, I could go on, but somehow I think you grasp the point I am nodding towards and in turn, the synopsis to my tale.
Now - Trip advisor doth protest. "A great family day out" "fun had by all the kids!!" - so maybe it comes down to (don't hit me) PHASES....that (rusty bladed) eye stabbing expression that is meant to make life seem so much brighter - BUT you know what, sometimes, just sometimes it is the rational answer - next year Marnie will be able to walk around without a desperate need to run off in pursuit of a death trap and we will have more freedom to take them on little adventures we crave to discover as a family.
Anyway, WHAT'S YOUR FUCKING POINT LORNA, WHAT'S YOUR FUCKING POINT???
Well, my point is this - not every family day out exploring activities away from child proof confinements is doomed - equally soft play ain't always the answer! I realise you cannot always live the dream, my friends. We try a fair amount, and fail more often than I would like to admit, but I guess it's all about balance right? If we HAVE to visit the hell hole that is Gambados on Saturday morning because it's hammering it down with rain, the girls need to 'let off some steam' and because, well, they love it - then we shall go. But then, we will counteract the ball ponds with a pub tea (and fizz) - some might call that selfish, or maybe just plain foolish - but for us, and the girls it works. Just. And, they're happy if we're happy.
Family brunches and hipster street food markets will still flicker in the flame of dreams, but in the meantime we're off to Center Parcs. I'll let you know how we get on
Photo credit : AndraleMarie & Spreadshirt