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Family vacations: Are you having fun yet?

Dream on
Dream on

1-2 years [with a health warning]: While friends with older children sip cocktails and watch the sunset, your toddler has more energy than an atomic explosion. He scales the furniture and hurtles round your holiday home like a hurricane. Anything breakable, you’ve already moved higher, or hidden – it was either that or develop such a shrill tone through continually shrieking ‘Don’t touch that” that it doesn’t even sound like you. Relaxing is inconceivable so you’re out and about every.single.day, which means, between your (early) morning latte and lights out, you save his life at least five times. Think of holidays with 1-2 year olds as paying to lead your normal life in a less convenient location.

xxxx
“Muuuuuum, MUMMY, where are yoooouuuu?”

2-3 years: By now, there’s a sibling on the scene and travelling with two constitutes a whole new level of pain. Expect nightly games of musical beds and heated debates over who slept the less. Be careful not to let your guard down: your 2-year-old will be irresistibly drawn to dirt, puddles and dog poo, like bees to honey. Remember to bring several changes of clothes per day for each family member – expiry through laundry overload isn’t covered by travel insurance.

3-4 years: Continually ravenous / thirsty / hot / cold / bickering / or in sudden need of the loo, your children are a zillion times more demanding than your most attention-seeking work colleagues. Yet on Facebook it’s all smiley faces in front of stunning backdrops. You’ve tried holidaying with friends so the kids can play together while the adults drink wine, but the downside is you can no longer claim their bad behaviour is a temporary blip when it lasts all week long. You’ve also discovered you can take your children to the best zoos and wildlife parks and introduce them to all manner of cute animals, but they’ll never be as happy as when you discover cockroaches in the kitchen.

4-5 years: By now, you’ve resigned yourself to the fact that holidays aren’t what they used to be, and you’ve learnt how to hit the ground running. On arriving in an unfamiliar environment, you can find the supermarket, buy essentials and whip up a supper for four. Hell, you can even cook fish fingers in an Aga. And with the letting go of any notions of late-nights, lazy days reading and uninterrupted sunbathing (pre-child holiday memories that might as well have taken place in Ancient Rome – because there’s no going back) comes the realisation that family vacations can be fun, especially if there’s a kids’ club.

Don’t think family holidays will now be a breeze. It’s not that relaxing is bottom of your children’s priority list. It’s not even on it

5-6 years: Showing your offspring new things, new places and new horizons is not only rewarding, it’s like putting a down payment on developing citizens of the world. On good days, your rosie-cheeked kiddos slip little hands in yours, and swing happily on the farm gate. On bad days, there’s always electronic stimulation to fall back on. Life-long memories are made, bonds are strengthened. Your children become your ambassadors, opening doors to new experiences and conversations. While they race their new Italian friends around the Campo in Siena, you can actually enjoy your Campari. As the years roll by, you look back at holiday snaps of your babies with rose-tinted specs on, and marvel at those precious, crazy moments captured in time.

Happy holidays everyone!

First published August 2014

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Why I’m glad I enjoyed childhood before technology

Adirondack Park painting
“When I was your age, I was playing soldiers in the forest,” DH glumly told our sons. They were lying sprawled on the sofa, the glow of their screens casting an eerie shadow over their faces. “Come on – off you go! Time to get outside.”

“Shoo,” I added, for good measure.

The boys sat up and stretched their limbs as though limbering up for unaccustomed exercise. DH turned to me, with frustration plastered all over him. “Why don’t they want to play in the forest? … I don’t get it.”

I shrugged. “Lost the instinct maybe? More used to shopping malls.”

It did seem a massive travesty. There we were in upstate New York, in a lovely airbnb holiday home, surrounded by six million acres of wilderness. A wild and magical place, the Adirondack Park is full of pristine lakes, coniferous forest, tranquil rivers and towering mountains.

Paddling routes weave through the dense woodland and rapids swirl along the Ausable Chasm canyon to the east. Whiteface Mountain’s ski runs are nearby, a beautiful area that has hosted the Winter Olympics twice.

We were straight out of Dubai, where the ‘feels-like’ temperature had reached 64 degrees C; it was like finding paradise. On a massive scale. The largest publicly protected area in the US, the Adirondack Park is bigger than the Yellowstone, Everglades, Glacier and Grand Canyon national parks combined.

All around us there was hiking, canoeing, fishing and white-water rafting – which we made the most of. But, still, when we were in the house, it seemed the boys would rather plug themselves into their devices than go outdoors.

“Right, that’s it,” said DH the next morning. “iPads are banned.” SCREEN.TIME.WAS.OVER.

Cut off from technology, the boys had to make their own entertainment, while I attempted to sneak in a book and some painting. As long as they didn’t start a bonfire, the kids were free to do wholesome things like building camps and hide-and-seek. It was all going well …

… Until …

Son1 got sick and ended up back on the sofa. This meant Son2 lost his playmate, leaving him in need of company (read: bored) and giving us (well me at least – I’d got really into the painting pictured above) another challenge.

“Mummy, will you come and play in the forest with me?”

“Can I just finish this?”

“NOOOOOOO!”

EDITED TO ADD: Pokemon Go might be the answer! I’m told it tricks them to get out and after about 30 minutes they actually start looking around and realise they are outside. Sad but …

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How to cause a big scene in Bahrain

Manama skyline
Bahrain, which means ‘two seas’ in Arabic, comprises an archipelago of 33 islands lying between the east coast of Saudi Arabia and the Qatari peninsula

“Where’s Matty gone?”

I turned around at the sound of Son1’s voice, a notch smaller than usual, and sure enough his brother was gone.

It all happened in an instant. We’d spent a magnificent day exploring Manama – a cosmopolitan capital city with a liberal lifestyle, where old and new is succinctly blended; where glass and steel spires decorate the city’s skyline, and the narrow streets at the Manama souq are filled with stalls selling perfumes, spices, nuts, shisha bottles and gold.

Manana souk
The rabbit warren of streets at Manama souk is a sight not to be missed

We’d worn the children out, with sights including the new Bahrain Financial Harbour, rising like Neptune from reclaimed land, and the twin towers of the Bahrain World Trade Centre – linked by skybridges sporting wind turbines. The kids had swum, jet-skied on the sparkling bay (the small island nation is characterised by the aquamarine water that laps its shores). They’d enjoyed a Dairy Queen dinner beside a beautiful mosque with two towering minarets lit up like candles. Then they’d both fallen asleep in the car on the way back to the hotel.

I’d woken Son2 up with difficulty, and he was walking right behind me as we made our way in the dark to the wide doors at the entrance. I’d seen him a second before, his head bowed, shoulders hunched with tiredness. And then, like a car crash, it happened.

Except, of course, you don’t immediately think you’ve actually lost your son, do you? You assume he’s just trailed too far behind and you casually start calling his name across the dimly lit car park.

Manama Dairy Queen
Dairy Queen in Manama

Fast-forward 10 minutes, and I was beginning to panic. Where on earth had he gone? We’d checked all the obvious places, the room, the car park, the hotel lobby, a second entrance where workers were dismantling tables and chairs from a wedding at the hotel. Noticing that something was amiss, they joined our search. What was he wearing? they asked, and I could barely remember.

“Come,” said one of the men, and feeling like my legs were on backwards, I followed him over to the security guard at the gate. I’d noticed him earlier: dark hair stuck to his glistening forehead as he checked the trunks and underbellies of all the cars entering the hotel grounds. Checking for what? I’d wondered. Bombs?

He shook his head. “Maybe the swimming pool?” he said, looking askance. I wasn’t too worried about the pool, as Son2 swims well; by now, I’d started imagining he was in someone’s car, half-way over the King Fahd Causeway to neighbouring Saudi Arabia.

DH, Son1 and I lapsed into a dreadful silence as everyone continued to search, the sound of loud music from the wedding party reception at the edge of my hearing. How could he have vanished in the blink of an eye? I’d only taken my eyes off him for a second. My heart was thumping, my mouth as dry as the desert all around.

Then out of the darkness came the silhouette of a man. A security guard was walking towards us, all smiles, eyes twinkling with warmth. He was carrying our sleeping son – Son2 had wandered off, laid down on a grassy verge, and fallen fast asleep. Totally oblivious to the commotion going on around him …

Just when I thought holidays with kids were getting easier!

Tree of Life Bahrain
The Tree of Life: This amazing, 400-year-old tree stands alone in the Bahraini desert, surviving on water gleaned from particles of sand and the air’s humidity
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Family vacations: Are you having fun yet?

Many of us are travelling with a shouty entourage this summer and, if you’re anything like me, you’ll know there’s an initiation parents must go through before you can honestly say family holidays no longer leave you feeling winded.

Here’s my five-step, tongue-in-cheek guide to achieving holiday zen:

Dream on
Dream on

1-2 years [with a health warning]: While friends with older children sip cocktails and watch the sunset, your toddler has more energy than an atomic explosion. He scales the furniture and hurtles round your holiday home like a hurricane (anything breakable, you’ve already moved higher, or hidden – it was either that or develop such a shrill tone through continually shrieking ‘Don’t touch that” that it doesn’t even sound like you). Relaxing is inconceivable so you’re out and about every.single.day, which means, between your (early) morning latte and lights out, you save his life at least five times. Think of holidays with 1-2 year olds as paying to lead your normal life in a less convenient location.

xxxx
“Muuuuuum, MUMMY, where are yoooouuuu?”

2-3 years: By now, there’s a sibling on the scene and travelling with two constitutes a whole new level of pain. Expect nightly games of musical beds and heated debates over who slept the less. Do be careful not to let your guard down: your 2-year-old will be irresistibly drawn to dirt, puddles and dog poo, like bees are to honey. (Remember to bring several changes of clothes per day for each family member – expiry through laundry overload isn’t covered by travel insurance.)

3-4 years: Continually ravenous / thirsty / hot / cold / bickering / or in sudden need of the loo, your children are a zillion times more demanding than your most attention-seeking work colleagues, yet on Facebook it’s all smiley faces in front of stunning backdrops. You’ve tried holidaying with friends so the kids can play together while the adults drink wine, but the downside is you can no longer claim their bad behaviour is a temporary blip when it lasts all week long. You’ve also discovered you can take your children to the best zoos and wildlife parks and introduce them to all manner of cute animals, but they’ll never be as happy as when you discover cockroaches in the kitchen.

xxxxx
The heaven, hell and humour of family holidays is the new normal

4-5 years: By now, you’ve resigned yourself to the fact that holidays aren’t what they used to be, and you’ve learnt how to hit the ground running. On arriving in an unfamiliar environment, you can find the supermarket, buy essentials and whip up a supper for four. Hell, you can even cook fish fingers in an Aga. And with the letting go of any notions of late-nights, lazy days reading and uninterrupted sunbathing (pre-child holiday memories that might as well have taken place in Ancient Rome – because there’s no going back) comes the realisation that family vacations can be fun, especially if there’s a kids’ club.

Don’t think family holidays will now be a breeze. It’s not that relaxing is bottom of your children’s priority list. It’s not even on it
Don’t think family holidays will now be a breeze. It’s not that relaxing is bottom of your children’s priority list. It’s not even on it

5-6 years: Showing your offspring new things, new places and new horizons is not only rewarding, it’s like putting a down payment on developing citizens of the world. On good days, your rosie-cheeked kiddos slip little hands in yours, and swing happily on the farm gate. On bad days, there’s always electronic stimulation to fall back on. Life-long memories are made, bonds are strengthened. Your children become your ambassadors, opening doors to new experiences and conversations. While they race their new Italian friends around the Campo in Siena, you can actually enjoy your Campari. As the years roll by, you look back at holiday snaps of your babies with rose-tinted specs on, and marvel at those precious, crazy moments captured in time.

Happy holidays everyone!

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11 things no child says on holiday, EVER

“These swimming goggles are a perfect fit.”

“I’ll just stand still while you apply the sun cream.”

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“Five minutes until dinner, kids, and you can use my coffee cup to shovel sand”

“Let’s not bother Mum right now, she’s reading.”

“Just one ice-cream a day is fine, thank you!”

“Can’t we just squeeze in one more medieval church?”

“You’re right Mum, I am tired. I’ll think I’ll go to bed even though it’s still light outside.”

“What a lovely view! Shall we walk a bit further?”

“You go and lie down over there, Mum, and play Candy Crush for an hour.”

“I don’t really feel like the gift shop today – let’s just go home.”

“Mum, I’m still sleepy. Let’s sleep in.”

“I started it!”