Wednesday 29 July 2015

Why I have a favourite child

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When you have one child you cannot imagine loving another child the same. You have journeyed with him from day one, cared for him in the most intimate ways, and studied every line and curve on his face; his button nose, his perfect ears, the way his eyes light up when he sees you (or food). The thought of having another child seems alien when you just have one – how can you possibly have any more to give another child? How can you possibly love another just as much?

People told me I would love another one just the same when he or she came along and I quickly discovered that that was not the case. After giving birth for the second time, I was presented with a baby that seemed to just coo at me at every waking moment, who snuggled into me every chance he got – a far cry from my eldest who, well, cried. A lot. And as all mothers do in secret, I compared the two and felt I had won the lottery this time around. A baby that hardly cries? Is that even possible? Baby number two was undoubtably my favourite.

My eldest took to him like a dream; he suddenly matured into a caring and considerate older brother, cuddling him and making him laugh. He even did things for me to help out, helping me put washing away and fetching me his baby clothes. He watched intently as I changed the newborn's nappy, asking me questions about how the tape worked and where the wee goes. And on mornings when I'd had bad nights feeding he would allow me to nap while he climbed into bed with me and played on my phone. My eldest was undoubtably my favourite.

Yes, I have a favourite child. Which one? Well, it depends entirely on the day. Today, it is my eldest because he made me laugh till my sides ached this morning, whereas my youngest whined and wouldn't eat his breakfast. Tomorrow my eldest could refuse to get dressed and pee all over the bathroom floor and I would undoubtably be favouring my youngest again. You see, all parents have favourites, but what this really means is favouring the behaviour that makes life the easiest. In theory, not many wish for a hyperactive child over one who sits and reads books quietly, but that doesn't mean you would want to change a child just because they are more demanding (maybe sometimes). You see how they tick, and why they prefer the things they do and you appreciate that they are very different. You try to encourage them into the unique person they are, but that doesn't mean you don't just wish for an easy life sometimes, who doesn't? But easy isn't alway best.

Do I love my children just the same? No. I do not. I do not love them in the same way at all. They are entirely different people. I probably love them the same amount, but this is impossible to quantify. In some respects they are both my favourites; I look at my eldest and instantly favour him (as long as he's not picking his nose), and I look at my youngest and instantly favour him too (as long as he's not puked on my jumper). I sometimes dart between the two and feel so incredibly overwhelmed with favouritism it's untrue, but I can't quite decide which one for.

Favouritism is conditional, love isn't. But favouritism can come across as love sometimes. I can get angry with my son for doing something wrong and he can presume I don't love him any more. I can praise him for doing something good and he can presume that my love is earned by these things. It's important I separate the two things so my children know they are loved unconditionally regardless of their actions. I may not alway favour what they do but I will always love them.

So I guess my point is that having favourites is inevitable, but favouritism needs to be treated for the fickle thing it really is. In my opinion children need to recognise the difference so that they are not continuously seeking approval in life, nor rebelling against it. They are beautiful people just because of who they are; they do not have to work for it. If they want to be equipped with good tools for life it will be a benefit to them to favour some behaviour over others, to be selective about praise and criticism, but to always see the good and cultivate it. A 'difficult' child is one that makes life difficult for adults because he doesn't follow the rules or stay quiet, but this doesn't mean he is unlovable, or that those things cannot be channelled into really good things. Disapproval of behaviour doesn't mean disapproval of them, and this needs to be clear. You may be surprised just how powerful saying I love you is. It's the same whatever age your children are, whatever they've done in life. You do not have to accept what they do, but only love can change things.

Thursday 23 July 2015

Since when did parenting become about what society wants?

It was my son's graduation last week. You must think I was incredibly proud of his academic achievements, other than the fact that he graduated, not with a degree, but a hand made certificate with a stick drawing on it.

Yes, my son is four.

Now, don't get me wrong, I get it - I get the cuteness of little people drowning in graduation gowns and throwing hats that are too ridiculously big for their heads in the air. I get the quirkiness, the irony, of a graduation for four year olds....

But really? Is it about them or us?

My son was forced to smile in his gown. I could tell from his face that he half hated it and half wondered what those loonies were doing, making him wear a big black dress. Do four year olds need to be educated that life is not simply about enjoying the moments, but that it is about achievement, reward and status?

Another friend told me recently how all the girls her daughter hangs out with were wearing bras. You may thing it's a coming of age thing when you buy your daughter her first bra, except that the bra is more like a crop top because she doesn't have any breasts.

Yes, my friend's daughter is seven.

Now don't get me wrong, I get it - I get the cuteness of little people wearing adult things with cute patterns on. I get the quirkiness and the irony of little girls wearing bras...

But really? Is this about them or us?

Do seven year olds need educating that having breasts is what will make them more likeable? Do seven year olds need to be taught that in order to be beautiful and desirable all you have to do is grow a pair of double Ds?

And on it goes, through school to adulthood; the things we inflict on our children because that's just what society is. It just is. We make children sit exams and pass tests in order to prove that they are of any worth, just because of something they write on a piece of paper. We teach them they are valued because of what they give and what they look like and what they contribute to society, and we may as well tell them not to value the times when they want to just sit and make up games. We inflict upon future generations the the things will train up our children to simply fit in and follow rules and become just like everybody else. We ask other mums if their son is going on the school trip to France, or if their daughter is allowed to sleep at the new girl's house, as though we can justify our decisions by how many other people are making the same ones.

A few years ago my son's nursery asked me to take a book home and record developments - new things my son had learnt. I lasted a while and then realised that I was getting so preoccupied with writing about what my son was doing that I wasn't engaging with what he was actually doing. The whole exercise, for us, was futile because I didn't even get to keep the book to look back on (not that I'm too sentimental about the first time my son applied a pincer grip). They kept giving me new books that were left blank. They must have thought me one of those parents who doesn't invest into her children, but I'm pretty sure my son was never bothered about recording his developments either. But someone higher up said that that's just what you do to be a good parent and to raise a good child.

But is it really about them, or us?

And so education becomes this tick box system where we have to fit in with certain categories, and, although we can pin point a few people, nobody can really say exactly where it came from. This drive for compliance and conformity seems engrained in society. And we play along with it because, well, that's just what you do for the sake of your children – the things you are made to do just because; the fine you have to pay for the once in a lifetime holiday you took your child out of school for; the homework your child has to do despite his disinterest in the subject; the costumes you have to make or buy for whatever fancy dress day it is next, despite the fact that your child has an aversion to wearing ridiculous costumes (did I tell you about his graduation?). But you do it, because that's what you have to do, and you are frowned upon for doing anything any different but no one quite knows why.

You see, we've already created roles for our children before they've even arrived on the planet and no one quite knows where they came from. We've stopped thinking. We just do what we're supposed to do. And although I act like I don't give a crap what anyone thinks of me or my parenting, I actually do. Most of the time I am just going along with what I am supposed to do because doing something different, something I really think would be more beneficial to my child, is difficult.

Of course I'm not criticising graduation days for infants or saying that children's fashion is necessarily damaging (though, I have my doubts), I'm just challenging this drive for conformity, despite us all being so incredibly unique. I'm challenging you (and me) to look at children through different lenses to the ones we've been brought up with. What is really good for them? What do they really need? Do I enforce a certain way of learning simply because it's in his curriculum? Or find new ways that encourage his unique personality and learning style? Are we prepared to stick our necks out and do something that goes against the grain because we feel it is best for our child? Is this ever really about them, or just us?

Wednesday 15 July 2015

What can you expect of your children?

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When you had a baby, what did you expect of him? That sounds a weird thing to ask, doesn't it? Like, what can you possibly expect from a helpless little bald thing that can't communicate? In the early days of parenting you learn that any expectations you had soon go out of the window; like that they will smile at four weeks, or they will sleep through the night at twelve (yeh, right) ... and then the rulebooks go out of the window because not one baby follows them all exactly, and you give up on any expectations whatsoever.

Aside from this being, initially, incredibly annoying, this can often be quite freeing too; it's not your fault if your baby isn't sleeping through the night yet; it's not your fault if your baby cries a lot (if they are fed and well-loved); it's not your fault if your baby isn't matching up with all the expectations you had of him. We throw the rulebooks out, and we start again. And we learn to see life through their eyes, to see the freedom, the rawness, the chaos, for what it really is. We stop expecting and we just love.

But the reality is that those rulebooks never really get thrown away; they are merely rubbed out, with blank pages left for you to refill. Before you know it, another line has been written in:

My three year old should be able to go to the toilet by himself by now
My four year old should be quiet when we go to the cinema
My ten year old shouldn't be so easily influenced by his friends
My teenager should study hard instead of socialising
My twenty year old should be investing in his career
My thirty year old should be in a stable relationship...

And the list goes on.

Now, don't get me wrong, standards are good; there needs to be a benchmark so that your kids know what is good and bad in life; to know which choices are wise and which are down right stupid. We can hope our children learn good things from us – learn to treat others with respect; learn to make a living and have good relationships – but expectations? Expectations tell you that should is better than freedom, that should is better than wisdom, that should is about your expectations, your reputation; you.

How will I look if my son chooses something alternative? How will I be perceived as a parent if my toddler is rude to a stranger on the bus because he doesn't know how to express himself yet? What if my children don't listen to my advice? Or invest time into the things that I like? What if my children don't call me when they're older? Will I simply miss them or begrudge them? Will I feel that they owe me for the years of sleepless nights, chocolate stained carpets and tantrums in Sainsburys? Will I feel that they ought to pop in at the same time each week because that's just what they should do? Will I expect them to move next door when I'm a little old lady because they should look after me?

My Facebook feed is full of quotes about expectations of offspring – quotes about how much mothers have sacrificed, how they endured labour for their children; how they should never be forgotten because of all they've done for their families; why they are owed gratitude. And there's nothing wrong with the sentiment of endorsing mothers (far from it!), but can true gratitude be prompted by a quote on social media? And who do you think shares these posts, children? Or pissed off mothers because their child forgot to get them flowers on Mothers' Day? Parenting is hard work but you do it out of choice and love, sometimes through gritted teeth and sometimes through beaming smiles, but not because your children will pay you back for it, right?

Here's the newsflash: your children owe you nothing. They didn't choose to be here; you put them here. Of course we hope our children call us when they've flown the nest, we hope they make good choices, but we cannot force a relationship any more than we can force sleep (as much as I long for both those things).

What this doesn't mean, of course, is that we let our children do whatever the hell they want when they are in our care, or, god forbid, treat us badly. We are people too, and part of modelling good relationships is to deal with confrontation well; to speak out when things aren't right; to tell our children that their behaviour isn't good, and when they are adults to confront them in the same way that we would any other friendship. But don't be surprised if they don't always do as you ask, or take on board your advice, as though they owe it to you to be obedient. If you always expect good behaviour I'm afraid you will be sorely disappointed. Instead, steer them in the right direction and lead by example, correcting them when they are in the wrong and saying sorry when you are (parents aren't always right, you know). Notice the things they're good at and help them to channel those things – not the things you wished they were be good at. Don't force the piano just because you regretted giving up on it too soon.

So put the the rulebook in the bin once and for all and forget about expectations – instead focus on hopes. You see, hopes bring freedom to both sides of a relationship: saying I hope my children have good relationships is about wanting the best for them and giving them freedom. Saying you expect them to do so instantly adds pressure and takes away all freedom, not only for your kids but for you too. Respect your children enough to give them a life that's filled with hope and freedom to be who they really are; not who you expect them to be.

Wednesday 8 July 2015

Well, you chose to have kids, didn't you?! Why parents are the only people who aren't allowed to moan.

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When I was my youthful, carefree, childless self I would look at stressed-out mothers and wonder why they had even bothered if they found parenting so hard. I reserved some sympathy for parents of one though – well, they didn't know any better when they entered into the world of parenting, did they? I'd let them off the hook because you can't possibly know what something is really like unless you've tried it. After all, I suspected I'd become a parent one day myself – you know, when I was ready for all that parenting crap; when I'd done everything I'd wanted to do in life first, or when I'd become a better-rounded, altogether more wise kind of person (anyone there yet?!). It's totally understandable that before you have children you could be lulled into a false security; that parenting is all blissful; full of cute gurgles and cuddles. But parents of two or more? You bloody asked for trouble, didn't you?

Pre-children, If a parent of multiples moaned at me I would have little sympathy, as though they just wanted a life full of more screaming and chaos and banana stuck behind their sofas – like they were just desperate to clear up twice what they had previously. I figured they must just love trips to the park and wiping dirty bottoms and answering ridiculously crappy why questions about everything. Weird.

And yet here I am, with two children, and part of me wonders why I went there; why I chose to add to my workload and washing pile too. Maybe it was the fear of regret or the hope that my children would play together, or just that I think people are pretty amazing, you know? But the problem is that when I have crap days, as I inevitably do, people often come to one of two conclusions.

1. You've done this before, you can handle it. Surely you're pretty much an expert by now, able to take parenting in your stride.

2. Well, you chose to have kidS didn't you?! I have no sympathy.

Oh sure, I do it to parents of three, and no doubt they do it to parents of four. What were you thinking?! Are you gluttons for punishment?

Now, can you imagine if every time you took on an extra challenge in life people came at you with the same responses. Can you imagine if you got a job promotion and the reactions were the same? Imagine if you took on something else in life that you loved - like joining a theatre production - and then when you said it was hard learning your lines, some awkward bugger told you how you didn't have a right to complain because you were asking for trouble when you took on the part.

Or imagine you got a new job, and you found your new boss hard work - can you imagine if they said:

 "Struggling with your boss? Well, you've worked for a boss before haven't you? Surely you should be an expert at handling bosses by now?!"

I'm pretty sure that wouldn't happen. 

Parents, on the other hand, get the "Well, you chose to have another kid, you were asking for trouble," or, "you chose to have one kid, surely you knew what you were letting yourself in for with a second?"

And sure I did, kind of. In the same way that I knew this about anything that's challenging. What did you expect, that I was just going to sit on a sofa for the rest of my life in the hope that no one gave me any new challenges? That I was going to negate all the fun stuff; the cute cuddles, the family day trips, laughing till my face aches – or miss out on watching a real life human being grow up before my eyes – that's frigging awesome. And just because I chose to do it twice, it doesn't mean that I wished upon myself a string of sleepless nights, piles of washing and a chubby tummy. Just because I moan sometimes doesn't mean I hate my life or regret having children.

Some people choose not to have children, and I totally understand why; it's tough and it's not to be taken lightly. There are people who will be far happier without, and I respect their decisions. But when someone announces they've had four kids there is a look that dawns upon the majority of faces, and they say congratulations through gritted teeth – "Congratulations?" – like they couldn't possibly have planned this. Like, why would you wish that upon yourself?!

I have two children and I still don't have a scooby do about parenting. All the things that worked for my firstborn haven't made a dot of difference to my second. Here's the thing, they are different people. Entirely different human beings with entirely different personalities, so please don't think I have this all figured out. Please don't think that I don't need a hand because I've somehow got this nailed. I still find things tough. And it's perfectly understandable. Life is hard sometimes, regardless of whether you have children or not. 

And in those moments when I struggle and think, what the hell have I done?! I just look at baby no.2s ridiculously cute face.


My life may be more of a challenge for having them, but I wouldn't change I thing.

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Wednesday 1 July 2015

Our first 'holiday' (aka boot camp) with two children

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Our first 'holiday' (aka boot camp) with two children

Warning: this post contains sarcasm.

Holiday. That word conjures up all sorts of connotations: sun, sea, sand, rest.... the list goes on. And then you go on holiday with children and that brings on a whole new meaning of holidaying: Fitting flight times into daily schedules, dealing with the possibility that your child could vomit or poo mid transit, carting around oodles of stuff; stuff you don't really want to take up luggage space with. On this holiday we took a whole bag dedicated to weaning – weaning, for gods sake. For the past few weeks I've had people tell me I'm crazy for going abroad with a four year old and a six month old but people do this all the time, right? If you say you're not going abroad until your children are grown up people look at you as though you're equally mad. 

The fact is, if we didn't go abroad now we never would. When are you ever really ready to accept a holiday with no real opportunity to lay horizontal on a beach all afternoon? A holiday where you swap cultured cuisine for the ease of a pizza takeaway you know your kids will eat? A holiday with no opportunity for romantic nights out or strolls down the beach? Nope, I'm still really not selling holidaying with kids, am I? 

But we really needed a break. And by a break, I guess what I meant was a change (with sunshine). Sunshine helps me cope with anything. I figured that, despite the chaos, the sunshine would help to put a smile on our faces, and the excitement in our children's eyes when they saw the play park or swimming pool would make the trip well worth it.

The journey

The problem with organising a holiday is that there are several people involved who need organising too. Unfortunately that part is down to me, due to the fact I am ridiculously neurotic a planner. My husband thinks I am over the top; he rolls his eyes at me when I get stressed over packing, when I double check paperwork, and stress over flight times.... Ah, yes, flight times. My husband thinks I need to chill out about that too and decided that we only needed to arrive to the check in half an hour before the gate closed. He didn't think it would be busy at 6am; we had already done online check in and we were traveling out of season so queues were unlikely – besides which, the thought of getting up earlier than 4am with two small children was not welcomed. I, on the other hand, insisted we needed to leave at 4am latest, always better to be earlier, right? 

I'm not sure what happened to my brain the day before we left but after two days of solid packing and a total of six hours sleep my brain turned to jelly. When my husband reminded me of the get-up time I just set my alarm accordingly, like a lamb being led to the slaughter. Sure, 4:45am, yep, that's what time we are leaving.... is that right? Urmmmm.... Zzzzzzzzz

The realisation of my error was made plain when a wrong turn was taken on a route that we have travelled over a hundred times. I looked at my watch and realised that I'd succumbed once again by Mr laid back's persuasions. "Oh, no, we're going to miss the flight!" I said in a state of panic

"Chill out!" Mr laid back snapped.

Mrs Neurotic kept her mouth shut when she heard a little voice say 'I need a wee wee.' after we'd gone past all the services and had to stop by the side of the dual carriageway for my four year old to pee (most of which went down his trousers). Mrs Neurotic kept her mouth shut when the half an hour before gate closing turned into twenty five minutes before and still with no airport in site, still with a parking space to find. Mrs Neurotic (that's me by the way, in case you thought we'd invited a suspiciously named nanny) kept her mouth shut when a parking space was unavailable. Mrs Neurotic didn't keep her mouth closed when, having managed to abandon the car in some lame excuse of a parking space, and on running to the airport carrying a small child, she nearly tripped over her wheely suitcase and then watched as the flight tickets and passports blew across the road. Mrs neurotic nearly passed out when, on entering the airport with fifteen minutes until the gate closed, the queues were the size of those queuing for the Olympic Games.

I looked behind and saw my husband gesticulate anger with his arms in the air (like when he loses a football match), and I kicked myself that I didn't just listen to my own instincts. Never again will I trust the man I married (just ignore the last, soppy blog post I wrote about him, yeh?). The proceeding ten minutes involved a nice lady from Jet2 ushering us to the front (telling us we'd have to "run like crazy"), dropping off suitcases, presenting crumpled up bits of paper in the hope they could fathom out which were our tickets, and my husband telling us to run like crazy whilst he checked in the oversize baggage.

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Now, have you ever tried running whilst carrying a small child and two heavy rucksacks? Have you ever tried that and then added another child into the mix who insists on carrying a ridiculously large teddy bear? On reaching security another large queue loomed and I looked at the time: 6:30am, the time the gate closed. We had surely missed the flight and I felt overwhelmed with stress as I had to look into the eyes of my excitable four year old and tell him that we might not be able to catch the plane. "But why, mummy? He asked, clutching his bear tightly. 

Suddenly my husband appeared with a fast-track pass and we ran through the queues. I was told that because I had baby food I had to go through security gate number two (the one which had the biggest bloomin' queue), while the boys ran on ahead. My bag kept beeping with all the things I'd forgotten to take out, amongst which was my son's favourite Monsters inc. drinks bottle full of water. Confiscated. I could have cried. I know what you're thinking, couldn't yojust drink it, but I was in so much of a daze that they could have told me to put my socks on my ears for security purposes and I'd probably have obliged.

Then I ran. I ran like I've never ran before, bashing into innocent holidaymakers and wheely suitcases as I pegged it through duty free. Not even Givenchy could hold me back now. I could feel my heart in my chest and I was convinced the plane would have gone. I ran round the corner to see three sorry looking boys waiting for me, whose faces then beamed when they saw me. Made it. Just.

When we got on the plane I didn't know whether to laugh or to cry, I don't think I've ever been so stressed in my whole entire life. We sat on the flight and I had to explain to my four year old that I had to give the security man his drinks bottle. He burst into tears. I refrained from doing so.

The rest of the journey involved trying to stop my four year old from relentlessly kicking the chair of the poor sod in front, continually picking up his dropped crayons off the floor, and trying to find ways of getting our six month old baby off to sleep. We eventually managed this by my husband smuggling him in his jacket, only to be told by our four year old, on the inside seat, that he needed another wee.

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When all eventually calmed down my husband flicked through the flight magazine, sighed contently and said. "Whenever I'm on a plane it makes me feel like I need to travel more." 

I refrained from punching him.*

The holiday 

On arriving in France my four year old adopted a split personality of a knackered, over-excitable yet grizzly bear, which was perfectly understandable considering his ordeal but it didn't exactly make life easy. We crammed our luggage into the budget hire car which left me with pins and needles from having a suitcase shoved by my feet. Every time my husband pressed on the breaks the buggy crashed into the back seat, whacking a poor unsuspecting child on the head (we stopped to secure it, like any parent sick of whining respectable parent concerned with health and safety would).

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We should have known that once arriving at the glorious Eurocamp, we should have left our beautiful, exhausted children to sleep in the sweaty car but we wanted to a) cool them down and b) share with them the excitement of not one but three amazing water slides (quite frankly, the pool was awesome). My four year old was in too much of a daze to even notice and we decided that, after a luggage drop off and a nosy around the campsite, a supermarket shop was in order to replenish energies. This seemed like a perfectly good idea until, on getting into the car, my four year old lost all coordination and grazed his leg. No big deal, right? Just give him a lolly in the car and he'll soon calm down.

Twenty minutes later he was still screaming. Not crying, screaming. We tried his favourite songs, a lolly, a joke, some games.... bribery – nothing worked. Have you ever driven a car in the sweltering heat when you're knackered with the soundtrack of a screaming child? Well, it does funny things to you, like makes you stop the car by the side of the road and get out to have a breather, which we both did. I don't have a picture of this but if you can imagine my husband and I sat on a wall (still not overly communicative with one another after the flight) and a screaming, angry child in the car who is literally bashing at the windows. At this point you're probably thinking we are horrendous parents, but in all honesty we needed to just take a breather in order to protect our little ones from obscenities. You know that you just need some time out to recuperate. You know that all your child needs is a snack and a nap but he's not having any of it, he just wants to be mad. Miraculously our six month old slept through the whole ordeal.

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We eventually managed to force ourselves back into the car and drive to the supermarket. My husband took our four year old into the supermarket in the hope of distracting him with croissants, and I stayed in the car while our baby napped. The problem here was that there was no shade in the carpark whatsoever and my husband had taken the keys with him. After an hour of sweating and sitting under a carpark tree to try and cool down my six month old (who had now awoken) - yes, you heard me correctly, one hour, my husband returned with a trolley load of shopping. On the plus note, my four year old seemed remarkably chirpy and said "my knee is better now mummy, are we going home now?"

Part of me wondered whether that would actually be a good idea.

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waiting in a french supermarket carpark in the heat of the midday sun

Foolishly, we had all sorts of expectations about going on holiday in the weeks beforehand. We had visions of sitting on the decking, drinking french wine into the night once the children had gone to bed. They did not go to bed – at least, not till past nine o'clock, by which point we were absolutely knackered. My four year old was far too excited to go to bed and kept creeping out of his room every twenty minutes. My six month old kept waking himself up in-between because he decided that now was the time to discover rolling onto his tummy and getting stuck like a beached whale in the travel cot.

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Once we finally got to bed, the mattress in our mobile home literally had springs sticking into our backs, meaning that when we did actually have the opportunity to sleep we couldn't. In the mornings, after the five thirty wake-up call every morning, we looked so worn down it was like a scene from the Walking Dead. On the first morning of the holiday we were greeted with an explosive poo from our youngest, meaning I had to put the hand travel wash to the test and then bath him in the kitchen sink. Still, at least we have a classic 'baby in the sink' photo to show his life-partner when he's older.

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The boys at 5:30am, trying to keep them quiet enough not to wake the whole campsite
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bath in a sink

Now, normally, how things work in relationships is that if one of you is having a tough time, the other will feel slightly stronger to offer support. Normally when you're at your lowest ebb, there is someone to pick you up just when you need it. Nope. Not this time. How about when all four of you are at your weakest? Who you gonna call? Ain't no ghost busters that can beat these ghoolies, let me tell you. My normally smiley six month old decided to use the holiday as an opportunity to whine like never before. Maybe it was the heat (although he was the same on cooler days), or maybe he was under the weather, or maybe (my personal favourite, standard explanation for any grizzliness) he was teething. Who knows, but he was not happy. My eldest was equally as grizzly, but then, if we will take a ginger-haired boy to the south of France, what did we expect, really?). My husband and I were so drained that when we did actually get the children off to sleep we sat on our phones playing candy crush, dribbling.

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his general expression the whole week

We tried to ignore the fact that taking children on holiday is no walk in the park and we attempted to do things like 'chill' by the pool. Ha ha bloody ha. On the odd occasion that my six month old would fall asleep for twenty minutes (while my husband took our eldest down the slides) I would attempt to sunbathe amidst the squeals of children playing and accidentally splashing water on my face. Piss off you turds. God forbid that the boys would excitedly come back with ice creams before by allotted twenty minutes of peace was over – I'll stick your god-damn ice-cream down your blooming swimming shorts if you disturb my twenty minutes of peace again. I know, awful, what an ungrateful sod.

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napping for twenty minutes by the pool
The great thing about Eurocamp, though, is that when you feel like you need a break you can leave your kids at the amazing clubs and activities. That would be lovely, of course, if your children were extroverts. I mean, couldn't they have a kids club where you could just sit them on their own to colour in instead of ultimate frisbee? How about maths - he loves maths. No, your children have to like sport and having close physical contact with complete and utter strangers. We begged him tried to encourage him to go but he was having none of it. Instead he was perfectly happy to be the closet extrovert he is around us when all we want is just one hour of peace. In order to keep him occupied we had to go out and about, which entailed stopping every two minutes for him to pick stones out of his god-damn sandals.

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god-damn stones!!

But at least it was sunny, right? I can cope with most things if it's sunny. Except that then it started raining – like, torrential rain. And thunder. Please tell me what you do on holiday when it's raining and you're in the middle of rustic France? Thankfully we found some caves which were actually pretty amazing and perhaps the highlight of my week, if only for the fact that the darkness and sound of water actually lulled my youngest off to sleep in his sling. Happiest I saw him all week. In fact, it was the happiest I saw both of them, with my eldest behaving like a pleasant child instead of a manic, highly strung ogre. Now we're looking for package deals to caves for future holidays.

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Another fail-safe option when it's raining is to just go out for food – and you can't go wrong eating out in France, right? All that lovely cheese and bread and ham. Wrong. Foolishly we decided to go out for tea one day as a treat, but the French do not do 'tea', do they? Romantic evening meals after 8pm? Yes. A bite to eat between the hours of five and seven? You're screwed. We spent an hour driving around the countryside, stopping at every little road-side restaurant to be greeted with numerous signs saying 'fermé'. Our four year old was losing the plot with hunger... and a hungry four year old is not to be reckoned with. After an hour of driving we ended up back at the campsite for a burger. Brits abroad at their best.

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Funnily enough when the time came to depart for the flight home my husband wanted to leave ridiculously early. What are the chances? And so we had a very non-eventful wait at the airport, other than my four year old dropping his only snack all over the floor, causing me to promptly apply the three-second rule over a screaming child on a two hour flight. I chuckled to myself as we were placed in the 'parent and child' queue and I looked behind me at the row of maimed and withered parents, desperately offering snacks and toys with irritating jingles in order to distract their children from screaming, running riot or chucking stuff. 

And never have I been more pleased to see the grey clouds of England or to feel the comfort of my John Lewis mattress, let alone make myself a proper cup of tea (no offence, France, you may have blue skies but your tap water sucks). And just like that my children turned into little angels, with my six month old sleeping through the night (well, for three nights anyway) and my four year old using 'please' and 'thank-you's and telling me he loves me. There's no place like home.

No place that is, until I saw the mountain of washing I had to do...

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And so I'm currently sat on my next holiday (it's taken a while to come to terms with the last) – a trip to Scotland with the grandparents. And we're totally missing the heatwave that you're all enjoying, and I wouldn't swap it for the world because last night I got to go on an actual date with my husband after having taken a nap that lasted the entire afternoon. We're currently trying to find ways of sneakily booking holidays ten minutes away from the grandparents on all future vacations - "no way, guess what, we're in the apartment next door!" They'd never twig, right?

Holidays with children are character building. I remember the first holiday with just one and it was like an initiation into parenting; a realisation that holidays would never be the same again. But it did get easier, and we've had some brilliant holidays – in the sun, even. And then we had number two and the initiation started all over again. But although I hope that holidays will once again be more restful (dear god, please), dare I say I will continue to book holidays and attempt the chaos – after all, they are the memories that we'll look back on and laugh at when time has washed away all the frustration and exhaustion and all we're left with are the stories that make us who we are. 

Where you going on holiday next year then, Grannie? I'd recommend a cave holiday.

*we are now on speaking terms, although he is officially banned from using the phrase 'chill-out.' in all instances of organisation.

And here are the photos I will be posting on Facebook, which make us look like we're an idyllic family on the perfect family holiday...

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