Is it just me or does it feel like we are approaching spring? In the North East we are not famed for our sunny climes, but we seemed to escape the wrath of Storm Doris, the nights are starting to get a bit brighter, and one day last week I contemplated (and swiftly came to my senses) not wearing a coat. With the worst of winter behind us, I start to think of summer and pine for summer holidays. I adore going away, evening meals eaten outside, the light from those weird anti mosquito candles, sangria from plastic bottles that usually only pour out orange juice. The holiday conversations, talking about rubbish, shared memories and plans for the following day. I love it all. I mean I love the image that I have in my head. In my head I think that my kids are tucked up in bed at 7pm, or playing quietly, safely and without much need for adult supervision. In reality some of our holiday moments have involved one parent trying to coax a child to go to sleep whilst the other keeps food warm watching something on those weird channels that you only ever watch on holiday (Portugal 2014 was the year we discovered the Real Crime Channel). Lets face it holidays with kids are not the same as the ones we enjoyed before them.
But I fall strictly into the mummy martyr camp. I had a four day child-free holiday last year for my sister's 40th birthday. I adored reading books, having a drink without considering my chances of winning the 6am "You go and see to them", "No you go and see to them" battle, and being able to sit on a lounger for more than 3 minutes. There was no cries for drinks, snacks, or for me to play Marshall in the never-ending game of paw patrol but not content to fully enjoy the freedom, a tiny part of me still had that niggling feeling of how I missed them, and looked wistfully at the families playing together on the beach, imagining how cute my two would be splashing around and how I couldn't wait to see them again.
So what is the answer? How do I have a relaxing holiday whilst not putting 1000 miles between me and the people I love most in the world? Well Mark Warner might just be the solution. From what I have heard, I think they might just be the holy grail of family holidays. The resorts are built around families. There are no young, free and hedonistic couples at Mark Warner. If your kid decides that yes he will have a very public tantrum, because whilst you think you have cut his sandwich in half, in actual fact it is now broken and this is very upsetting, then the hope is that every other family has been there. And you'll get looks of, 'Yep that was us 10 minutes ago' rather than the judgemental ones which make us want to curl in a ball and disappear. Mark Warner have thought of everything that a parent actually needs, like 24 hour kitchens to make bottles or warm up baby food and they even offer free childcare for kids aged 2 and older. This blog post is my entry for the #MarkWarnerMum ambassador scheme. Now the post is done, I just need to think about ways to make Little Toddler look like she's 2 years old so I can bagsy that free childcare.
Now Mark Warner have asked for my top 10 travel must haves collated into a mood board. I was halfway through my list of arm bands and factor 50, when I started to really think about our holidays. Instead of picking my favourite items, I thought I'd keep this post realistic and go for a 'Mood' mood board. These are the essentials of any of our holidays. I might forget that handy pop up tent, but there is no way we're getting through a week in the sun without these moods popping up somewhere. So here goes. Our 'Mood' board for family holidays.
Before any holiday I'll get that excited feeling. As I get older, and the responsibilities are stacking up the excitement hits me later and later, but it's always there. Even if it's only as we park the car in the airport car park. The picture above is from our first holiday as a family. Even though as a hand-luggage only kind of girl, the stack of suitcases fills me with horror, I still get that lovely excited feeling as I remember posing for this photo before we flew off, taking our first baby to feel warmer temperatures and colder bodies of water than he'd ever felt before.
Mood: (False) Optimism
Despite the fact that I have known myself for 32 years, I am yet to take on board that when it comes to timekeeping I am always far too optimistic. It'll take us 10 minutes to get to the airport, 5 minutes to check in, lets enjoy this and allow 15 minutes for a celebratory glass of prosecco, yeah I say leave 90 minutes before the flight departs. Why Caroline? Why do you never learn? Every journey I have ever taken, whether it be 10 minutes on the bus into town, or a flight across the world has begun with me being a sweaty mess from running through the bus station/train station/airport lounge. No photos to depict this glamorous look, as I'm too busy negotiating my way through the crowds at speed. But I thought this picture, of an equally optimistic picnic...with a baby...in the rain, got across the fact that I will always look on the bright side of things, irrelevant of how unwise that might be.
Mood: Tired but happy
How come travelling is so tiring? Even pre-kids when the full extent of the hard work involved opening small bottles of spirits and watching films with Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds, I was always knackered getting off the plane. Now that I consider myself a professional toddler wrangler it makes more sense that I arrive on holiday feeling like I haven't slept for two days. But it's that happy doziness where you can still be bothered to immediately look in all of the drawers of the hotel room and where the tiredness moves you to temporarily lose your senses as you are suddenly prepared to spend £10 on the macadamia nuts from the mini bar, as you are on holiday after all.
We, like lots of families, love to explore. In our child-free days it was all about quirky coffee shops, tucked away bars and the finding out where we could eat the best food. I guess this is one of the areas where things haven't changed as much since having children, but now lots of our satisfaction comes from how friendly the owners might be to the kids, or seeing how much they have enjoyed their first real Italian ice cream. Having kids has also added another layer to our holiday adventures. What looks like a typical city centre square becomes a fascinating place to explore with the hustle and bustle and myriad of side street, when you view it from the eyes of a toddler. Since holidaying with children we've discovered a new found enjoyment of finding a park and watching our toddler make friends with kids from other nationalities without either of them understanding a word the other has said.
Now this is a family holiday, and as the owner of two toddlers it would be impossible to have a holiday without a tantrum or two. I want to blame this mood entirely on the kids, and the things they find so so so unreasonable, like being put down when they don't want to be, being given drinks in the wrong colour cups or when their sibling comes in close proximity to a toy they had absolutely no previous interest in, however if we are going for complete disclosure then the unreasonable tantrums don't lie only at the (stomping) feet of my children. There is something about holiday that brings out the diva in me (and at times in my husband) I guess it's spending 24 hours a day with people and making lots of (irrelevant in the grand scheme of things) decisions. I will famously never forgive the couple who queue jumped during a breakfast in a Orlando motel, for taking the last of the blueberry bagels. Whilst I stand by that it was rude of them, I will concede that moaning about it to my husband every morning for the remaining 7 days probably wasn't my finest hour.
Mood: Ready for fun
Holidays are made for fun. It's not all that often that everyone in the family comes together for a week or so with no other goal apart from doing things that we'll all like. The warmer weather, the break from making all of the meals, and the activities on offer are all there to make the whole experience brilliant for everyone. As my kids are both toddlers, and changing so quickly, I am excited to see what stage they will be at this summer. My husband loves waterparks, and I know that he's desperate for our kids to be old enough to properly enjoy them with him. Even just playing bat and ball or visiting the local wildlife brings such happiness to the kids that it is impossible not to feel all warm and fuzzy around them. Now that I've really set myself up as proper worthy mum, it's probably only right to add in that there are some non-child friendly fun that I would love on our next holiday. Taking advantage of the Mark Warner childcare and sampling the G&T menu on a sun lounger would be pretty fun too.
Whilst we are on the subject of child-free fun then I must mention the chance to reconnect and spend a bit of 1:1 time with my husband. It wouldn't be possible on every holiday, but indulge me in imagining that we go on a Mark Warner holiday and there is a babysitter primed to let us have a few hours to ourselves on a couple of evenings. Like so many working parents our day to day lives are a rush of nursery drop offs, long days at work, battles with the kids to go to sleep and then starting all over the next day. It's so rare that we get to get dressed up and go out just the two of us, and to talk about something other than the fact our eldest needs new shoes again, or our youngest needs baby wipes taken in to nursery. Even without the luxury of a babysitter we always make a bit more time for each other on holidays and I think (don't quote me on this) that at some point during our last holiday we might have even had a conversation which didn't revolve around the kids!
A holiday essential is a bit of relaxation. A time to recharge the batteries, whether it's from a full day turning in the sun like a rotisserie chicken, or you know, just 15 minutes uninterrupted time scrolling instagram whilst the other half takes the kids with them on the supermarket run (for the essentials such as Milka chocolate and the crisps you only ever get on holidays in the see through bags). Yes looking after kids is tiring, but that makes those ahhhh moments when you get five minutes to yourself feel even better.
Mood: smile through it
A holiday, or more accurately a parenting essential is a sense of humour. Children are so unpredictable. They loved it yesterday but today they are shocked and hurt that you could suggest that they would have cereal for breakfast today - do you not know them at all? The photo above represents a moment just like that. The Little Toddler is horrified that I might put her down to enjoy a child-friendly activity. As the saying goes you can take a kid somewhere fun but you can't make them enjoy themselves (if you follow me on instagram you will have seen that joke before, but forgive me guys, there is a holiday at stake here). So a sense of humour is an absolute MUST!
Mood: Content with My Lot
Despite the tantrums and tiredness of family holidays, there is one feeling which I always come back to. Contentedness. Seeing my kids run around just in their nappies, spending days doing nothing really but having fun, and spending evenings sitting outside, no coats on and talking until the early hours is exactly what I need as a break from the hectic nursery runs and working life. There are always those moments on holiday, when you have spent more time with your family then you can remember, and you think - 'wow this is all mine. I am so lucky to share my life with them.' And then one of them wakes up at 3am and you forget it all, but I really think that holidays are so important to take time out of the 9-5pm to reconnect with the most important people and above it all to appreciate how special that is.
And that is it, my holiday essentials. I am well and truly wistful for a trip away now. What inevitable holiday moods did I miss out on? What is your favourite or funniest holiday memory? Leave me a comment below.