22 things you’ll know if you’ve been on a family summer holiday in the UK

1. Packing the car is like a particularly perilous game of Jenga. One false move and that boot will never shut.

2. The front seat passenger will be contorted in all directions due to the extra luggage at their feet.

3. You realise “Are we nearly there yet?” could be a useful interrogation tactic. Especially when it starts five minutes from home.

4. The comfortable time threshold for a car journey is 90 minutes by which time you’re willing to spend £7 on a sandwich each at the services just for a change of scene.

5. The 50mph signs on the M5 seem like a cruel joke because you’ve covered 0.9 miles in 20 minutes.

6. When you arrive where you’re staying, you realise you’ve forked out a small fortune to stay somewhere that is a fraction of the size of your home.

7. When you’re settled in to your accommodation, Wi-Fi is slow to the point of uselessness or non-existent. No streaming here!

8. The children’s holiday money will be spent on day one, often within the first hour, on an overpriced and ill-judged purchase.

9. But they will still ask for more during every other day of your holiday. Especially when you’re in the vicinity of a shop. Which is pretty much all the time.

10. Gift shops will become scene of nightmarish negotiations when you refuse to fork out £7.99 for a frisbee that your child insists they need.

11. You will never have packed enough pants for the children. Even the contingency ones will be used up with unexpected incidents such as rushing down a soggy slide or running into seawater in clothes.

12. There will be public tantrums on monumental scales attracting a mixture of disgust/sympathetic gazes.

13. Shattered from lack of sleep, the children will insist they can’t walk so you finish the holidays with superb biceps.

14. You’ll find yourself incredulous at the cost of any tourist attraction. £60 to look at a garden? Are you kidding me?

15. The British weather means you must bring coats/sun cream/hats/wellies/flip flops for every trip out so a 6lb bag accompanies you at all times. And you’ll still have forgotten something.

16. You’ll only realise you’ve forgotten that important thing when you’re miles from the car.

17. Despite your meticulous route planning and sat nav system, you will get lost usually as a child announces that they really need a wee.

18. Your child will start singing their rudest song during a quiet, educational day out making you want to crawl under the nearest table. Bum bum song at the museum anyone?

19. Someone will drop their ice cream the second after you’ve paid for it.

20. Any dream of a nice meal out will be shattered by the reality of overtired children and frazzled parents. Cereal it is then!

21. The onsite entertainment will remind you of Phoenix Nights, but the kids will love it and worship the oversized animal mascot sent out to interact with them.

22. The lack of structure means the children won’t sleep so your days consist of parenting between the hours of 5am until 9pm, when you collapse in an exhausted heap, too tired for wine.

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To my son on his sports day

Today was your sports day, marking the near end of your Reception year. 

In that year I’ve watched you grow taller, more confident and learn more with each passing day. Your interests have changed, your sense of humour is cheekier and you are a fantastic, compassionate big brother to your sister (when you’re not scrapping and teasing each other). 

And today, your sports day, the sun shone. I was hoping it would. We parents, grandparents and loved ones gathered around the yard, chatting with excitement. 

You and your classmates filed out, took a seat and scanned the crowd for those familiar faces, lighting up when you saw them. You waved, gave us the thumbs up and proudly told your friends you’d seen your dad. 

That morning, we’d told you to try your best and not worry about winning. You, like me, are fiercely competitive so we worried you’d be sad if you didn’t come first.

We needn’t have. Because you tried your best at everything with a smile on your face. From bean bag balancing to running races, you  tried your hardest.

One of the loveliest things was seeing you with your friends, observing those friendships, hearing you laugh together. Just so happy.

And that’s all I ever want from you and for you. Try hard and be happy (showing a lot of kindness along the way). 

You make us prouder than I can ever say and watching you grow, change and learn is a privilege.

Well done darling boy. 

Joy and meltdowns

We have had a pretty marvellous Christmas. We’ve seen lots of lovely family and friends and it’s a time of year where we can really make the most of being surrounded by loved ones. 

As the weather’s been kind, we’ve been to some of our favourite places for walks in a mostly futile attempt to work off our overindulgence over Christmas. The kids have torn around parks and a beach and I’ve loved watching their rosy cheeks and hearing their laughter as they’ve done that. It has been a joy to have time together as a foursome.

But today was not quite so joyous. It started when we decided (unwisely) to visit Build a Bear at around lunchtime. We had visions of the children lovingly selecting their favourite bear and accessories with their Christmas money. 

My daughter selected a Frozen bear and accessories whereas my son opted for a black dragon and Batman accessories. They picked out what they wanted quickly and we joined a queue that snaked around the shop. Again, the children were pretty patient and well behaved. But it took around 40 minutes and the store was hot. 

When we reached the front of the queue at last, our daughter decided to go first and her Anna bear was filled. But then, disaster. She spotted Olaf and her mind changed. She wanted Anna no longer. But I was firm that she had to stick with her first choice, which was now assembled and waiting for cuddles.

But hell hath no fury like a toddler who gets told no. She screamed and kicked and wailed and clutched the Olaf she wanted in a vice like grip. So I, laden with bags, had to wrestle him off her and take her outside as my husband and son waited for his choice to be made and paid up.

There was no consoling her. Her tear-streaked face was bright red with fury. I tried calming her with cuddles but she wanted none of it. But I held her close and hugged her tightly.

After a few minutes, she asked to visit a different shop and there she found something that did console her – a £3 pink teddy bear. It’s barely left her clutched hands since.

Perhaps it is the presents, the lack of routine and the Christmas food – or just the fact that she is two – that led to this monumental meltdown. But I hope that she and I will be back to joyful tomorrow.

How are your Christmas holidays going? 

Friday nights since becoming a mum

A decade ago, Friday nights were for going out. For digging out my favourite impractical heels, spending ages preparing my hair and make up and going out with friends to enjoy a few unfashionable Malibu and cokes. In fact, it was rare for me to spend a Friday night at home.

10 years on, I am a mum of two who works full time and is considerably more tired around the edges. I can’t remember the last time I had the energy (or inclination) to have such a carefree night out. 

Tonight it struck me how much my Friday nights have changed. Most  involve going to my early evening yoga class, catching up on chores and collapsing in a heap by 10pm. 

Here’s an insight into my Friday night so far.

After putting on my loungewear and making a huge cuppa in my favourite mug, I’ve cleaned the surfaces, bleached the loos and cleaned the kitchen floor. 

I’ve written thank you cards, filed away paperwork, and put a load of washing in the dryer. I’ve given the cat his dinner and put our delivered groceries away. I have sorted through the children’s array of school and nursery Christmas crafts and displayed our favourites on the fridge. And I’ve phoned my Nanna.

Although these Fridays seem entire worlds apart, and make me realise that I really am a grown up now, I wouldn’t change it. Yes, I feel wistful when I think back to Friday nights dancing around my handbag, but life is so much richer now. I just wish I felt a little less tired along the way…

How do you feel about your Friday nights as a parent? 

Cold season – a parent’s perspective

I have a cold. Nothing surprising here as we’re in cold/flu/bug season, but having a cold or any kind of minor illness when you also have young children brings its challenges. 

You can’t phone in sick and hide under the duvet binge-watching Netflix and hugging a mug of Lemsip. Instead you will still be up at the crack of dawn answering an endless barrage of questions, laying out the school uniform and persuading the children that it really is a rather good idea to brush their teeth. 

There are still socks to wash, laundry to fold and a constant supply of meals, snacks and drinks to prepare.

The week before Christmas two years ago, we all got the flu. Full-blown “Will I ever feel better?” flu. It was a blurry week of Calpol, temperature-checking and paracetamol. While everyone else was tucked up and resting, I had no choice but to keep going as much as I could to look everyone. Luckily my mum was on hand to help us through that difficult week when it was hard to keep track of medicine lists and temperature logs as well as feeling dreadful.

Apart from feeling rotten, the thing I dislike most is how grumpy I am when I’m unwell. My patience is thinner and stretched more tightly. 

This morning I failed to see the funny side of my toddler’s Shakespearean meltdown over green and red apples (she couldn’t make up her mind which kind she wanted). And I was grouchy as anything when our son dropped his cereal on the floor, splattering the walls with cement-like Shreddies.

So I’ve admitted defeat and switched on Frozen. We’re currently cwtched up under a blanket before we head off to school and I go on to work.

Now where did I put that Lemsip?

Ho ho noooo – Christmas as a grown up

I have always loved Christmas. For me, it’s not about the presents. It’s about the music, the food and spending time with loved ones. That love of Christmas has reached new levels since becoming a mum. I love watching Christmas – and all of the magic that comes with it – through the children’s eyes.

What I don’t love is the growing amount of Christmas stuff to do both as a grown up and a parent. Every year, there seems to be more to organise from unusual nativity Christmas costumes (last year a chicken, this year a pig), last minute fancy dress requests and permission slips. And that doesn’t include the gift-buying, wrapping, and card-writing, which is in addition to the myriad of things that go hand in hand with being working parents.

For the next month, our family calendar is a scribbled blur of plans and reminders from Christmas dos to festive jumper days to school trips to visits to the big man himself. 

Throw in our son’s birthday in early December (and the associated party-planning and birthday prep) and the next few weeks are looking hectic to say the least. 

And that makes me worry. I’m always the planner in our household, the one who knows what’s happening when and exactly what’s required. I book things in and try to make sure nothing clashes.

I’ve got a weekly planner on the fridge, a diary, a family calendar and electronic reminders, but with so much to do and going on, I’m worried that I’m going to drop the ball soon. 

Although most of the shopping is done, much of it is yet to be wrapped. I’ve yet to write a single Christmas card and the decorations are still tucked away in the cupboard in a dusty box. 

For now, I’m going to take each day as it comes and hope that my planning strategies will pull me (and the rest of the family) through this busy yet fantastic time of year. 

It’ll all be worth it when I see our boy singing in his nativity play and watch the children meet Father Christmas and promise him that they have been good this year.

But until then I’ll be a hive of activity. I will be trying very hard not to forget about several fancy dress days, secret santa gifts and getting around to writing (and posting) those Christmas cards. Phew.

How do you keep on track with Christmas preparations? All tips welcome.

On getting it wrong 

Last weekend, I washed my son’s goggles in the washing machine by accident. In my haste to load the washing after his lesson, I bundled in his swimming kit without realising his goggles were going for a spin too. They came out intact so I popped them back into his kit bag and forgot all about it. 

That was until his next swimming lesson, when the said goggles disintegrated in the water. I sheepishly took them back from his teacher, who knew precisely what had happened. “Washing machine?” he asked. 

The following day my son came home from after school club with a salt dough Christmas tree decoration that needed to be baked. I dutifully put it in the oven as I cooked dinner, but a toddler melt down distracted me, which led to the ornament being burnt around the edges. Now, like most parents, I want and try really hard to get things right. It’s important to me. So when things – even relatively small things – go wrong, I feel guilty. I felt awful on both occasions.

Sometimes I get days where the things my husband and I juggle as parents amaze me. From work to drop offs to helping with homework and giving comforting cuddles, each day is filled with a myriad of tasks that need to be done along with the important things, the kisses, the laughter and favourite bedtime stories.

At other times, I melt goggles, misplace keys and make other silly mistakes. After all, we parents are people and people make mistakes. We are not the superheroes we often try to be.

So for now I will keep trying to get it right and try to be more accepting when I get it wrong. It doesn’t make me a bad mum, it makes me human.