Family Holidays – Part 1 – No Longer An Endurance Event

This blog is two weeks (and a day) late…I know…I’m sorry. And I say I want to be a writer!

I have mentioned before that I am a lifelong procrastinator, and I will write an article about my woes in that department, one day…

Spoiler alert: I love my family. I fully admit how lucky I am to have them (for the most part).

That said, this huge chunk of unbroken time together each summer (AKA the family holiday), used to be far more akin to an endurance event than what I grew up thinking of as a holiday.

In the early days of family life, although I never dreaded the run up to a holiday – of course, it was an escape from work at least – by the end of each trip I felt like I needed another break just to recover!

Making the switch from the facade of “mature professional” to the equally foreign “family man” used to be exhausting and frustrating. I would struggle to change gears i.e. switching from discussing the Big Bang and the fate of the universe, to Big Bird and the fate of Elmo. Quite a change of pace – a bit like mental interval training!

Well, I don’t feel that way anymore, for a number of reasons…

the kids are older

I am not what you would call, “child friendly”. The little gits seem to sense this and gravitate towards me. “What? I don’t know what you want? Get your mum to translate for you…” (actual transcript of a conversation between one year old Ralph and me).

I wholeheartedly admit to keeping them at arm’s length for the most part, but now they can tell me what they want/need, I don’t mind as much. It’s far less scary and stressful – I would say even exciting? So maybe it’s not children…maybe it’s just babies/toddlers?

Anyway, I’ve gotten much better at recognising that anxious look that Robyn gets, or the dance that Ralph does, when they need the toilet. I routinely ask them before we go anywhere, to use the loo to avoid accidents, embarrassment, or the worst: having to leave the front of the queue for a theme park ride you have waited for an hour to get on.

they are so much more interesting

Babies are cute…I suppose…on a YouTube clip, when they’re not crying…but my God they are dull. Puppies win in my opinion.

Those baby years are long gone, and for quite some time now, my 6 year old Ralph, has been a practical-joke-playing, outdoor-activity-loving, Nerf gun assassin….basically the son I’ve always wanted.

And recently, on a two hour car journey with my 9 year old daughter Robyn – which I thought would be silent except for the sound of her Kindle Fire – she asked, “So dad, once humans are extinct, what’s next? What comes after us?” Mind. Blown. And a can of worms opened!

Now, there are some cons to this. I do have to remind myself “no head shots” during Nerf wars with Ralph, and I may have to explain to Laura where Robyn’s recent nightmares about Artificial Intelligence and aliens have come from – but I know which stage of parenting I’ve enjoyed most so far!

I AM READY TO ADULT

Robyn beat me to this…I am now playing catch-up. As long as I stay ahead of Ralph, it’s fine.

The point is, that despite being 21 in my head, and admittedly an immature parent, if my body were a breakfast cereal, it would be Rice Crispies i.e. it snaps, crackles and pops with every move. This is not the only signal that I’m getting older, but it’s the hardest to deny. That daily, dad-strength, physical reminder, is the slap my adolescent brain needs.

Perhaps the mindset I’m developing through endurance training is transferable – and I am learning to just embrace the pain? Being able to tolerate lactic acid seems to have increased my ability to handle responsibility and self-sacrifice. Better late than never-never.

the short window

I listen to a lot of podcasts, one of my favourites being hosted by the awesome Tim Ferriss.

Two topics he has discussed which really resonated with me were:

Developing the ability to distinguish between “opportunities to be seized” versus “temptations to be resisted”. I feel I’m getting better at this, and seeing these holidays as opportunities to be seized, whilst resisting the various temptations that get in the way of being a good parent, has made me far happier.

Career progression, material gain and winning the Joneses Olympics might appeal on a primitive level, but I can jump on those treadmills at any age. Whereas, whilst I understand that I’ll always be a parent, they need me most right now…and not for much longer.

Bringing me to the second related topic. Ferriss talks about an article written by Tim Urban entitled The Tail End. To simplify and focus on the part most relevant to me: by the time our children finish their Sixth Form education and are off to university, they will have spent up to 80% of their in-person time with us, their parents.

I’m halfway through the majority of my time with Robyn, and I’ve got only slightly more time with Ralph. Their childhood is therefore most definitely an opportunity to be seized and other than the temptations I’ve already listed, I need to resist believing the lie that they will always be here at home, wanting my time and attention.

Do we have your attention?

My Oxbridge place and Olympic medal windows closed long before I even realised they were an option, but I think I’ve woken up soon enough to make a go of this parenting lark. Hence, my training takes place early in the morning while they are still asleep. I do what I can with them in the evenings and at the weekend. And holidays these days…I do my utmost to make them enjoyable, and not just endurable.

the end

But after procrastinating on writing for so long, I’m on a roll now, so I’ve written about some of this summer’s highlights (so far).

CAMPING – MALDON

I absolutely love camping. I would even go as far as to say that I love camping as much as I love running. I am incredibly grateful that, although my wife isn’t quite as enthusiastic about it, she will accompany me with the children – without complaint. She even plans a lot of our camping trips, packs the car, books it all up, etc. Last summer we camped all the way through Germany and Austria to Lake Garda in Italy. How lucky am I?

Lake Garda mornings, run then swim, beautiful!

I know that camping is like Marmite for most people, but for me it is the “system restore” my mind and body needs, at least 3 or 4 times a year. No TV, laptop or email. My phone goes on flight mode: it’s now for photos only, and any tip-of-the-tongue answers cannot be Googled – I’ll just have to think that little bit longer. I occasionally give in to this temptation, and Googling will be followed by the premature posting of holiday pictures, increasing the likelihood of us returning to a burgled home. More on this later.

Tense situation – it didn’t end well for the 6 man tent!

Earlier this year we lost our 6 man tent due to camping in Maldon during THE most versatile day (in terms of weather) that I have ever experienced during my nearly 39 years on the planet. The poor tent did OK with the bright sunshine, showers, heavy rain, wind, sleet, hail and snow – all in the same 6 hour interval – it was the thunderstorm and mini-hurricane overnight that finished her off. We woke up in a sort of, fibre glass birds nest, leaving us no option but to dispose of the wreckage – once we had wormed our way out.

But did I stress out? No. I can’t control the weather. The previous weekend had been the hottest of the year so far, so this freak climate change reminder was out of my hands.

It was disappointing that our tent didn’t last as long as our previous one – two seasons is not great value for money – but I had seen it coming. In my haste to up-size, I had bought an inferior brand (Skandika) and over the past two seasons I had paid the price, deservedly, with ripped zips and cracking fibre glass rods, etc. I have vowed to buy the Vango equivalent next season.

Sitting down prematurely – gazebo wasn’t up yet!

So for this summer we are down to a 4-man pop-up tent which is a joy to erect (oo er missus), and goes down just as easily (enough said). OK, it is smaller, but the speedy set up means drinking can commence that much sooner (another highlight of camping).

So we are camping, yet again in Maldon, on the hottest day of the year. Before you wince – let me correct the image in your mind’s eye. I’m not sweating in a hot tent, covered in insects. I’m sat outside, in the shade of a gazebo, my feet in a ice cold paddling pool and a beer-filled cool box at my side. There’s even a bit of a breeze coming off the estuary. The kids – sufficiently slathered with sunscreen – are running around like lunatics with water guns – in sight, but mostly out of earshot – everyone’s a winner! What more convincing do you need that camping is fun!

Water fight!

Once it cools down, and after my siesta, I play football, cricket and willingly become a target for those bearing water guns. I make repeated attempts to make Robyn laugh throughout, but she’s practising being a teenager, so whereas poo, bum and willy are enough to have Ralph (and his dad) in fits of laughter, Robyn’s giggles are harder won.

The evening is spent in conversation with some lovely people, eating barbecued meat and drinking red wine – campers and glampers all getting along – and the kids are off being kids, with the minimal need for conflict resolution and reminding of manners.

Then out of nowhere, a storm hits, and everyone scurries back to their own abode – in our case, minus the gazebo, which like our last tent, has not managed to weather the storm.

Does anyone else see a giraffe bowing, Lion King-style? Gazebo or gazelle?

outdoor activities day – GRANGEWATERs

I am not the biggest fan of theme parks. I enjoy the rides, but waiting in queue after queue – which is inevitably in the pouring rain or sweltering heat – is not my idea of a great day out.

And the fact that my two children are still too vertically challenged to be allowed on most rides means that theme parks are probably something we will enjoy more at a later date (especially if I’m loaded enough to fork out for fast passes).

Anyway, what I’m saying is that there are far more appealing alternatives, one of which being outdoor activity days.

So we spent the day rock climbing, on “the leap of faith” (or as Ralph likes to call it, “the leap of death”, which does nothing to relax those participating or watching), paddle boarding, kayaking, sailing, doing archery and being pulled in a dingy by a speed boat!

Robyn took to paddle boarding like a pro, and made up for her reluctance to climb. Ralph was fearless throughout, scaling walls, leaping from a narrow pole to grab to trapeze a good 10 meters off the ground, shooting arrows with Hawkeye-like precision.

Ralph Hood – brother of Robyn.

It was as awesome a day as it sounds, and hardly any queuing involved. The staff were so enthusiastic and friendly – it was a lovely day out. But why they haven’t got a cafe baffles me?!? Four out of five stars! A coffee and muffin away from five stars!

CARAVAN – CAMBER SANDS

I have got great memories of Camber Sands, as my parents would take my brother and me to Pontins when we were kids. The betting shop has now gone (much to my dad’s dismay) and been replaced with a Pie and Mash shop (much to my brother’s delight).

Major diet deviation, but worth every calorie!!!

Here the diet goes to pot. Laura forgot my Nutribullet blender beaker, so my morning smoothie is missing…so as if in some sort of tantrum, I go full “fish and chips, ice cream, cream teas, cake” mode…undoing my efforts from earlier in the summer. No biggie right now. But grams mean seconds, kilos mean minutes…I’ll never go sub 3 until I can stay disciplined ALL SUMMER. Next summer I will have to give this a better go, as my Berlin marathon sub 3 hour attempt is at the end of September 2020 (I’ll be 40 years old).

When the tide goes out, the beach there is one of my favourite places to run. Just not with a mobile phone full of holiday photos! I did my utmost not to drop the phone as jogged along, then took it out for a selfie, sweated on it and the whole thing crashed! Deleting weeks of snaps I had yet to download onto the laptop for the family album. I had posted some on Facebook, and had some more on my SLR camera, so all was not lost.

One positive outcome from this tragedy, was my realisation of how much time I had been spending on my phone since camping! Not at the expense of the kids, but I admit I retreated into my phone as soon as Laura wanted to talk about buying a caravan, getting a new carpet, or anything remotely “adult”. I have since disabled Facebook on my phone, and after this week I’ll only be using Instagram at the weekend (lets see how long THAT lasts!!!). Laura has postponed divorced proceedings – and I have since talked her out of buying a caravan.

The kids are not so into running yet, unless it’s away from me when they (read Ralph) have done something naughty, so instead we brought some kites and a dingy.

The kites – the price of which I will not reveal, as it says more about my stupidity/guilt than it does about the only toy shop in Rye – were great fun. Other than the momentary loss of one of the fibre glass rods, and the much longer period spent untangling the kite strings.

The dingy was more of a concern. It doesn’t look it, but when they first got in the sea was quite choppy, and the current dragged them along the coast. I kept having visions of being on the news, cold, wet and shaking after having been rescued mumbling, “I thought we’d be OK, we were only close to the beach, and then…”

It did calm down eventually, but not before one wave threw Robyn out of the boat, causing her to scratch her arm on the sea bed.

I used to worry that I was not vigilant enough with the children around water, and maybe I have been lax with swimming pools, but not with the sea. Every seagull is a dorsal fin, every wave is Jaws launching his attack. Needless to say, if I ever do complete a half iron man or full, or any other kind of swimming challenge, it will be in a pool, river or lake! Kona is out!

conclusion

While the kids are in school, and they get six holidays – October, Christmas, February, Easter, May and the summer – we need to make the most of these. I don’t need a bigger house, better car, more toys, but I admit I need to make enough money and take enough time off work to enjoy these holidays.

This is our 80% time (if Tim Urban and Tim Ferris are to be believed) so I will act as if that is the case. Of course, I’m secretly hoping that this is a worst-case-scenario, and that we will have plenty of time together even after they have both flown the nest.