Guess who’s back? Back from his family holiday in Spain. Father Hood’s back, tell a friend. That’s right, folks. After seven glorious days of sand, sea, strops and sunburn, the Hood clan has jetted home from Tenerife to face the music. And when I say music, I mean an absolutely humungous mountain of laundry. How on earth is it possible for one small person to go through so many clothes in such a short period of time? It’s a bit like Vietnam. Unless you were there, you would not understand. And I was there. Oh boy, I was there. I witnessed his outfit-annihilating poonami. I saw his drool devastate one smart evening shirt after another. And I experienced the pure joy he took from smearing sand all over his T-shirts.
He also loved shoving bits of the beach down my shorts. But while the pain this caused is still raw (and very raw in places), it’s not enough to propel ‘wear a onesie at all times’ on to my rundown of 9 important things I learned from taking our 18-month-old on a family holiday. So what parental pearls of wisdom do make this list? Well, since you asked nicely. Here goes…
1. Holidays are a great time to experiment with food
Melon. Hamburgers. Chicken croquettes. Couscous. Kiwi fruit. Omelettes. Pizza. Chips. Apples. Did our son throw or spoon all of these new taste sensations on to restaurant floors during his time in Tenerife? Yes, he did. Did my wife or I have to clear any of this mess up? No, we did not. Family holidays for the win.
2. Swim jacket > arm bands
I don’t have a problem with arm bands, but my son does. Every time we go to the local pool, he rips them off, leaving my wife or I to carry him up, down and around the shallow end like some kind of aqua-fearing VIP. This isn’t too bad for half an hour, but since neither of us fancied seven days of it, we decided to invest in a Konfidence Swim Jacket. And do you know what? It was absolutely brilliant, both for our peace of mind (it kept his head above water) and his independence (he could explore the bits of the pool he wanted to see and jump in wherever he liked).
3. Beach > pool
Beach or pool? I expected this to be a close contest. It wasn’t. At the pool, my son got tired and whiny after an hour or so. At the beach, he powered on and on and on, ‘borrowing’ toys, demolishing sand castles, squealing in delight and throwing rocks from the second we arrived to the moment the sun set.
4. If you get an even vaguely acceptable family selfie in the first three tries, take it
Trust me. As someone who has spent a significant proportion of the past week standing in the same spot, sucking in his tummy, forcing a grin and trying to get his son to look at the camera, I can categorically tell you it’s not going to get any better. It’s honestly not going to get any better.
5. 18-month-olds can make friends
My son’s family holiday buddy was called Oliver. They hugged. They waved. They swam. They shouted each other’s names. They hid. They wrestled. They charmed the hotel staff. They charged into the pool in their clothes. They demanded to be let out of their high chairs. They ran. They ran. And they ran some more. It was exhausting. But it was very, very cute.
6. iPads work
I can debate whether using an iPad or tablet to entertain your children during dinner is a good or a bad thing. But after this family holiday, I cannot debate its effectiveness. Every night, my wife and I saw a variety of couples plug one, two, three or even four children into devices. And on all but one occasion these kids sat contentedly, while their parents ate, drank and chatted. Sure, the little ones looked a little like robots. Admittedly, most of the iPad users were two or older. And yes, there were probably multiple meltdowns when the kids got back to their rooms and discovered screen time was over. But when it came to enjoying a relaxing dinner, these parents were undoubtedly #winning.
7. Routines only matter when you’re at home
Can you feel it? I’m talking about that sense of freedom. The weight dropping off your shoulders. The carefree vibe that appears on the second or third day of your holiday and screams, “Routine? Who gives a flying whatdoyoumayflip if the bubster is out of routine? We are on holiday, so why not let him wake up at 9am, eat lunch at 1.30pm, nap at 3.30pm and sleep anywhere from 9.30pm to 11.30pm? The sun is shining and we don’t have anywhere to be, so as long as the bubster’s happy, who cares what the clock says? Let’s just all sit back, smile and have another drink.”*
8. Pack nappy rash cream
Calpol? Check. Nurofen? Check. Teething gum? Check. A family pack of plasters? Check. Burn cream? Check. Bandages? Check. I’m not saying that I was mega-proud of myself for putting together a tip-top holiday first aid box, but I did tell my mum, my dad, our taxi driver and the lady at the check in desk. I was super-dad, Father Organised, the parent who had covered every eventuality. And then… I left a poop in my son’s swimming nappy for a little too long and he developed nappy rash. Moral of the story? I’m brilliant. No wait. That’s not it all. The actual moral is remember to always put nappy rash cream in your first aid kit.
9. We’re all the in same boat
Please note: unless you are going on a cruise, I’m not talking about an actual boat. I’m referring to the Good Ship Parenting. It is a rickety old craft that’s capable of navigating even the choppiest of waters. And make no mistake, going on a family holiday with an 18-month-old is a one-way voyage into the choppiest of waters. There will be moments when the wind lifts (possibly literally), the waves rise, your vessel begins to shake vigorously and you wonder how you’re going get through the next few minutes without jumping overboard, curling into a ball and sobbing. But here are the two main things you need to know about these incidents…
First, you will get through them (and in a couple of days you may even laugh about them). Second, they don’t make you a bad parent. I’m serious. Sure, today you were the only person trying to hold a screaming baby while washing poop off your hands in the poolside shower, but tomorrow it’ll be another mum or dad and the next day it’ll someone else. And the day after that? Well, then it might be you again. But that still doesn’t make you a bad parent. It just means you’re on a family holiday with an 18-month-old.
*Entry update: It turns out there is a small side effect to choosing the local vino over the little one’s routine. Which is… we’re home, it’s midnight, my son has no interest in going to bed, I’ve got deadlines in the morning and my wife needs to be at work at 8.30am. D’oh. Still, it was worth it.