I sat on the floor outside the baby’s room and finally broke down. My son, the sweetest-tempered child imaginable, was screaming his head off in a tormented fashion.It wasn’t his fault. Did he ask to be driven to Dublin airport at the crack of dawn and get stunned into silence by that maelstrom? Shoved from queue to queue? Strapped down while engines roared? Frantically entertained by a mother so determinedly cheerful her face nearly cracked? Did he want to be checked in to an unfamiliar hotel that promised peace and relaxation, but so far had only delivered confusion?
Now he was banished to a strange cot in a strange room. Why? Had he indicated for one second that he would like to be dragged around on this thing called a holiday?
No. Every howl was a reprimand to the person who had inflicted this unnecessary pain. Me. I wept and resolved to go home in the morning. Why had I decided to torture this child, who was perfectly happy in the garden at home, squealing with delight in a puddle of muck?
I wanted to go on holiday. I didn’t want to leave my children at home. I wanted to feel the sun on my skin and the heat in my bones. I wanted to eat food that someone else had put on the plate. I, I, I the mantra of the bad mother. When would I learn that small children don’t want to go anywhere except up the road to Granny’s? The only thing they want is for Mammy to play with them instead of saying she’s busy. I could have taken the week off work and played and they would have been ecstatic.
My husband and I generally adopt a “take them nowhere” policy. They are aged 2 and 1, and thus unfit for general society. So, no shops, activity centres or restaurants. We took them to a shoe shop in Liffey Valley once – never again. Now I go alone and guess the sizes. The assistants hand over the shoes reluctantly. Only bad mothers don’t get shoes fitted on precious young feet. Bad mothers don’t even try to control two small children in the zoo that is a children’s shoe store on a Saturday morning.
We also tried the real zoo once. (It’s really impressive, by the way.) It rained incessantly, but we’d brought sandwiches and raincoats. The big toddler screamed because he thought the tigers would get through the glass walls. The one we call the baby, who is really a toddler, pressed himself up against the glass to pet them. The big toddler screamed even louder because he thought his brother was going to be eaten. On the way home, they puked up the sandwiches in the car.
Small children don’t want to go anywhere, we resolved. So we brought them to the Algarve. Madness.
We had prepared. For starters, we brought the sister with us. The third adult made a huge difference. She took charge of the passports and tickets. It meant we’d be able to eat dinner together in the evenings, instead of taking turns eating dinner alone because dining with the two of them is so much hassle.
We had spent six months selecting the right destination. The Canaries were ruled out – no way would they stick a four-hour flight. We found a hotel with direct access to the beach – no roads to be crossed. The hotel was 30 minutes from the airport – no horrendous transfer. The flights were at reasonable times – no night escapades. We got a great deal on a five-star hotel. What could possibly go wrong?
On the plane, the so-called baby wedged a ring pull, still attached to the can, around his little pair of bottom teeth. The other passengers, like me, were torn between horror and fascination as he sat in the aisle, struggling with the can attached to his chin. They looked at me in bewilderment. Why had the bad mother let the baby play with a can? Well, because they say children become creative by playing with things like cans instead of expensive toys. How was I to know he’d turn it into a drama of epic proportions one hour into the flight?
The passengers and staff held their breath while I straddled the child. I knew it would be like relocating a shoulder; it would have to be sharp, strong and swift. I prayed we wouldn’t need a dentist or A&E on arrival in Faro.
A good shove into the mouth – well, two good shoves – and the ring pull was dislodged. Relief flooded the plane and, while there was no applause and just a whiff of judgment, I felt in control – which to me is about the best feeling you can have.
But he was tired and wanted his cot and instead he was on a plane. He cried for 45 heart-rending, stressful minutes. I sweated. He eventually passed out just as we landed. Before we had children, my husband and I used to identify the location of toddlers on planes and sit as far away as possible. We had become the people we used to avoid.
All was calm as we arrived at the hotel and settled in to what had appeared on the brochure to be the perfect accommodation for us. But the brochure hadn’t shown that the banisters on the balconies were one foot apart, wide enough to allow a small child to jump to his death. After an outraged phone call to reception, workmen arrived to board up the offending banisters.
We headed for the beach situated below the cliff-top hotel and accessed by a lift. We eagerly loaded up and pressed the down button. When we got out, we realised the bottom was not the bottom. To get to the beach, we first had to negotiate a 500m wooden walkway with four or five steps every 10m. We had two buggies, several bags and towels and had to carry the whole bloody lot down these wretched steps. This was supposed to be a family hotel.I whacked my head on the parasol over the sun loungers, but other than that we entered into the beach spirit with grim intensity. It was putting them to bed later that finally broke me.
A routine emerged of a morning trip to the playground, a nap and an hour by the pool in the afternoon. Between the three adults, we took turn to sun ourselves and get to the beach. But where were the other parents? Finally we spotted them, dropping their small children off at kids’ clubs.
A swift inspection confirmed that the clubs were awful. Children screamed plaintively as their parents left. They all spoke different languages, so when they did settle down they obediently, but very quietly, played as they were expected to.
I didn’t want to judge, but I did anyway. The bad mother may have been selfish enough to drag them this far, but she wasn’t quite bad enough to walk off and leave them crying with strangers.
So I ended up spending more of my holiday pushing swings and digging sandpits than lying on a beach reading my improving books. At least the bad mother wasn’t busy and the children were happy, even if I could have done all that at home.
So, never again. It’s day trips to Bettystown for the foreseeable future.