We’re not long back from our summer holiday / vacation / leave depending on where you’re reading from. If you haven’t been to the Snowdonia region of North Wales then I highly recommend it; it’s one of the most beautiful places this island has to offer. Its craggy mountains with sudden drops, mist and rain, sharp slate steps, hard stone walls, fast flowing rivers, tight country roads and potentially edgy rams and bulls make for a perfect place to take a 15 month old toddler with an Indiana Jonesesque craving for exploration and adventure.
Any parent will happily tell the world that a holiday (leave or vacation) stops being a holiday (leave or vacation) the moment the children arrive. Last year when we went to Dorset (also very pretty) at least the boy stayed where you put him and only went places when you hung him off your front. In years to come he’ll be able to mind his own time to a degree, and we certainly won’t be able to hang him off our fronts anymore. But toddler time… oh toddler time’s special.
Toddler time is when you have two holiday’s for the price of one: yours and your wife’s. At any one time one of you is trying to relax, perhaps sit at a table at a restaurant and eat some lunch, enjoy a view, read a book, forget about work. At exactly that same point the other is at work in their new capacity as bodyguard, guide, interpreter, traffic cop and mountain rescue service. The moment toddler’s feet hit the ground, which they often do running, then it’s your job to stay two steps behind with an ear out for danger and an eye out for trouble.
A good couple will balance the role between them thereby meaning they are both equally exhausted come the end of the holiday which is only marginally better than one of you being near death. You will after all have walked more miles than you care to count although only ever taken two steps in a straight direction, have dusted down scrapped knees and made friends with every dog owner in the vicinity. You will have passed only a handful of words with your partner of which half will have been “your turn”.
But at the end of it all we did spend two very precious weeks together as a family, even if often alone.
You are at least guaranteed to spend a certain amount of time packed up as a familial unit because you need to travel to your destination. This is the time when you least want to be crammed up in a small space with a toddler. And the worst possible way to travel is by car. So we drove.
At best push it takes about five hours to drive to North Wales. That means five hours with a small dervish with an attention span of two and a half seconds and all the patience of a lightning bolt strapped in a bucket seat not wanting to be there. You pack the back seat of the car with more books, snacks and toys than is sensible knowing that they will all ultimately fail, one after the other, like paper walls at a demolition derby.
The best you can hope for is that baby will be lulled to sleep for far longer than the usual nap time and in that time you will cover Herculean distances, leaving only a short hop left to travel once baby awakes and the complaining begins.
This is not what happens of course. Because it’s the summer holidays and every other living soul south of Orkney is doing the same thing. Of these approximately half are also doing it very slowly. If you do manage to get past these gentle cruisers who apparently don’t have ten kilos of tiny homo-sapien dynamite strapped to the back seat and for whom time is very much not of the essence then it’s only to get caught behind the tractor at the front of the queue.
So the only thing to do to counter the extra weight of traffic is to remove half the road space. The folks who maintain our roads and highways have I am absolutely certain incredibly complex algorithms that detail with utter scientific certainty to three decimal points why the first day of the school holidays is the day all the road works start. That magic moment when baby’s eyes shut. The moment the counter starts reeling off – 30 minutes, 29, 28, 27… how much distance have we made? One metre, two. Two… Two.. Fuck, we’ve been stationary for twenty minutes now, baby’s stirring. Ohshitohshitohshitohshit please traffic start moving now…
Ten hours. Ten hours (including stops). Bless the little man he did his best but ten hours travelling will bust anyone’s chops. And so there comes the point when there is you, your partner, the trapped confines of a slow moving vehicle and the real time affect of having Motorhead playing white noise in the boot with no pause for breath and no chance of a diplomatic resolution – please stop screaming baby, please????????
Weirdly we have found one thing, one thing that works. One thing that stops baby in his tracks and lulls him back to, an quizzical calm at least. It has to be played at a volume at least louder than his screams, for which not all car stereos might go that high, but the lilting rhythmic lullaby gruffness of Tom Waits’ Blood Money works a treat. Every time.
Can’t wait to get away again.