June was our holiday month. As we are not yet tied to the school holidays we had the freedom to take our holiday early, when it was quieter and cheaper. We were fairly nervous about it, as we had never been on a real holiday with two children before (though we went to Cornwall with Matthijs for the eclipse in 1999). It was especially novel because we were going camping in France and neither of us had even seen a tent since we were children ourselves. We did make it a bit easier on ourselves by choosing a fully-installed tent at a camp-set specialising in facitilies for small children. We were also determined to take the dog with us because he had such a miserable time in kennels during our last holiday.
Naturally the weeks before the holiday got stacked with impossible-to-miss appointments (Tim’s farewell to his project team, Marjolein’s farewell to basketball buddies…) and we never actually managed to sit down together and go through the planning. Nevertheless Marjolein had scrupulously gone through the holiday specials in the children’s magazines and checklisted everything the children could possibly need: she stocked up with tiny toys for in the car, mini swimming trunks and fifty kinds of sting-relief and tummy medicine. After cramming all of this and way too many clothes into suitcases and wedging these into the car we set off for France, stopping off at Brussels on the way to break the journey and visit Tim’s mother and brother.
The children proved to be wonderful travellers, lasting long hours in the car with little complaint and only one bad bout of car-sickness on Matthijs’ part. The travel-toys proved to be invaluable and the journey down to Saumur went quite painlessly. Eurocamp had provided two little dolls in hammocks to stick on the car windows for the children and we were just outside Brussels when a little voice from the back seat said “Look daddy this is a….? Its a….? What is this?”. Indeed the dolls had been undressed and had proven (Matthijs had one leg in each hand) to be neither one thing nor the other. Matthijs finally decided that it was a clown (the doll had a red nose) so we are now very curious as to what he will say (and do to) the next clown he meets…
We got to the camp-site late on Saturday 9th and were delighted to discover a well set up tent with a refrigerator and gas-stove, great facilities and a wonderful swimming bath. Everything was looking fine until we discovered that there were no sheets on the beds. The checklist in the camp-site brochure stated this quite clearly, but it was the only one we had not read…. After we spent a very cold and almost entirely sleepless night huddled under our biggest towels (we had plenty of towels) and we had found out that the shops would also be closed on Monday Marjolein started to feel seriously doomed. Fortunately the doomed feeling dissipated after we, having scoured the region for Sunday-opening supermarkets, found a wonderful feather eiderdown at a local market and celebrated with pastis and croque-monsieur on a terrace in the warm sunshine. That night we curled up under our warm eiderdown and slept like logs.
After that it was a fun two weeks, though very tiring as the children, adjusting to their first camping holdiay, had long active days and woke up early in the morning eager to find new trouble to get themselves into. They never really settled down before 10:30, especially as they were sleeping in the same room for the first time. That was quite a trial for Matthijs, as Daniel did some serious screaming when put to bed “early” and we often found Matthijs curled up under the bed, presumably putting the mattress between him and the yelling. He also devleoped a skill in winding up Daniels musical box and singing soothing songs: all useful for later…. He did also get a bit scared of the dark in the tent (no streetlights and a loud chorus of frogs) so we let him take one of the torches to bed and sometimes found him reading his books late at night by torchlight.
Fortunately there were two other couples close by with children who were only slightly older, which meant that Matthijs and Danïel gained playmates and we got together with them for barbeques and long talks after the children were (finally) in bed. Everyone we met told us that these were the tough years for family holidays and that it would get a lot easier once the children were four to five years old. Matthijs and Daniel had a great time, running around on the grass, splashing in the swimming pool (strange at first, but they soon got used to it) and, in Matthijs’ case, learning to ride a go-cart and a bicycle.
We did not manage to cover many of the local chateaux, but it was good to be away from our daily lives, doing something different. We just wish that we could have found a tent with a microwave and a dishwasher. To say nothing of preparing meals on tiny gas-rings…. One of our best outings was a visit to a local zoo. We went there with low expectations and were delighted to find a very ingeniously set up “natural jungle” set inside a chalk quarry. It was very much a walk on the wild side as many of the animals were mixed in with the humans. That got a bit tricky when we visited the vultures: the sign on the entrance said “no buggies” so we folded it up into a package and carried it. What we had not understood was that vultures never attack a living human being, but that the white rubber wheels of a buggy look remarkably “dead” so we ended up with a large vulture biting chunks out of the buggy while Tim made feeble shoo-ing noises (vultures are REALLY big and have serious beaks) and Matthijs waved a finger at it and saying “Naughty, naughty vul-tur, go way!”
We also went and sang/ululated with the gibbons, which suited Matthijs and his friend Joris down to a tee. It was quite difficult to tell the difference after a while.
We journed home to the Netherlands uneventfully (except for a massive traffic jam near Rotterdam) and readjusted to normal life. That was when we realised that the children were both quite glad to get back to their normal routine and sleep in their own beds: two weeks of novelties was about the limit for all of us.
Daniel is in any case rather grumpy: he is sprouting molars at the moment and had got very difficult about food and rather prone to come and cuddle. There is also fierce competition for parent time and lap space between the boys, with Daniel competing just as fiercely and a little more ruthlessly than Matthijs. Fortunately they are also developing more and more of a bond and playing togther quite charmingly on occasion.