Long Car Journeys

I have idyllic, probably rose-tinted, memories of long car journeys to Cornwall as a child. Being carried from my bed, half asleep, wrapped in a sleeping bag. Snuggled under a blanket in the back seat with my younger sister, eating car sweets, playing eye spy, singing along to my dad’s Beatles tapes and dozing off again, before waking up six hours later parked up at a Cornish beach. My husband has similar memories of holiday trips to Wales and recreating these journeys was something we looked forward to with our own children, starting our own little piece of family history.

The only problem is, this time we have to be the parents.

Firstly, it’s the packing up of the car and, however much you share domestic arrangements with your other half, for some reason it is always the mum’s job to pack for a holiday. Packing for yourself is one thing (I pride myself on having the capsule wardrobe thing down to a colour-coded art), but packing for your children when holidaying in the UK means trying to cover every possible eventuality.  Clothes for sunshine, rain, mud, heat, cold, snow, beach, playground, walking, going out to a nice restaurant (pause for ridiculing laughter) or possible alien invasion must be included. Then you have to decide which books and toys they are going to take. Do you risk their current favourites knowing this will make them happy but jeopardising your future happiness should they be lost? Do you allow them to take everything that they want to or try and restrict them to just a couple of items? After all, as ‘the mum’ it will be your job to try to sneak Thomas the Tank Engine and his 17 friends into an already packed car whilst your husband swears and mutters something about ‘it’s a one week holiday, we’re not bloody moving house’. Holidaying in the UK seems to turn men into their fathers, too.

Next item for debate, do you take food? Whilst we know that they do have supermarkets all over the UK, there is always the temptation to take ‘something for breakfast tomorrow’ or ‘a few essentials to start us off’ – five bags of shopping later and I have nowhere to put my feet when I get into the car. Snacks for the journey are a must. I spend at least 60% of the journey throwing sweets and crisps over my head in the hope that some of them hit the laps of the children behind.

One of the biggest differences for our children are the advent of car seats: an absolute necessity for car safety, but not half as much fun as making a duvet tent on the back seat and eating Smarties by torchlight. On the upside , we don’t have to deal with two children kicking seven bells out of each other under a blanket whilst we shout, “Don’t make me come back there!”

There have been many scientific advances in the last thirty years which make a long car journey easier on parents. Wet wipes, for example, are a huge advance on my mum’s damp flannel in a polythene bag which was as rough as sandpaper and smelt of sick. I also have no idea how parents coped on long journeys before the invention of the in-car DVD player or iPad. I’ve tried to play eye-spy with my children in a nostalgic nod to my car journeys of the ‘70s, but quite frankly it doesn’t cut it when compared with Angry Birds on the iPad or Peppa Pig on DVD. These devices are no longer a luxury item for a long car journey with kids. Put it this way, I don’t know any parents who have made the mistake of forgetting the in-car charger twice.

The fact that there is more traffic on the road now than there was then can also add to the stress of the journey. Encountering a traffic jam is never a pleasant experience but when you have two over-tired, sugar-fuelled children in the back seat, hitting traffic opens up a whole new world of pain. Also, this is usually the cue for the phrase that strikes panic into the heart of any travelling parent: “Mummy, I need the toilet.”

After cajoling, distracting and begging the full-bladdered child in question for as long as it takes to get to a service station, it can be quite annoying when you do get there and suddenly the urgency seems to have subsided as the supposedly ‘desperate’ child takes their time, wandering past the games machines, having a look in the shop window, maybe even climbing onto the massage chair. Other users of the coffee lounge look at me askance as I scream, “Do you need to poo or not?”

The part that really makes me realise that I am now the mum is the very last leg of the journey. Whilst husband and I generally share the driving on a long car journey, as we approach our destination there is an unwritten rule, for the sake of our marriage, that husband drives and I navigate. This is because I need more warning to turn right than, “This right! This right! This right!  . . . . Oh, you’ve missed it.” Once, after a particularly horrendous Sat Nav re-routing, we found ourselves at 2am down a boggy track in Yorkshire, in torrential rain, having to reverse the car for about two miles. Even husband said it was the moment he wished his dad was there to do it instead.

When, with relief, you realise you have actually found your holiday destination, it dawns on you that the end is not yet in sight. Looking back at your sleeping children, you realise that,  as the parents, it is up to you to locate the hidden key, work out how to open the door, make up the beds and carry your, hopefully still sleeping, children into bed. Then you have to go back outside and unpack the car, work out how to use the heating controls and check that you haven’t forgotten the toilet paper, before you can finally make yourself a cup of tea and collapse onto the sofa.

Because that’s what it means to be the parents on a holiday journey; you are the ones with whom the buck stops. It is as this sinks in, that I find myself awash with nostalgia for 1978, a sleeping bag on the back seat of a Ford Cortina and a wet flannel in a polythene bag.

Thanks Mum and Dad x


Hosting a Sunday Lunch

Next time I invite friends for Sunday lunch, I am going to ask my children to do the following.

When you see me opening and closing the oven door, whilst trying to select a flattering yet casual outfit and simultaneously throwing any stray toys/shoes/dirty plates into the cupboard under the stairs, I would like you to:

1.       Find a food or drink that stains and spill it down yourself. Timing is key for this one, you must wait until you’ve just been changed into your ‘nice’ clothes. You may well be still in your pyjamas ten minutes before the guests arrive, but don’t be tempted to do the spilling too early.


2.       Tip a whole box of craft materials onto the floor of the kitchen, preferably the really small shiny stuff that it is impossible to vacuum or sweep up and must be picked up, individually, with fingertips.


3.       Decide that you both want to play with the same toy and fight over it relentlessly. (Remember that this one is even more effective if the toy in question is a baby toy that you’ve just found behind the sofa and that neither of you has shown any interest in for the previous 12 months.)


4.       When you tire of this, find a toy that has a million tiny pieces (jigsaw puzzles work well here, or any kind of play set which includes tiny figures) find that one piece is missing and cry/whinge until someone helps you to find it.


When the guests arrive:

1.       Don’t share any of your toys with the visiting children, particularly if the visiting child is asking you very nicely, with impeccable manners and offers to share their own toys in exchange.


2.       Refuse to eat any dinner, demanding chicken nuggets or similar.


3.       During dinner repeat “Why can’t we watch a DVD while we have dinner like we usually do?” ad infinitum.


When they follow these instructions to the letter, I will be able to smile proudly, in the knowledge that I am an Alpha Mother whose children obey my every command. No longer will I be crying into the washing up that no-one listens to a word I say.

If, on the other hand, they revert to type and do the exact opposite from my requests, I will be able to relax and have a lovely afternoon as my guests look on in envy at my perfect children.

Either way, I win.


“To sleep: perchance to dream”                Hamlet Act 3 Scene 1

“To sleep: chance would be a fine bloody thing.”              Emma Robinson 2003

 Most nights in the Robinson household are a game of musical beds. We all start off in the right beds but, by the morning, there is no telling who will be where.

Take last night. Husband and I went to bed about 10:30. At around 2:30am W appeared beside the bed, I lifted the quilt and he climbed in. Roughly an hour later, S cried out and I went and got in bed with her. 6:00am, husband got out of bed and went to work. I got back into my bed with W for an hour until our alarm buzzed at 7.00am and we all got up.

Sometimes, we move around on nocturnal autopilot, to the extent that you can’t actually remember what went on under cover of darkness. A couple of weeks ago I went to bed with my husband and woke up with my son. When I asked husband in the morning where he had spent the night, he looked at me blankly trying to remember. Five years ago, that may have been grounds for divorce.

Sleep is a very contentious issue and a subject, like religion and politics, which is best left undiscussed amongst friends. Many of my friends have very strong opinions on how, where and when children should sleep and would take a very dim view of my haphazard attitude. What can I say? I freely admit that I am too weak for controlled crying, too selfish for full on co-sleeping and too damn disorganised for a regimental bedtime routine. Actually, that’s a lie. I rarely admit to anything.

For these sins, I will be consigned to a broken night’s sleep for many years to come. I have read a wealth of books on the subject of children and sleep: searching for the magic formula which will mean my children will sleep all night, in their own beds, but I will not have to listen to them cry. Reluctantly, I am realising that such a formula does not exist. Well-meaning friends have told me that they will sleep better once they are walking, have all their teeth, have started school. For my little insomniacs, however, none of these lifestyle changes seem to make any difference whatsoever.

I am very fortunate to have a wonderful mother who often has my children for a sleepover so that I can catch up on a few sleep cycles. This reduces my zombie-like demeanour to something approaching normality. I start to be able to function normally, even managing to answer difficult questions such as ‘Do you take sugar in your tea?’ within 20-30 seconds.

Perhaps there is a subconscious reason that I have never managed to fully resolve their nocturnal shenanigans. As, despite the fact that I would dearly love a few night’s uninterrupted sleep, when I wake up in the morning with my son’s arms linked around my neck, or my daughter’s fingers twisted into my hair, I know that they won’t be climbing into bed with me forever and I cherish the moment. As they grow, the time they will want to spend cuddling with their mummy will decline. One day I will wish for these days to return, sleepless nights and all. Sometimes I hold the moment, breathe in their still baby-like smell and squeeze them tight in an effort to commit this feeling to my emotional memory bank.

Then I pack them an overnight bag for Nana’s house.