The magic of holidays as a new parent? They’re like time travel back to childhood summers | Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett

The people who design travel cots belong in prison. I’m generally in favour of restorative justice and rehabilitation, but for this I’ll make an exception.

We are luckier than most, in that the baby will sleep on the hard bit of plywood that’s supposed to pass for a mattress, but he does need a few pats on the bum to settle, and unless you are Stretch Armstrong (a contemporary reference there for you, kids) this is all but impossible. Likewise, lowering the baby (or in our case, large toddler) into the cot, which if you’re a woman of average height involves squatting over one of the corners and hoping you don’t bash your crotch on it so that your swearing wakes them up, something which definitely hasn’t happened to me – ever. Basically, they are designed for babies who are heavy sleepers, and tall men.

If I sound grumpy, it’s because we’ve just been on our first seaside holiday as parents, so travel cots are fresh in my mind. Though I opened with a negative, that first time your child sees the sea – if he or she is lucky enough to get there – is something very special. I knew he would love it, but I wasn’t prepared for how much. I have written before about how parenthood allows you to experience childhood again and, as it turns out, this very British seaside holiday conjured for me many happy memories: of crabbing and paper sandcastle flags and fingers playing with the surface of rock pools, the soft, spongy feel of green seaweed beneath your toes, the roughness and smell of its black counterpart. It was like travelling in time, and has given me some of the happiest moments that I have ever known.

Holidays change when you are a parent. The packing and unpacking of bags feels almost constant. The volume of stuff that you have to bring is astonishing. The timing and smoothness of the journey becomes a lot more important, so when, for example, the air-conditioning is broken (as it was on both train journeys – thanks South Western!) it doesn’t just feel uncomfortable but actually dangerous. As for flying, we haven’t done that yet, but our NCT WhatsApp group has seen people sharing the minutiae of their journeys – what to do about bottles, which toys to pack to entertain their child, what to do if they have a massive nappy explosion. I’m grateful for this information from the parents braver than I – until quite recently, I couldn’t face the prospect.

Mine is a well-travelled generation (five times more than our grandparents, according to one survey), and not having been abroad much growing up, I was lucky enough to be able to do so in my 20s. But our pre-term baby took a while to adjust to life outside the womb, and we’ve had a hard time with illness, so we cocooned ourselves for longer than many. There were times during my maternity leave that it felt almost as if we were “wasting” it by staying at home.

A good friend went to 10 countries during her maternity leave – including Argentina and Japan. She works hard and this was their opportunity to travel as a family. Of course, at times I felt jealous, especially over winter, as I pounded the pavements around my house for the thousandth time in the driving rain. But I also thought: all power to her for being so intrepid, though she feels guilty: “I’m waiting for him to be an eco warrior when he grows up and hate us (you have to hate your parents for something).”

We are not the first generation to have travelled – a friend of mine was taken to Tibet as a baby – but I think we are the first generation to take it for granted. Not only that, but we risk our children turning to us and asking us, given the climate emergency, how we felt that we could justify ourselves. So in a way, not fancying a trip to Crete in August with a newborn (something a friend described as “hell”) has been good for our carbon footprint. It’s a shame UK holidays are so expensive. Some London nurseries do day trips to the seaside, but every child deserves a holiday.

As well as being a matter of privilege and finances, I suspect travelling as a parent is down to temperament. I have learned that I am not one of those laid-back, gung-ho mothers. I will probably never take my child backpacking. Even the more remote Greek islands that I love are off limits for now. Yet the seaside trip has made a holiday abroad feel possible. I want a short flight, a nearby airport, a decent hospital and reasonable temperatures, but I’m starting to feel more optimistic.

That, I am coming to understand, is one of the lessons of parenthood. Things can seem hard, impossible even, and in the moment that feeling gives the impression of being permanent. It never is. When people say “it gets easier”, this is what they mean. Sometimes you try things and they don’t work out, and these setbacks can shake your confidence. But often, like our little seaside trip, they do, and you can feel the world being returned to you, wider and more brimming with potential than before. Holidays may not be the same, but the joy of seeing the sea through your child’s eyes makes up for the fact that you may have opted for a trip to Robin Hood’s Bay as opposed to hiking in Peru. Perhaps the time will come that I feel brave enough. They’ll have to design a better travel cot first, though.

What’s working

I thought this Novara Media article about the history of National Dried Milk, which fed 85% of British babies in 1974, and the astronomical price of formula, was just the kind of radical thinking and research we need when it comes to infant feeding.

What’s not

We are seeing our first glimpses of toddler tantrums, especially when it comes to the high chair – the baby adopts a stiff starfish position whenever we come near it, but I’m not about to let him eat his dinner while he does yoga poses in the living room (he’s throwing some great shapes these days). Any advice appreciated.

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