What would you do for your family? Unfair question, perhaps. Let’s look at it another way. What wouldn’t you do for them? When we become parents, we give up so many things –privacy, sleep, drinking whole cups of tea. And that’s ok because the love we feel more than makes up for it.
But what about the holidays? We don’t really give up the holidays but it’s probably fair to say that when the littlies arrive the elegant city breaks, the adventure treks and the lost Ibiza fortnights bite the dust. Holidays become strategic manoeuvres with precious stolen moments of family joy – lazy breakfasts, more ice-cream than is good for us, whole days spent in the pool.
Holidays are a break from rigid mealtimes, sleep routines and a chance for us to go with the flow. Or so I thought - until a recent overnight stay in the Novotel in Ghent.
Returning from a Dutch camping holiday, my husband and I decided to stop overnight in Ghent and then Bruges to give our children a taste of culture.
The Ghent Novotel Centrum is aptly named. It is right in the centre of the old part of the city. Looking out at the Stadhuis and onto the Botermarkt, we had hit city break gold! We were right in the heart of it. Ghent is a hidden Belgian gem, with castles, canals, cathedrals, stunning architecture and waffles dripping with chocolate sauce. We saw and sampled the best of Ghent, without ever being more than 10 minutes away from our hotel.
And so, perhaps on somewhat of a sugar high, we returned to our family room and prepared to bed down for the night. Novotel are really family friendly. They went out of their way to help us on arrival and the room was all we could hope for. A comfy double, a pull-out sofa bed for son,6, and a travel cot for daughter, nearly 2.
Getting everyone to sleep in one hotel room is tricky. Daughter goes in cot, while the rest of us wait in the bathroom until she is asleep. On this occasion, sleep did not come and so what happened next will probably leave you with your head in your hands (as mine was!)
The 6 year old is exhausted and begs to sleep in the cot, while the one year old comes into the double bed to clamber about. In the cot and he’s out like a light. She shows no sign of slowing down but a good half-hour of calming chat and off she goes.
An unusual set up, but I can live with it – everyone is asleep, right? Until 2am, when the travel cot becomes uncomfortable and son needs out. I think this is where I make the fatal decision to lift him out, and transfer her in. This is the point at which I forget anything I have ever been told about children and I lift a sleeping baby.
What was I thinking? That I would take her from the cosy, warm, duvet softness of the double bed she was sprawled on and put her in a firm, confined travel cot before we all drift off again.
Well, she didn’t react well. In fact, I have never seen her react worse to anything in her preceding 22 months of life. She howled, she scolded, she screeched, she almost overturned the cot – I knew a cuddle would only make it worse when the time came to put her back down.
I sat by the cot and calmed and soothed and was ignored for a good half an hour. I’m no softy when it comes to parenting but the force of this upset and anger had me on the run. Extensive shooshing, stroking, patting eventually broke through her incandescent rage but I was not allowed to move from her side. And so, that is how I came to spend the night on the floor beside the travel cot, my finger clasped through the netting while my son and husband both blissfully snored away in the double bed.
On waking, it was time to leave Ghent for Bruges. I uncricked my neck and felt a great relief at not having to face any fellow guests after the early morning ruckus. A new day and new city – let’s go.
Imagine my surprise when the lift doors open as we make our get away and we emerge into the registration and morning coffee of the academic symposium currently taking place at the Ghent Novotel Centrum. Daughter has returned to the little ray of enchanting sunshine that we know and love. Giggling, jabbering away at her teddy, smiling up at the academics who smile back and ask her if she is feeling a bit happier now – before raising their eyes to me for a long hard stare.
I look for support but my son is raking through the reception toy box and my husband is backing away towards reception, waggling the key and muttering something about check out.
I suppose the question is this – Is it possible to travel where you want with a family? Is travelling family-friendly? Well, yes to both but it may be a bumpy ride. And of course my top tip is – Never lift a sleeping baby.
By Lindsay W.