Our holiday came to an abrupt end as we drove up to our house a mere 12 hours before we had to get up, dressed and ready for the first day back at school. That's (dis)organisation for you. Still we managed to drag son number one to the school gate on time, dressed in all his finery, including his very first school tie, albeit one attached to a scraggy bit of elastic as is de rigeur nowadays. I am back in at the deep end with meetings back-to-back this afternoon and about a million pointless emails to delete this morning, so naturally I am blogging instead.
My memory is not what it once was, trying to keep track of all the varying to do lists that emanate from my chaotic family has blown what few grey cells I have left into a flustered panic, so instead of writing a coherent post about what did and didn't happen while we were en vacances I decided to simply compile a list of holiday highs and lows.
As a natural pessimist I shall start with the bad points and then cheer myself with the good memories:
1. Attempting to get across a car deck with a double buggy full of twins. Do not attempt this unless you want to take your, and your children's lives, into your hands. What with scraping past expensively shiny cars setting alarms shrilling and watching son number two rush out almost under the wheels of a juggernaut as he attempted to help daddy, I was in need of a stiff drink or two to settle my nerves before we even reached the Continent.
2. French motorway service station food. The British clearly have an undeserved reputation for the worst cuisine in Europe. At least here you can get a reliable McD's (or Old MacDonalds as son two calls the golden arched establishment) or even an M&S sandwich in the better class of garage. In France it's all shrivelled, overcooked meat drowned in claggy sauce, nuggets de poulet that explain the need for a dustpan and brush in a battery chicken farm and frozen chips, chips, chips.
3. Disney a la Francais. I will admit I am not the biggest fan of Mr M Mouse, I find the whole experience tacky and tiring at best, but in Florida it is possible (just about) to be carried away by the magic. The Americans throw themselves into the whole thing with such vigour and of course while it is all fake, that kind of makes sense in the USA. In France however, the surly, chauvinistic nature of the nation rips away any chance to lose yourself in the fantasy. From the girl who refused my twins entry to the baby change area because I couldn't carry them both at the same time, thereby enabling me to leave my pushchair outside, to the Star Wars (or should that be Guerre des Etoiles?) ride voiced by French approximations of C3P0? And let's not mention the food, apart from saying that it made the service station fare appear gourment in comparison.
4. The Davy Crockett Ranch. I know that you are meant to get a wild west feel in this place, but I am not sure that it should be quite as authentic as it turned out to be. The inside of our chalet was as smelly, filthy, broken down and cramped as any travelling wagon that hauled the first pioneers across the plains of America, and the wildlife was plentiful, if more in the rodent form than the buffalo and mustangs that populate the prairies. My rule of thumb is that if you can set rats boldly climbing into the bins in broad daylight there is a pretty serious infestation going on and it's time to hitch up your wagon and move on.
5. Pre-teen sulking and sibling rivalry. OK so I knew that travelling with all four boys at such varying stages of development wasn't going to be easy, but I thought the problems I would be dealing with would be babies screaming and inconvenient nappy changes. As it turned out the babies were angelic, choosing to spend much of the holiday asleep and therefore filed under 'not causing trouble'. If only the same could be said for their big brothers.
Son number one woke up every morning with a pout on his face that would put Posh Spice to shame, he huffed and puffed about the place meeting every request to do something that wasn't on his own personal enjoyment agenda with a sulky Ben 10-inspired 'Oh man'. I though I had a few more years of sweet little boy before this pre-teen monster emerged. Husband and I are praying it's just a phase.
Son number two compounded matters by constantly vying for my attention with his clingy older sibling, which served to annoy his brother even more. At the end of the break he mournfully admitted to his dad that he would prefer to holiday without the babies in future so he would get more attention. Cue serious parental guilt trip.
Now for the good bits:
1. Sunshine. After a variable summer of showers, rain, sun and clouds it was delicious to wake up every morning to the scent of thyme and lavender baking in the already warm sunshine. To drink a glass or two of local rose as the yellow gold rays beat down on my back sending me drowsy with contentment, to have a built in entertainment as all the boys wanted to do was cool down in the pool. It's amazing what a different a sunny day makes when you are used to the clouds and rain of back home.
2. The shine of diamond drops of water catching the Provencal sun as they glittered on my sons' biscuit brown skin. Watching them dive like otters into the pool, and clapping with pride as my eldest son completed his first lap of the pool without armbands. Cheering 'Go on Maxy Clown' as son number two worked up the courage to jump into the deep end of the pool, and laughing as the ensuing spray splashed freezing drops onto his toasty, sunbathing parents. Watching the babies bob in their inflatable rings as their brothers played catch with them in the pool, their baby smiles wide with delight at this brand new sensation.
3. Introducing my boys to the French culinary delights I remembered so well from my own childhood. The sharp, orange bubbles of Orangina, the creamy ooze of perfectly ripe Camembert, the sweetly juicy, rich red tomatoes, a warm, crisply yeilding baugette, a plump green olive shining with herb scented oil, the velvet soft richness of pink liver pate and the exotic, vivid emerald brightness of a sirop de menthe.
4. The time to do nothing. There weren't that many moments of peace and quiet, but those that we did manage to quarry from the hustle and bustle of family life were all the more precious for their rarity. I managed to read a whole book, although it was interrupted regularly to watch aquatic acrobatics by the boys and the pages bear the crinkly dried water stains to prove it, but still I got to lie down, in the sunshine and relax with a book, for a whole 30 minutes or so. Bliss.
5. Spending time with my boys. However frantic, difficult, tiring and infuriating family life can be my perfect way to spend time is with my boys. Thanks to various work related reasons I hadn't seen that much of my sons over their summer break so it was lovely to be able to wallow in unending days of their chatter and company. To catch up with their latest crazes (son number one has caught a serious case of Harry Potter fever after mainlining the DVDs in the car on our epic drive) and join in with their fantastical games. Every night I had to dream up a new super power for each boy and whisper it into his ear before he went to sleep. Son number two was happy with whatever I chose to invent, while son number one had to refine every adaptation to his battery of weaponry.
This summer holiday was always going to be the toughest of the lot with two babies and two big boys with such different needs to entertain and I wasn't wrong. It wasn't the most relaxing or easy of breaks, but on balance I think we all had a great time. Yes the babies were a little ignored, yes the big boys didn't get all the attention they craved and yes we parents didn't get nearly enough R&R, but we got to spend time getting used to being part of our new, big family and that was priceless.
The babies might be almost seven months old - twin one even got his first tooth while we were away - but what with school and work we haven't spent that much time together, learning how to live with each other, so in a way this break was our first real step towards getting used to being a family of six.