Our first family holiday was anything but a holiday, I realised, at 4am in a turquoise-walled suite in the South of France, where the peace was broken at regular intervals by a wailing baby. Correction: my wailing baby. While we were trying to introduce her to a new routine, it seemed that she was breaking us into a completely new way of being, a holiday where we couldn't relax, even when she was sleeping.
Other parents had told me that it would be like this – we might be away from home, but we'd still be changing nappies. It makes you wonder why anyone bothers.
I'd returned to this part of France on many occasions before being I became a mother. I had surfed the long lazy waves along the coast. I had taken leisurely walks along the promenade and sipped coffee in the sunlight-dappled pavement cafés.
Now, it was a case of making the best of a tricky situation: no surfing (who would hold the baby?), no leisurely walks (new motherhood had erased my carefree gait in favour of a no-nonsense march), and no dappled sunlight (hot, cross babies don't tend to improve the holiday atmosphere).
Exhausted, we flopped on to the sand of Port Vieux, the smallest beach in Biarritz, a cove between the long surf beach at Côte des Basques and the main beach, the Grande Plage. Elderly residents donned swimming hats and ranged far from the shore for their daily exercise, while teenagers tanned their Bambi limbs in striped bikinis.
As the sea washed in over the warm grains of sand, my baby and I finally found the same rhythm. The white surf tickled her toes and she squealed delightedly; I knelt next to her, holding her up, not noticing as the hem of my dress dipped into the water. That a lack of sleep and holiday stress could be remedied so easily and simply was a revelation. I saw in an instant what family holidays could be: new experiences in new places, but not necessarily for you – and they are as much fun to witness for others as to experience for yourself.
Footprint's 'South of France with Kids' is out now (£13.99)