Happy Valley

‘Instead of fighting over sun loungers, it was fighting over high chairs and the last scoop of ice cream’

Up next in her weekly column, Charlotte Cripps shares her summer holiday experience with two children and her elderly father. But rather than relaxing with a beachy retreat, she is plunged into a holiday nightmare

There’s nothing like the feeling of booking a holiday on my dad’s credit card. We are off to Cyprus – never been there before, but I’ve been told there is a wonderful kids club at the hotel.

With the kids off my hands for few hours a day – and my dad also happy to lose them, I might finally have a holiday.

I’m visualising lying on a beach with a nice cold drink and my F Scott Fitzgerald short stories, listening to the noise of the lapping waves.

As a single parent with two children, Lola, three, and Liberty, one, and an elderly single dad, Brian, 86, we have been holidaying together a lot since my partner died. We have never managed to have a relaxing holiday – but surely this time it will be different?

At his age, my dad should really be in a home, being spoon-fed by an underpaid carer, but he ends up lugging all the buckets and spades and nappy bags onto the beach. People don’t know what to make of us – is he a doting grandfather, my elderly husband or a seedy sugar daddy?

But nothing could have prepared us for the horror of what lay ahead in Cyprus.

I knew it was a child-friendly hotel, but when we entered the canteen, with screaming and crying children, dropping fish fingers and pasta shells everywhere, I suddenly felt like I was trapped on an ocean liner that I couldn’t get off.

Instead of fighting over sun loungers, it was fighting over high chairs and the last scoop of bubble gum ice cream.

But the photos looked so appealing in the brochure! The kids looked so happy and the hotel looked like a peaceful sanctuary.

By the time I get my dad and the kids’ breakfast the next morning, from the help yourself buffet, and take it all outside to our table, I feel like a waitress, not a guest. My dad’s sense of direction is so bad, that in these big hotels he can’t leave the table alone, because I don’t know where he will end up.

But when my children are turned away from the kids’ club because they are under four, and need an adult to accompany them at all times, I nearly faint.

Oh my god. I can’t spend the holiday indoors in a soft play area.

The toddler pool with slide, heaving with children, is like a scene from Alton Towers.

My dad, who by this point had developed some extreme wheeze, possibly due to a dust cloud from Syria overhead, gives the green light for us to use the hotel’s babysitting service.

“Fantastic,” I cheer. “Now I can enjoy the beach.” We are given a Russian nanny, Nadia, who explains in pidgin English that there are a lot of rich Russians at the hotel in Cyprus, who have bought property here to get EU membership, so they must enter the country from time to time.

Interesting, I think, as she takes the kids off to the kid’s club while I finally lie on a sun lounger next to my dad wheezing. We now think it might be a nut allergy. I’m trying so hard to be mindful and in the present, even trying to remember that TM meditation course I did, but my mind is racing (it’s mad):

“I must make the most of every second relaxing as it’s the last chance saloon before going back to work after maternity leave.”

“Where are my kids? They have been away from me for one hour. I’m here on holiday with them. Why aren’t I with them?”

“But I need a break. When will I ever get one again?”

I must make the most of every second relaxing as it’s the last chance saloon before going back to work after maternity leave

“Oh god this time next week I will be back in the office after a whole year. It can’t be happening. No, no, no, just don’t think about it now.”

“God is dad ok – does he need to go to hospital?”

“The whole point was the nanny on the beach to help me, not take them away from me all afternoon.”

But every time I go to visit the kids, the nanny scowls at me as if I am supervising her. Used to wealthy parents who want her to disappear with the children, I feel bereft.

I catch her fleeing with my children to our room through the bushes so they don’t see me. I demand that she understands that I want us all to hang out together.

But, it is all getting lost in translation and fearing that I don’t trust her, she says: “Just relax I know vot I am doing. You can trust. I take them to bubble show.”

By this point, I am so frustrated and tired. I didn’t know the sleepless nights would be caused by my dad, not the baby.

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His wheezing is so bad, he has decamped to the balcony of our family room, to sleep on Lola’s giant inflatable unicorn.

Unfortunately, the truth is, this holiday is like being stuck inside Lola’s nursery school for a week without any escape.

One good thing that has come out of it, though, is the realisation that, on reflection, it will be a relief to go back to work. The office is certainly not as challenging as going on holiday with my dad and the kids.

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