“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” Whoever wrote this was surely composing a postcard from a holiday with a one- to three-year-old. For, while there’s nothing quite like seeing their faces light up at the sight of the sea, or an ice cream, or the train/plane/boat they’re about to board, it’s also fairly easy to see why you might be tempted to leave one in a motorway service station . Here’s why taking them on a journey lasting longer than ten minutes is always a bad idea…
1. You never, ever get to watch the in-flight movie
Remember when flying used to mean hours of sitting around watching trashy films and TV while mildly buzzed on complimentary booze? The best you can do with a toddler is getting them to recite their favourite story (so you don’t have to) while downing Kalms herbal tranquilisers.
2. It messes with their routine
If my two-year-old isn’t bathed and in bed by 7.30pm, there aren’t enough sticker books in the world to prevent a meltdown.
3. There are no healthy convenience foods for kids
I gave mine a nectarine the other day; within ten minutes she was literally screaming in my face (a sugar-fuelled monster impression) and making sticky handprints everywhere.
4. It triples the amount of luggage you need
I used to pride myself on taking away only the bare necessities: versatile clothes, miniature toiletries, books on a Kindle… I barely recognise the person who just felt it necessary to block the rear windscreen with items including but by no means limited to a scooter, two sunhats, three cycle helmets, four kinds of suncream and a raincoat (just in case) for a fortnight in France.
5. They insist on walking everywhere
But they can’t actually walk anywhere – especially not the 20-minute route along three travelators to a departure gate. Or up 372 uneven steps to an ancient monument.
6. You have to deal with their s***
You can guarantee that a potty-trained one will need to go just after a two-hour rest stop, and that one in nappies will choose the very epicentre of motorway traffic to fill that nappy with a very special, aromatic package for you. (Not driving? Be aware that there are no changing tables in the men’s loos on P&O ferries, presumably because this is women’s work, and don’t even get me started on the logistics of even getting into an aeroplane toilet with a toddler).
7. You get an injury from twisting around to talk to them
On a car journey that takes most of the day, you are going to need to turn around sometimes: to offer a drink, to read a story, to respond to the 57th cry of, “But I want to sit on your laaaaaap!”And then you are going to have a stiff neck for a week.
8. They never sleep when you need them to
You can try leaving at bedtime, cunningly packing a delicious supper for yourself and hiding it in the footwell until they pass out, but odds are you’ll spend the journey trying to arrange your legs around your stash of crisps and chocolate mini rolls while hangrily shouting “GO TO SLEEP YOU SHOULD HAVE BEEN ASLEEP THREE HOURS AGO” at the totally wired toddler in the back.
9. They are determined to lose stuff
Imagine losing your engagement ring, laptop and wallet in a busy public place. You still aren’t even close to the visceral fear I feel each time I realise my daughter has chucked her bedtime bunny over the side of the buggy on a train.
10. You have to pretend to get excited about several hours’ worth of clouds/windmills/HGVs
But at least “LOOK MUMMY A LORRY! LOOK MUMMY ANOTHER LORRY! MUMMY! MUMMY! ALL THE LORRIES!” is a refreshing position on Operation Stack. Can’t live with them, can’t live without them.