Togetherness on holiday

Helen Hickey

SEPTEMBER 20 ― There comes a point in life when your children start dispensing feedback your way.

I’ve reached this unforgiving place with my kids who are close to notching up 13,15,16 and 17 years.

I sometimes catch myself hankering after the nappies and sleepless nights stage.

Freshly etched on my mind is the pointed comment that elicited an instant guilt trip: “We never have a proper family holiday: can we this summer?” 

My youngest son said this before scooting off to bed leaving me to ponder what exactly he meant. “Not proper” because not all of us are together? Work has often interfered with summer plans. Or, just not luxurious enough? He does have expensive tastes and we are known for our economy camping holidays.

Or, that this might potentially be the last summer holiday his favourite big sister spends with us, as she leaves for university next year

This nagging thought ― the idea of saying goodbye to my eldest ― lingered, and by the morning I had resolved to book a holiday to remember.

Old habits die hard: Adventure calls

The first leg of our trip involved trekking high in the French and Italian Alps completing the Tour d’Ambin relying on mountain refuges for meals and warm beds for the night.

It was a “refuge” in every sense of the word: no internet coverage equalled no work for my husband Tom and no lure of electronics for the rest.

For five magical days our lives revolved around hiking, Nature, playing cards, reading and catching-up on lost time.

 A friend of mine once shared what she found hard about having four kids in quick succession, and what was rewarding. Of the former, she said “practically everything!”, but her reward was: “Seeing them run and play together on the beach, carefree and wild.”

My snapshot in time, my reward moment, was watching my four — poles in hand, loaded with backpacks — striding confidently down a cloud encircled mountainside with a sense of purpose.

From the wilds to wildly luxurious

Our next stop was a newly-restored farmhouse in Tuscany. Nestled in the hills overlooking Florence, it enjoyed a landscape laced with vineyards, olive groves, and a patchwork of tall Cypress trees and terracotta rooftops in the distance.

It was also linked to a five-star boutique hotel whose gym, hammam and swimming pool facilities we were able to use.

The seal of “a proper holiday” came on the first morning when my youngest came running back from a visit to the Aqua di Parma fragranced reception to enquire about the pool.

He excitedly relayed the reply of the black-suited concierge: “Certainly Sir, my colleague will be delighted to show it to you.

My reward moment: watching my four ― poles in hand, loaded with backpacks ― striding confidently down a cloud-encircled mountainside with a sense of purpose.

Fun and gems

We woke up late, read, swam, sunbathed and enjoyed fresh pasta suppers, followed by the swapping of music tracks and raucous card games by candlelight that lasted late into the night. The iced Limoncello and Amaretto flowed.

In these carefree moments, when laughter trumps the stresses of life and family tensions, the warm feeling of togetherness trickles over and envelops all.

And just sometimes, a gem can fall unexpectedly out of the mix, something you know you’ll remember, always.

My eldest, the family DJ, mentioned that while she was away on her work experience in Africa earlier this summer, she played the Leo Stannard song Gravity a lot: “It reminded me of Pa.” The lyrics say it all.

Sightseeing and the Uffizi moment

Lucca and Florence made for easy day trips, although Pisa was hard work, as the photo reveals. Rome the children found interesting, naturally, given its gladiatorial Colosseum and arguably the best gelatos in Italy.

Museum visits are not my lot’s cups of tea, but you can’t head to Florence and not see Il Duomo and the Uffizi Gallery; you hope that they’ll remember something of the Renaissance in years to come. 

My eldest said she certainly would but for all the wrong reasons. She’d rather not remember Botticelli’s “The Birth of Venus.”

This masterpiece came up in her French Bac this year and it was the one of the few things she hadn’t revised. That timorous nude in scallop shell and Zephyr’s biting wind haunted her for the rest of the day

All that glitters is not gold

After 10 wonderful days it was time to leave the rolling hills of Florence. While cleaning I noticed the kids busily preparing some “feedback” on the hotel’s headed paper using my pink Frixion pen (the one I use for correcting schoolwork).

I was quietly relieved not to be on the receiving end of this missive which left the front-desk staff looking distinctly red-faced.

Especially when they read the more pointed feedback: the discovery of a meaty looking scorpion scurrying across our kitchen floor, and the two little lumps of poo that were happily left to decompose in the swimming pool despite my kids’ requests that they be removed.

Perhaps a camping holiday next year won’t seem too awful.

My eldest visited Carrefour for her very last school supplies shop ready for La Rentrée into her final school year, aptly called “Terminale” in France.

Before we know it, we’ll be loading the car with her soft animals, Bac results and thoughts of medical school; for time hurries on, accelerating us towards her exit.

I hope she’ll carry these holiday memories (all save the Uffizi moment) with her, deeply entwined with oodles of family love. The surest foundation for happiness when she is no longer with us

* This is the personal opinon of the columnist.