Sunshine, seagulls. My babies’ first funfair ride, seated beside by their brothers. A summer’s supply of ice cream crammed into a three-day weekend, melting down the cornet and falling in fat blobs on our bare feet.
The sea, which is icy, is playful, darting across our toes. The boys are instantly soaked: trousers plastered to their legs, we strip off their t-shirts quickly, lest they find themselves with nothing to wear as the sun sets. The sand is feather soft; it runs between our fingers like liquid. We have brought buckets and spades in gaudy colours, and the children scream with laughter when we bury their feet. The little girls munch it every time we turn our backs, they sport gritty beards that make us laugh.
I know that it is unfashionable, but I love caravan holidays. I love how easy they are; how we can let the children bounce around like kangaroos without worrying that something might get broken. And I love the independence – fending for ourselves, our Sainsbury’s delivery in the fridge and pasta boiling on the hob. Caravan holidays remind me of my own childhood; they make me miss my grandparents, and days that always felt warm enough.
So we seized the opportunity during that brief April heatwave to escape to the coast.
Whitstable is beautiful, though with four nippers to wrangle we didn’t see much of it. Our caravan park was set in nearby Seasalter (Alberta Caravan Park, if you’re wondering, which we paid for ourselves), and was opposite the beach, where the children enjoyed splashing and paddling and tossing pebbles into the water. True waterbabies, they also loved Alberta’s outdoor pool, which is heated to bathwater temperature and was heavenly.
Everybody was so kind to us at Alberta – from the people who popped out to offer the boys Fruit Shoots whilst we were waiting to check in, to the kindest life guard who had a real laugh with my cheeky little monkeys. One of their favourite moments of the holiday was when I was trying to discourage them from popping out of the swimming pool to activate the showers and the life guard casually sauntered past, glanced at them and gave himself a full shower – whilst fully dressed! The boys thought that he was hilarious and had great fun emulating him. As a larger family, who are possibly a little more disruptive just by nature of having so many children, it made a real difference to feel genuinely welcomed and embraced on our holiday.
We booked a Silver Plus 3 Bed 8 Berth Caravan, and the children had so much fun playing Hide and Seek. One of the most touching moments, for me, was the way that the boys included their little sisters in their games, ushering them into cupboards and tucking them under the duvet to hide. We found that we easily had enough room in a 3-bed caravan and, in fact, as the girls slept in travel cots in the living room (which we were able to hire last-minute on the day) one of the bedrooms even went unused.
On the Saturday, upon learning that the Clubhouse was closed all day (shortly after we had bribed the boys out of the pool with the promise of hot chips – disaster!), we decided to take ourselves off to Margate for the afternoon. Margate is only twenty minutes away from Whitstable by train and boasts beautiful funfair Dreamland in addition to the gloriously sandy beach. We treated the boys to some rides on the beach and the girls had their first funfair ride as well, which Embla loved so fiercely that she burst into tears when it stopped!
People are sometimes incredulous that we manage to leave the house and have such a lovely time with so many toddlers in tow. I wanted to take a moment to acknowledge that they are not perfect children (though I suspect that they are on the easier side of the ‘normal toddler’ spectrum) and we are not perfect parents: there was sand flung in the air, dropped ice creams, Polly Poobum McBitey BadBaby required constant chasing, the boys sobbed for the whole walk back to the train station because they wanted to play in the arcade. We tend not to mention or to document those bits – in part because I feel that my children are entitled to processing their big, difficult emotions without a camera shoved in their faces and their mothers discussing it on the internet, and also in part because it doesn’t seem relevant. At bedtime sometimes we hear the boys talking about their holiday and they don’t seem to remember how hard they cried when we couldn’t stop to let them gamble with 2p coins; they remember that they splashed in the sea and we held their hands, and that we held races to and from our caravan every day. We choose to focus on the positive, and to let the shadows fade. It just works for us.
We would definitely go back to Alberta, though our next caravan holiday will be Camber Sands in July. The boys are already talking non-stop about splashing in the sea and building sandcastles, and about playing Hide and Seek in a caravan again.
Where are you spending your summer holidays this year?