‘They know! They know!’ I mutter loudly as I stomp about the house with a handful of tooth brushes and a nit comb.
‘Shhhh! You’ll wake the kids!’ my husband says grabbing another bag from the pile in the hall.
‘That’s my aim,’ I grumble.
We are loading the car for our holiday. It is 6.45am and we are leaving in 15 minutes. All the boys are asleep.
My husband checks his watch. ‘How can they still be asleep? They never sleep past 5.30am. How is this happening?’
I shrug. ‘I told you. They know.’
Since having children, it would be a lie to call any of our holidays, holidays.
We tread the hopeful path of high expectations and excitement, but always slip into the ditch of irritability and disappointment.
And the whole thing has got increasingly worse with each child.
When we had Milk we went skiing, popped to see friends in Paris, flew to a remote mountain lodge in Switzerland, zipped over to Greece, and did the endless A39 drive to Cornwall.
Mayhem has never been on an aeroplane.
Midnight will be lucky if he gets out of the village.
But we think we have found the solution.
The Isle of Wight.
It’s sunny, full of dinosaur fossils, beaches and pirates. And you get to go on a boat, even if you only have time to get out of your car and stand watching your children pick up germs for 20 minutes in the soft-play, before getting off again.
On the way my throat feels tingly and I find it hard to talk.
‘Are we on Dinosaur Island yet?’ Milk says as we sit in traffic just outside Portsmouth.
‘No, we have to go on a boat to get there.’
‘Like a pirate ship?’ Asks Mayhem hopefully.
‘Yep.’ I say distracted by the swollen lumps on the side of my neck.
‘A real pirate ship?’ asks Milk seriously.
‘No. Not a real one.’
‘But you said we were going on a pirate ship!’ wails Mayhem.
‘I know I did, I don’t know why I said that.’
‘You are the worst mummy EVER!’ shouts Mayhem kicking the back of my seat.
On the boat we look at jelly fish bobbing in the wake.
‘What happens if there are cannon balls on the island and they eat us?’ Asks Milk.
‘I don’t understand what you are saying,’ I croak. ‘I have a sore throat.’
‘You know! Cannon balls – what eat people.’
‘Cannibals!’ I laugh and regret it instantly as I feel hot knives spearing the back of my mouth.
We unpack while Milk and Mayhem race around the garden waving pirate flags, and chanting, ‘beach, beach, beach!’
Midnight watches them, popping gravel into his mouth, like a kid eating popcorn at the cinema.
‘Take me to the hospital on the way please,’ I moan.
‘Happy holiday!’ My husband calls as he drops me off at the NHS walk-in centre.
The most vulnerable patients are seen first, so I spend two hours glaring at every snotty child and hobbling old person who steps into the waiting room. At last I hear my name.
‘Tonsillitis’ says the doctor as soon as I open my mouth. ‘Seven days of antibiotics for you. How long is your holiday?’
‘Six and a half days,’ I swallow.
‘Bad luck. You’ll just have to come back.’
My husband picks me up outside. They have been to Cowes to look at the boats and have somehow managed to spend £9 on three muffins.
“£9?!’ I manage to raise my voice.
‘I know I couldn’t believe it, but I had to buy them because Mayhem licked the tops while we were in the queue.’
I look at Mayhem. He is wriggling around in his car seat, trying to itch his bottom.
Two days later we make it to the beach and I spend my time crawling around in the sand trying to stop Midnight from eating seaweed, while Milk and Mayhem take it in turns to destroy each other’s sandcastles.
My husband strokes my back as I get up. ‘Are you having a happy holiday now?’
‘It’s not a holiday is it – not for me,’ I grumble. ‘I do this all the time.’
‘Well it’s not a holiday for me either,’ huffs my husband. ‘Because I’m just doing what you do, instead of what I do.’
‘Yeah but at least you are doing something different. They say “a change is as good as a rest.” I’m just doing exactly the same thing, with the same children, but in a different place, without all the things which make it easy.’
‘Except I’m here too. I’m here helping you.’ My husband says looking a little hurt.
‘Yes. Yes, you are.’ I agree and we cling to each other in sandy solidarity.
That evening we sit down for dinner.
‘The boys are exhausted’ says my husband offering me a glass of red wine. ‘They should sleep through…’
He is interrupted by Mayhem screaming ‘My bum! My bum!’
‘Shhhhh don’t wake the baby!’ I hiss.
‘My bum arghhhh, my bum!’ screams Mayhem running around the kitchen until my husband catches him.
‘His bum really hurts.’ My husband says after taking Mayhem to the toilet. ‘It’s really sore.’
I reluctantly put down my glass of wine and lie Mayhem on our bed. He is sobbing uncontrollably and grabbing at his bum.
I hand my husband a small torch.
‘What is this?’ He says suspiciously.
‘Look up his bum.’ I whisper, not wanting Mayhem to hear me.
‘Quickly! Look up his bum!’
He does, and I watch his frown turn to deep repulsion.
‘Did you see a worm?’ I whisper.
My husband nods, grimacing.
I want to hit my head against the wall but I need to take my next antibiotic. I wash it down with the wine.
‘See. They know. Even the worms know.’