Dr Ciara Kelly: Family holidays may shrink but families grow
This is a time of great change in my family. As many of you will know, my eldest has just finished secondary school and is moving into a new phase - the university years. As with every other stage of life, I know I'll get used to it and it'll be no doubt increasingly normal as children further down the line take those same steps - but on your first, every milestone they hit slightly reshapes your world. He'll never be dependent in quite the same way as he was until now, and will probably head off working on his summers to America or London or wherever it is young people head off to these days.
So it was with a little bit of sadness that I approached this year's family holiday, as it struck me that this could be the last time - at least for a number of years - that all four kids might come away. We'll likely be a smaller group next year, so this was very possibly the last family holiday we would have with all of us together. Which felt like the end of an era.
Oh, I admit it was getting harder to keep all of them happy anyway. Last year I could tell the older two were getting bored by the end of the holiday. And what will please an 18-year-old and what will please a nine-year-old are two very different things. So finding stuff to do that wasn't too advanced for one, or too basic for another, had started to become a challenge.
Because of all this, I'd thought idly about those trip-of-a-lifetime holidays that people go on - to Thailand or South African safari parks - but I looked into it and decided coming home to debtors' prison afterwards wasn't the best idea. So I looked a little closer to home for a holiday with hopefully something for everyone - and this year we packed our very tiny, cabin-sized bags and headed off island-hopping in Greece.
I never did the island-hopping thing as a young wan but it'd always sounded like an adventure. To be honest, even travelling with only one small bag is an adventure for me, but I have to say Greece really delivered.
It's only a short hop to Athens, a city that mixes gritty urban edge with vibrant flea markets and stunning, iconic, historical sites. Letting a teenager who'd been there once before on a school trip be our guide was actually really good fun and ceding all control of the itinerary was instantly relaxing.
After some very hot, pleasant wandering there, we took the ferry south-west to Hydra, an island so beautiful I'm reluctant to tell you about it in case you all rush there and ruin it. Its cobbled marble streets and working waterfront with tiny artisan shops and cafes are magical. There are very few motorised vehicles on Hydra, so donkeys are the main mode of transport around the island but its stunning coastline and whitewashed villages and seafood so fresh it near twitched were truly close to perfection.
From here we travelled to Spetses, a little livelier but still very cheap and pretty. And the last island we hit was Paros, where we stayed in an idyll of swimming and sunshine till we were near liquidly chilled.
The trip worked a charm. The constant movement to new places kept everyone engaged. Greece has incredible weather, and even biggish families can eat out thanks to affordable prices. There is a huge amount of historical stuff to see and tons of watersports from paddle-boarding to kite-surfing for small and big people. And I know that even teens who usually miss their friends were still enjoying themselves two weeks into it. If it was the last full family holiday we have, I will always look back on it as wonderful.
Of course life teaches you lessons you don't expect and, not long after we got back, it was Leaving Cert results and CAO offers and more family occasions around all of that. So as well as last holidays this summer, we also had first dinners where one of the brood brought a date!
I realised then that going forward, it isn't that your children peel off one by one and your little family gets smaller. It's actually that, as they fly the nest, they meet new people that they bring with them and add to your number - so your family actually gets bigger. And that's not sad at all.
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