Saturday 24 March 2018

Picture postcard imperfect

Siohban O'Dowd's staycation with dog and baby might have looked idyllic but, like with any young family, the reality was chaotic fun

Sioban O'Dowd
Sioban O'Dowd

En route to a family wedding in Belfast, we booked a pet-friendly family room in a hotel in Donegal for a two-day 'staycation' and loaded up the car with every piece of baby-on-tour equipment imaginable. Max Hunter, the golden retriever, was squashed into the boot in between a buggy and a suitcase and we got a couple of 99s to get us in the holiday mood before hitting the road.

Fun it was, but relaxing it certainly was not. A pet-friendly family room turned out to be a normal hotel room, with a travel cot and a dog bed. At home, Max sleeps in the kitchen, so I had visions of a wet, sandy dog running riot. For him, this staycation was more of a 'steakation' with 24/7 hangouts and, as we forgot to bring his food, he ate like a king on fine-dining restaurant scraps and full Irish breakfasts.

Now Charlotte is walking and is properly mobile she gets cross when imprisoned in a high chair for more than about three minutes. Breakfast in the beautiful dining room overlooking the beach was a mission involving my husband John and I alternating forkfuls while rescuing other diners from Charlotte (she does this thing now where she goes up to strangers and sits at their feet while looking up and giving them an intense stare, or smiles sweetly and rubs sticky fistfuls of chewed up croissant into their linen trousers) and tidying up menu displays she has decimated. All the while I was envisioning Max lying in our bed having a snooze and waiting for us to come back.

We were blessed with the weather, so after breakfast we hit the beach - not entirely relaxing as dog and baby were so excited by the sun/sand/water/people/picnics combo, one was constantly going one way, and one the other. Neither have any emotional intelligence, so they were guaranteed to make a beeline for the one family scared of dogs or the one couple scared of babies.

'Sorry' was just an auto-response as I scooped up one or the other apologetically. There was one great moment when Charlotte marched up to a group of teenage boys and took possession of a skateboard, and proceeded to sit on it in the middle of them while they did their best to look cool and pretend it wasn't happening.

At a late hotel lunch, Charlotte wore most of the contents of a hotel 'baby bowl' (soup and mashed potato) and ran around the lobby of the hotel laughing gleefully and chanting 'urdle urdle'. Max meanwhile was banished outside to wait while crying pitifully and doing his best 'I'm an abandoned dog' impression. We took another trip to the beach loaded down with sandwiches (ham, cheese and sand), Tayto crisps, melted Cadburys Whole Nut and token effort strawberries and apples for the 'healthy option'. This ended in Charlotte sharing her sandwiches with Max (lick for you, lick for me), spilling drinks and squashing strawberries all over the picnic rug, smearing melted chocolate all over herself and dipping pieces of apple in the sand to coat it before eating it.

Post-picnic we slunk back to the hotel brandishing a happy naked baby (fresh from a sea-dipping to get all the sand/ chocolate off) and headed back to our room to make dinner plans. By the time we had Charlotte fed, properly washed and sorted, the thought of battling another dining room was too much like hard work, so John was dispatched to procure a nice bottle of wine, and we ordered room service and watched the Rose of Tralee and were asleep by 11pm.

I did wake up at one point wondering why John was kissing my feet, and it turned out Max was saying hello to a stray limb poking out from under the duvet - the joys of a pet-friendly family room strikes again.

John's mum very kindly took Charlotte on the second night, leaving John and I to have a multi-course dinner in an actual dining room. It was lovely. All thoughts of hitting the town were scrapped as we were overcome by yawns by 9.30pm - not entirely rock 'n' roll. It did feel like something was missing though, sans Charlotte. As we were having breakfast (not at all a mission, and a decidedly less stressful affair than the previous day) a couple came over to us and said that we were the postcard image of the perfect family, and that together with Max and Charlotte we looked like we should be in a catalogue or on the cover of a magazine.

All I could do was laugh, as the reality was so ridiculous compared to the 'snapshot'. I would do it again in a heartbeat, but next time around I most definitely have a few 'learnings' to move forward with.

Irish Independent

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