Time passes in Tenerife
There are certain milestones in family life that cause you to become aware of how quickly the children are growing up. On birthdays and first days back at school, you see suddenly how they've changed without you being conscious of it, how they have gained inches and independence without your say-so.
Holidays are the same, particularly holidays in places where you've been before. We returned to the Guia de Isora area of Tenerife this year with a just-turned-10-year-old and a seven-year-old.
We'd been in the area first when the older daughter was a small baby. She got a chest infection. We thought it was the end of the world in our first-time parents' innocence.
The second time was with both children, a few years younger than they are now. They were scared out of their wits of the black-sand beaches and the tidal, volcanic-rock swimming pools cut into the shoreline along the beautifully designed promenade.
This time around, the firsts were different. This was the first year that we got to sit by the pool while the pair played for hours on end in the swimming pool with newly acquired friends, neither needing nor wishing for our assistance.
As all parents will testify, this is a milestone. This is the stuff of parental dreams when they are very small. We're not exactly at the stage of taking an eye off them for a second, but it's a new phase. Which, of course, is always bittersweet to embrace.
Located on the west coast of the island, the Sensatori Resort Tenerife is right in the middle of a long promenade along the seafront, leading to the village of Alcala in one direction and, in the other direction, to a headland where one can turn and take the few kilometres walk to the town of Las Gigantes. Paved and landscaped and perfect for a run or stroll, the promenade is punctuated by three natural swimming pools, hewn from the black volcanic stone of Mount Teide and filled by the tides.
The location is probably the most pleasing, from a natural point of view, as any I've experienced in the Canaries, and it adds to the expansive feel of the Sensatori Resort Tenerife. All by itself, the hotel is every inch an oasis of leisure and luxury, with no less than five swimming pools, but to be able to step outside and connect with nature is a huge bonus.
Our family, by virtue of our children's ages, or perhaps our characters, are holiday creatures of habit. We like to set up a routine and we enjoy the rhythm of keeping to it for the duration of the holiday.
There were unknowns this year, though. What if the older one was just too grown up to tolerate a kids' club? What if the younger one refused to go without her? What if this was the first year we'd hear complaints of boredom? What if we no longer got a minute's break from them? The last element, has always been successful for everyone on previous TUI holidays, but with these pesky ever-changing children, you just never know.
The love of a routine remained in place, however. Both nippers continued to be enamoured of the offered buffets, with the younger one now keen to select for herself and the older one suddenly interested in trying many things she'd never eaten before.
After breakfast, the rhythm went, we hit the swimming pool. After day one, the girls made it clear that the family pool was the place for morning fun and made friends speedily, with whom they splashed for hours daily.
In the afternoons, lunch eaten, the innocents would take to the kids' club. My fears that the older one would be too mature for the club were replaced with an awareness that what's coming down the tracks is the teenage conviction that life is only worth living when you are with your peers. And the younger one still follows where the older leads, so off they went each day, leaving us two hours of adult time.
We drank coffees and, OK, maybe there was a beer a couple of afternoons, and I ran a couple of times along the promenade, but the habit we formed on this holiday was a taking of the waters.
Having been to the area before, we knew we liked the rock swimming pools and dipped in them several times. There is great pleasure to be had in watching the waves crash outside the semi-protected pools and in bobbing around, looking ashore to Mount Teide in the distance.
We also discovered the Alcala harbour this time, where English, German and Scandinavian older people gather on blankets and towels and the low stone wall, relaxing, sunning themselves and intermittently going down the stone steps into the sea. After two or three days, the regulars started acknowledging us on arrival, chatting about sea temperature, and, in some cases, semi-gloating about how they spend two or three months of their retirement winters out there, getting warmth in their bones and living well on their pensions.
We happily took in the information and then headed back to the haven of the Sensatori Resort Tenerife, where we swapped our seawater-wet towels for fluffy fresh ones, fetched our children, had an ice cream at the poolside bar and decided which way the pre-dinner evening was going.
On our previous visit to this hotel, the pre-dinner evening went only one way, and that was to the pirate pool, with its shallow water, themed waterslides and complete safety-plus-thrills for small children. We went twice this year. They did the slides happily, but mostly enjoyed helping smaller kids to enjoy them. They were the big girls and so, after a couple of evenings there, we found ourselves by the huge, seawater-filled pool on the sea-side of the hotel.
This pool runs almost the full length of the hotel, but in a languorous, meandering shape, with grassy banks and little nooks where you can tuck in and relax. When we would arrive there in the evening, for the last of the sun, only a few others remained reclining, and there was always some little zone where we could set up and feel like we had a poolside garden all to ourselves.
That pool was too big for the girls on our last visit. This time, they loved it.
The older one could attempt a full length with her dad; the smaller one could navigate herself to the nearest mid-pool island where she and I would bob before leaving the other pair at it.
There was a strong sense on those evenings, probably exaggerated by that been-to-the-beach quiet buzz, that we were experiencing a change of gear as a family, but that there was nothing to fear from it. A pre-dinner drink on the Ibiza-like terrace, watching the sun go down, was certainly not the high-alert experience of holidays gone by. The chill-out music, the Campari in hand, the kids meeting their friends, it felt like the place to be.
As well as the buffet, we also dined at Club Ocean, which is chic Italian but still family-friendly, and at Nami Asian Bistro. The latter was the older daughter's choice, her birthday having fallen the day before we took off. The birthday surprise was the arrival of her London uncle and cousin-godfather, who were staying at a nearby hotel. The Londoners and the Dubliners approved of the sushi and noodles.
Everything changes without us noticing when we're at home and going through the routine of school and work and all the rest. It's only when you step away and step away into somewhere that gives your head a little peace, that you see how everything has altered. You certainly discern that you're finally in the semi-lie-in zone and that you're not needed in the pool every minute, but it's also about actually having proper chats with these emerging people that are your kids, about seeing how they navigate a strange place and new people and different situations.
Indeed, to invoke Abba, they are slipping through your fingers all the time. But on a good holiday, that takes on a rosy glow.
Visit TUI Sensatori Resort Tenerife during summer 2018: Depart June 8, for seven nights on a full-board basis from €1,319pp. If you want to bring the family, stay for €3,469 (two adults, one child) or €4,359 (two adults, two children).
Winter 2018/19: Depart February 15, 2019, for seven nights, on a full-board basis from €1,279pp. If you want to bring the family, stay for €3,339 (2+1) or €4,199 (2+2).
Prices include direct flights from Dublin, transfers to your hotel and 20kg luggage.
For more information, visit tuiholidays.ie