What do you give the man who already has everything that he wants? This week my husband celebrated his fiftieth birthday, his first half century, the arrival of his sixth decade. Knowing that it was approaching he had made it very clear that he wanted neither a party nor an expensive, surprise gift. I couldn’t let the milestone pass unmarked but, when asked, he could think of nothing that he wanted. What a fabulous situation to be in! Nevertheless, something had to be done, some token gifts offered to show that I cared. The best solution seemed to be an indulgent night away.
My husband does not like surprises so the idea was discussed in advance and plans were made together. Advice was sought from friends, facilities at hotels researched, days were booked off from work and cooperation from the children agreed. When everything was finally organised I started to feel rather excited about this short trip. He couldn’t, after all, be sent off on his own – I was going too.
We had only been away overnight, just the two of us, once before in our married life. Although it had been pleasant enough I had been too worried about my young children to fully enjoy it. I knew that they were being safely cared for, but was concerned that they would not understand why mummy had disappeared. I imagined them feeling abandoned, being concerned and worried but unable to put that into words. I envisaged them being traumatized, losing their carefree happiness and security, becoming clingy and unsure if I would be there for them when they returned from their next outing without me. I had a good imagination about these things.
This time was different. As teenagers, they were rather miffed that we were going to have fun and eat yummy food while they missed out, but having the house to themselves without us to tell them to do homework and go to bed early seemed adequate compensation. If I didn’t trust them then I might have felt some concern about the eagerness with which they embraced our plans. I like to think that they were just happy to see us doing something for ourselves. I still have a good imagination.
Getting away without the kids after so many years of holidays planned around them made me feel young again. I was able to pack a suitcase just for me. There was no need to take practical, mummy clothing or to leave something behind to make room for their things. There was no need to limit luggage so that we could carry everything when the children threw a strop and would not help. Even after I had packed all that I needed, wanted and a bit more besides, I still had room in my case. My husband looked quite bemused as he put his little overnight bag in the car and helped me with the luggage that normally suffices for at least two of us for a week. I was having fun already.
I had decided that the key requirements of the hotel were good food, a room with a view and indoor leisure facilities in case of bad weather. I also liked the idea of staying on the coast. Living in a land locked county of England I do sometimes miss being close to the sea. As a child trips to the beach were a regular occurrence as we lived within a half hour drive of a glorious stretch of sandy coastline. I love the sound of the lapping of the tide and miss the long walks along the beach that my parents insisted on when I was young.
My husband and I had booked into what I hoped would be the perfect hotel and set off for it in glorious sunshine. I was a little perturbed by the few flurries of snow in the air, but the car was warm and we could play our choice of music without complaints from the back. A couple of hours later we had reached our destination and were in high spirits. This was going to be good.
We had a little over twenty-four hours at the hotel, but seemed to pack in so many lovely experiences. Arrival day was freezing cold with a biting wind but we managed a walk on the beach, around the harbour and along the residential streets of Sandbanks (which has, by area, the fourth highest land value in the world – the house designs are stunning) before the cold drove us inside. We made good use of the hotel’s leisure facilities, braving the outdoor hot tub and warming ourselves in the sauna and steam room. My husband likes to make use of everything available so even swam in the outdoor pool – brrrr.
Our room had a balcony on which we drank his celebratory bottle of champagne, well wrapped up against the cold, while watching the yachts from the local clubs sail by. My ever active husband had brought a book and it was good to see him spend some time relaxing while I prepared myself for dinner. We had drinks and canapes at the bar before sitting down to one of the most delicious dinners I have ever eaten. It was a fabulous day.
In the morning we stuffed ourselves silly at the breakfast buffet. With so many tempting choices it was hard not to try them all (I am so unused to hotel living). After a short rest to recover from our gluttony we packed up and headed back to the beach for a long walk along the sand and promenade. The sun was still shining but the biting wind had eased so we were able to enjoy this comfortably. When our legs grew tired we stopped at a beach side cafe for coffee; even this is an indulgence for us. Our coffees on the go are normally preprepared and carried in a flask, drunk in the shelter of the car.
We headed home feeling overfed and windblown, but also pampered and indulged. From the state of our kitchen it was clear that the children had coped well without us, eaten sensibly and seen no need to waste time clearing away or washing up. The hens had been cared for, lights switched off and doors locked. I was happy that all had gone so smoothly.
It was a lovely way to celebrate a birthday. As parents it can be too easy to forget that we are people too. Now that the children are older they do not need us to be around them all the time and the occasional taste of independence can give them (and us) the confidence to know that they can cope on their own. Perhaps one day we will do it again. I hope so.