1. “Erholung” – recovery – is one of the best German words. Actually, it’s not the word so much as how it is used. Because “Erholung” also means recreation, and is most often heard in the phrase “Gute Erholung”, which doesn’t mean “get well soon” but rather, “have a good holiday”. It’s a word that takes for granted the part relaxation plays in good health; the real value of taking a break.
A holiday with small children does not constitute Erholung. Perhaps I’m too harsh. But this is certainly true when travelling with a baby, and I reckon it’s true up to at least the kindergarten years. Small children’s relentless neediness doesn’t stop just because you’re on “holiday”; in fact it increases, because being away from home is stressful. This goes double if you’re travelling with anyone outside the immediate family circle. (No matter how much the kids love them, it’s stressful being with outsiders. Good behaviour is required; access to mommy is less unfettered than usual. It’s hard.) So holidays are kind of hard work, harder than being at home, and you come back in dire need of Erholung.
2. On top of that, what kids want from a holiday is often the exact opposite of what their parents want. They want activity when you want to sleep; they want to chill when you want to Go Out and Do Something. There’s a certain tension at the best of times between A’s idea of a holiday (do all the things! all action, all the time!) and mine (sleep in and knit! sleep in and knit!), but I at least can acknowledge the value of new experiences that travel should provide. Kids… not so much. A former colleague took his family (including three kids between around 5 and 11) on a three-month adventure around the Mediterranean. At the end he asked what they had liked the best. Their unanimous answer: Italy had a really great swimming pool. (This much I have learned: on holiday with kids, always, always visit the pool.) So… there’s a conflict at work. The kids want to have fun, but they don’t so much want adventure. (I bet a bunch of you are reading this and thinking, what is RONG with her, kids totally want adventure, mine are the biggest bunch of little explorers – and, well, yay for you? But mine aren’t. They can of course have a lot of fun out there Doing Stuff, but they generally need a big push to get over their instinctive desire to just hang out and hide from the great stress of being away from home. So basically, they’re too much like me.)
3. So what the kids highlight is this: there’s a difference between “holiday” and “travel”. Me, I never really learned to do either. I didn’t grow up taking holidays (apart from (1) semi-regular camping trips, always to the same spots, and (2) semi-regular visits to family in other town; in both cases, once there we were just there, it wasn’t really a springboard for adventure) and while I always thought I really wanted to travel – still do – I’ve never actually done so. First we didn’t have the money, then we didn’t have the time, then we had kids which meant we had neither. Or in other words, I just haven’t made it a priority. And I still want to travel, but I don’t really know how, which doesn’t help the fundamental tension of holidays.
So this time, thanks to A’s mother – who announced her intention to take us on holiday and booked the whole thing – we did something completely different. Something that, left to our own devices, we never would have considered. We spent a week in yer actual Family Holiday Resort. This was weird to me. Very Dirty Dancing, but without the dancing. But you know? It works. Plenty to keep the kids happy, a comfortable (though cramped, for five people) apartment, and plenty to do in the vicinity. Best part was probably having a pass to the area’s biggest attractions (cable cars and similar), providing the incentive to go out and do something every day, without being overwhelmed by choice. It wasn’t entirely enough to offset the usual holiday stress, but it was pretty great. And the setting (like Switzerland, but cheaper) was just perfect.
4. Why is it an unbreakable law that holidays mean tech problems? Please don’t tell me it’s a blessing in disguise, that iffy wifi or phone issues free me to Unplug and just Be In the Moment. I really, really, really like taking holiday photos – and sharing them. I really like being able to instagram the African mask design on a beetle’s wings, or tweet the latest ridiculous word from the 3yo (“jumpoline”; you have to admit it’s a keeper). I love sending snaps to my friends at the moment when I think of them. Honestly, I like narrating my life. I’ve done it since I was a kid myself, although at the time it was just in my head. And I don’t believe this is a bad thing. So being without a functioning phone for most of our week away was… frustrating. Gnnnah.
5. There’s an extra dimension to travel when you’ve moved the country you actually live in. Going away, and coming back, make you aware of what “home” is in new ways. This time, I noticed – to my surprise – how much I missed Swiss German. Not that I can speak it at all, and Hochdeutsch is so much easier for me to understand. But I’ve become so used to saying “Grüezi” or “Morge”… “Guten Tag” or even “Morgen” feel weirdly stiff. (Of course, in Allgäu people mostly greet strangers with “Grüß Gott”. Which is even weirder.) I also kind of missed the food. Which is funny because I complain that Swiss menus are so limited, and this is true, but turns out? Bavarian menus are even worse. I like sausages and I like bread, but there are only so many times I can face yet another variation on Wurst und Brot. (I shudder to imagine what it must be like for, say, my wheat-intolerant, vegetarian friend.) Where’s the Alplermagronen? Where’s the rosti? SOMETHING that isn’t Wurst?!