The Hollywood couple Mila Kunis and Ashton Kutcher might have set a new trend when they recently admitted they never bathe their children, but when I ran out of sensitive kids’ bath soap for Lola and Liberty on holiday in Portugal, I was floored. I’m more Dwayne Johnson – who showers three times a day – with them. I couldn’t use the hotel’s miniature perfumed body wash, which smells like an out-of-date splash-on Brut men’s aftershave. What could I do?
I’m stuck in some sprawling resort with a fancy spa selling Clarins but nothing suitable for kids. Can I venture out of the hotel? No. It’s too big, and I feel institutionalized after a few days – like I’m back in rehab. As we get shuttled on a golf buggy back from a seafood restaurant where my dad looks orange from devouring jumbo prawns, I notice bus stops to get around it. Am I on the Star Wars Enterprise? I might have to take a leaf out of the A-lister’s book after all.
Apparently, the celebrity couple never uses soap ever and only wash their children “when you can see dirt on them” – which, for my two, is all the time. After breakfast, I can barely see my kids’ faces because their arms, faces and hands are covered in Nutella.
Liberty is whining about not wanting her croissant because she can see “a black dot on it” and “it’s unfair because Lola has more butter” when my dad turns to her and says, “Shut up.”
It was never going to be a walk in the park bringing my dad, who is 89 years old this week, on holiday with two small kids and me – with no help. He made it down to the beach but had to be taken back up in a sand chair by lifeguards to a nearby car park and on in the hotel towel truck. The mirrored walled bathroom was too modern for him; I caught him trying to get into it thinking the reflections of the toilet and shower doors were the real deal.
It happened to me the next day as we turned a corner in the mirrored hotel lobby and I said to myself: “Don’t I know her?” It was only a floating thought, but it made me think. Am I overreacting about my dad’s behaviour? That evening, when I saw him putting his sweatshirt on his legs, I was terrified. Is it early onset dementia – or more like the late stage? “Dad, it’s not a pair of trousers.” But he meant to do it because his feet and legs were cold as the sun set in a blaze of red behind our balcony.
At night, as we starred at the starry sky, he said, “Look at the full moon rising.” But it was a lit-up circular window of a building opposite. We managed to get to a Japanese restaurant one night in the resort, where there was nothing for Lola to eat on the menu. So I ordered her a pizza back in the hotel room, and my dad said it made him sick because “there are children starving in Africa”.
“Dad,” I said, “Lola is starving and we don’t live in Africa! She’s not wasting food. Ella she’s not had any. He fetched the rest of the bottle of Sake we bought back with us in the bottom of the pram that now doubles up as a Zimmer frame and downed it. What is his problem with him?
Anyway, I think he was referring to our breakfasts on the balcony that arrive in tons of white packaging at the door like Net-a-Porter. It’s best we avoid mixing with too many people who might be a Covid risk in the main canteen, but the boxes of butter, jams, pastries, ham and cheese and bucket loads of kiwi and pineapple from the continental breakfasts are piling up in the fridge . I admit it’s out of hand – a bit like my spending in the hotel’s toy shop.
It’s a miracle, though; it’s the first time I have relaxed in five years since Lola was born. The kids are slightly older and happily playing together in a baby pool while I lie on a sun lounger for hours in between sorting out my dad’s wifi issues on his phone and ordering him G&Ts. It is heaven.
We are at a hotel in the Algarve in the middle of pine cliffs like out of some Disney Bambi film. The sun is shining – bung in a few reptile shows for the kids; Lola has her photo of her taken with a baby owl – and they spend the rest of the day floating around a pool on a blow-up llama.
The customer service is wonderful everywhere – we arrived just before the crowds. Heathrow and Faro airports are empty. The hotel has upgraded us to a penthouse ocean suite overlooking the sea. What more could I want? Not cooking. No cleaning. No rushing around. But my mission? To get us there and back in one piece and without Covid.
The day we are due to get our Covid tests 72 hours before departure, my dad develops a wheeze and a cough. Oh my god. No. We quietly pretend it is all fine – we are double-jabbed – but in my head, I’m wondering how we would actually cope with that. Can I find an Airbnb with a pool quick enough to isolate in that is near an A&E department if any of us go downhill? I feel a huge sense of relief when we get the negative test.
I did it – a successful holiday with no traumatic events. We pack and get to the airport. The wheelchair arrives, and my dad is shuttled through customs at the speed of light while I push Lola and Liberty together on the pram. After all the paperwork and Covid red tape, I feel like I’ve run the Olympics.
The wheelchair assistance drops us at a meeting point but doesn’t return for my dad until the last call for boarding our plane. We rush to the gate and the man directs me to go down the escalator with the kids. As I look back up, the next thing I see is this man taking my dad’s wheelchair right to the edge of the escalator – and my dad getting out onto a moving step. “Stop!” I scream as I try to mount the escalator and run up it to save my dad, but it’s moving the wrong way.
The man grabs my dad’s arm, and the wheelchair falls behind them on the moving escalator. The kids and I watch in horror, along with everybody else watching from the nearby gates. My dad must have nine lives, but it makes me realize – you are never safely home until you’re safely home.
I sit on the plane. Yes, we made it but at what price? I meant emotionally, but my dad is totting up how much the holiday cost like it’s a tax return. I order him a miniature whiskey and look out of the window. It’s rainy and cold in London.
As we take off, I see the arid orange-pink dusty mountains and prepare myself for grim weather. Thank God we took the risk and left the UK – staycations might be less paperwork, but nothing beats the sun.