When I first got divorced, one of the most important things to me was to maintain an air of normality for D, my son. He was little, only 4, but he'd try really hard to understand what was going on, why his mum and dad lived in different houses and why toys were always at the wrong house. The first year I was on my own, I decided it was really important to take D on holiday, but that left me with a bit of a dilemma. I don't drive, I didn't have very much money, and I needed to find somewhere that would be able to keep a 4 year old child occupied. I'm sure there were lots of places to choose from, but my brain was a bit fuddled at best, and I decided to take him to London for five days.
We had the most fabulous time ever.
I chose London because there's a direct rail link to Euston from where I live, and then I chose the hotel based on which one could I safely haul a small child and a large suitcase. Oh, and which was in my price range, had a roof, and I didn't need to share with three other families. I'd very rarely been to London before, and was petrified of getting lost, losing my son or being mugged/stabbed/sold into slavery so I decided that we'd eat in the hotel to reduce any or all of those opportunities.
Having survived the first night remarkably well (a family room is surprisingly spacious when there's only two of you, and most hotels seem a bit sniffy about offering single parents anything smaller), we decided to hit the tourist trail. And I have nothing but admiration for London after that. We got our little book of tube tickets (note to single mothers - if you try to get through the turnstile without buying a ticket for your child, pick them up and carry them. Don't squeeze them through first then try to get through yourself - your child will spend the remainder of the journey convulsed with laughter at mummy's bottom being jammed). We visited the Natural History Museum, the London Eye, we did a river boat cruise, we saw Buckingham Palace. We had a great time at London Zoo, went to see the Lion King, wandered round Covent Garden and St James Park. We packed so much into those five days that all my plans for catching up on my reading when D went to bed disappeared into the ether and I tumbled into bed about half an hour after he did every night.
Of course, it cost more money than I'd anticipated. Any mother knows that even when you take your child to a free attraction, the payoff arrives in the gift shop when your child has to have a pencil, a keyring, a postcard or a packet of sweets in the shape of the Tower of London. But the museums are free, the walks in the park cost nothing, and the sheer fun of spending time together is absolutely priceless.
Compare this if you will, to what I like to think of as my brand new family. Of course, D isn't brand new, but it's a new experience for all of us. This year we went in a car (!), stayed in a cottage and played on the beach. This year I went in different gift shops, attractions that charged an entrance fee, and didn't get my bottom jammed in anything.
It was very, very different, but this time I shared the holiday with the two people I love most, and watched them get to know each other. And it was even more priceless.