The greatest horror blockbuster this summer is not going to be played out in cinemas across the land. It is not going to star Neve Campbell and there won’t be a vampire in sight. There will be no PR puff, nor a peep of a fanfare. There will be no red carpet, no press junkets, no blast of flashes and certainly no spangly gowns. Instead, it is going to unfold quietly but surely in every bed and breakfast in the land, on every campsite and, if you’ve got a bob or four, in rented cottages or second homes. If you are really unlucky, it might take place in a foreign land. The name of this dread production is Family Holiday and you are its stars.
My name is Emma Kennedy. I am 44 and childless, and I could not be happier about that. There was a time, once, on a gray, dull Sunday afternoon when I glanced out the window and thought about having children but it turned out I was confusing the feeling of broodiness with terrible indigestion. Don’t get me wrong, I like children. I think they’re great. I write children’s books. I visit schools. Children seem to like me. I enjoy hanging out with them. I just don’t want to have any on a permanent basis.
Sometimes, friends with children stare at me with sad eyes and ask if I’m OK with being “the barren one.” I nod and assure them I’m fine, but quietly, without them knowing, I pat myself on the back for managing to look 10 years younger and for having what many would call a “life.”
I am not going to beat around the bush. This has nothing to do with some magic anti-peptide cream I might be using. I don’t even possess a moisturizer. It is because I am childless. Everyone I know who has children looks shattered. Utterly broken. And it gets worse. Friends have children and that’s it. You never see them again. They disappear into a dark vortex where spare hours are a thing of the past. If you do manage to get them out, they have to go home at 9:30pm simply because they are spatchcocked with tiredness. All in all, it seems that having a family is terribly bad for your health.
But the main reason I don’t have children — and I’m going to whisper this so as not to startle anyone — is so I don’t have to take them on holiday.
The family holiday is, without question, something to strike fear into the heart of every man, woman and child. The very thought of it chills me to the bone. When people cheerfully tell me that they are “really looking forward to getting away with the kids,” I simply don’t believe them. I am looking at you, parents, and I think you are lying.
I put this to the test recently and decided to do some digging. “Do you really like going on family holidays?” I ask one pal, raising an eyebrow.
“Oh yes,” says my friend, nodding way too vigorously.
“What do you like about it?”
“Well,” says my friend, who then comes to an abrupt stop and stares up toward the ceiling.
(Five minutes of silence pass.)
“Oh!” she eventually resumes, “we don’t have to do the school run! Which is great.”
“And that’s it?” I persist. “The only thing you enjoy about taking your children on holiday is the fact that they don’t have to be taken anywhere first thing in the morning?”
“It’s great when they’ve gone to bed too,” battles on my friend.
I ask another friend. She stares at me, her left eye twitching. “I am taking my children on holiday in four days. We are going away for a week. I have now been planning this holiday for three months. I have been packing for a fortnight. I think when you’ve got to a point where you are planning your packing and then physically packing for longer than you are actually going away, your chore-to-enjoyment ratio might be out of whack. I have 15 suitcases. I can’t even fit them in the car. Two of my children get car sick and I’m not sure I even like the third. I haven’t looked my husband in the eye for five days. I’m going to come clean. This is not my definition of fun times. I don’t even want to go.”