Last weekend we took a road trip with James. We had a wedding to attend on the Saturday and our plans were then to meet James’ Grandad in Manchester on the Sunday.
One of the things I dread most about going away is the packing. We were only going away for one night but still had 2 big bags, baby changing bag, bag of snacks for the journey, handbag for the wedding, a small bag with toys for James, a suit bag and a mattress to go in the travel cot in the hotel room. My husband normally complains and says we don’t need to take that much (of course we do), but on this occasion I was surprised he didn’t say a word. I keep a checklist on my phone of things I need to remember for us and James for when we go away, but still worry that I will forget something.
My husband is a very punctual person, and I am rarely ready on time, which drives him mad. He gave me strict instructions that we needed to leave at 9AM. I think we left at 9:05AM, which I thought was pretty good going. It is hard to be ready for an exact time with a toddler. James seems to always pick the mornings when we are in a hurry to be clingy to me and not to let me finish the packing. I had packed most things the night before, but there are always the last-minute things like phone chargers and toothbrushes to add.
It was supposed to take 2 1/2 hours to get to our hotel in Manchester, but it ended up taking 3. It could have been a lot worse but luckily we checked Google Maps and saw that there were delays of over an hour on the M6 so we were able to divert off the motorway to avoid some of the traffic. James actually amazes me with how good he can be in the car. He was happy playing with his cars and books in the back, chatting to himself. I think he quite likes the motorway so he can look at the big lorries. He even tolerated the radio, rather than whinging until we put his nursery rhymes on. When he did whinge we gave him snacks which seemed to instantly satisfy him. He only slept for 30 minutes, which wasn’t ideal as that would be his only nap of the day.
We stayed at the DoubleTree by Hilton in Manchester. We are a big fan of these hotels and often stay in them when we are away. Any hotel that gives you a cookie when you arrive is definitely onto a winning start with me. When we go away with James we like to stay in a room, with a separate living space, so we are not sleeping in the same part of the room as him. It just makes things easier. We can put him to bed with some white noise on in one part of the room where he can’t see us, and then we can watch TV in the main bedroom area. We arrived at the hotel at 12 and luckily our room was ready. The room was an instant hit with James as he started climbing over the bed and was then fascinated by the floor to ceiling windows, allowing him to look at the cars, buses and trams. The windows occupied him for ages.
My husband then went out to get us some lunch before we needed to set off for the wedding. I forgot to make James some sandwiches so he made do with some snacks. There was no point in buying him something as he simply wouldn’t eat it. I knew he would be getting a meal at the wedding that he would like, so I wasn’t too bothered.
We all got dressed up ready for the wedding and it was lovely to see James looking so smart. I was wondering how long his white shirt would stay white. It was nice to put on a dress and heels again, especially after the hard work I had undertaken to actually be able to fit back into it.
It ended up being a mad dash to the wedding and we just made it. It wasn’t helped by my poor Google Map navigation skills around Manchester. As we got there people were starting to move into the room for the ceremony. I was just thinking James will never be quiet and sit through this. One of the toddler groups we go to have a prayer before the singing, and James always sees this as an opportunity to make random noises, so it didn’t give me much faith that he would be quiet during a wedding ceremony. I deliberately sat at the end of a row, so if he started kicking off I could quickly dash out of the door. I really didn’t want my child to ruin a wedding day. As we sat down James showed he really didn’t want to be sat on my lap. There were petals on the floor which he was interested in and wanted to play with. This was fine if he stayed next to me, but he wanted to move around. I took the tactic of grabbing the back of his shirt and pulling him back to me like a dog. As the ceremony began I sat him back on my lap. My husband had James’ bag of cars and books and he would pass them to James. When he would get annoyed with one, he would pass him something different. This tactic worked really well and actually kept him occupied for the whole ceremony. We were certainly off to a good start with this wedding.
Next was the wedding reception. James was starting to get less tolerant of the situation now. I think he would have liked to just run around the room, but this really wasn’t practical. He had lost interest in the cars and books so I resorted to playing The Clangers on my phone. He seemed annoyed that this was the only program I could offer him. He watched The Clangers for a bit and then was happy to play with his cars again. The wedding catered for children really well. All the children were given a bag containing colourings, crayons, bubbles and sweets. James enjoys playing with crayons, more than colouring, but it was great we had another way of keeping him occupied.
Luckily there was a pre-selected children’s menu, so we knew James would like the food. This was one less thing to worry about. Everyone was given a bread roll, which James really liked. He then had garlic bread, chicken dippers, fries, and peas (of course he left the peas), followed by ice cream (which ended up on the white shirt). During the meal James kicked off a couple of times. He didn’t really have the patience to wait for the next course of food. He started screaming when everyone clapped as the bride and groom were welcomed into the room, and I just knew he wouldn’t sit through the speeches, so I took him outside. I think after being in a car all morning and then sitting down at the wedding he just wanted to be able to run around. It was my husband’s friend who was getting married, so I felt it was only fair for him to stay inside and enjoy the speeches. James ended up eating his main course outside, which seemed to really cheer him up. I soon realised that wearing a dress and heels really isn’t practical attire for running after a toddler outside.
We ended up leaving around 7 so we could drive back to the hotel and put James to bed. As he was in a strange room it took him longer to fall asleep, and he did cry for a while. We have learnt that unless he is screaming it works better for us just to leave him to self settle. I think he fell asleep at around 9PM. He slept through the night but woke up earlier than usual at 6:45AM. At home, whatever time he wakes up we leave him to chat and moan in his cot until 8AM. That way I can get myself ready before I get him up. That wasn’t going to work in a hotel room, as he woke up crying, so we brought him in with us. I could see that he was still tired, and if at home would have probably gone back to sleep.
Breakfast was hard work and I don’t think we were very popular in the breakfast room. It isn’t usually an issue in hotels because they always seem to have James’ favourite cereal, Weetabix. On this occasion I think he was over tired, and over hungry so wasn’t in the best of moods. He spent most of breakfast moaning or crying. The staff at the hotel were great and handed me an activity pack. Playing with crayons kept James amused for long enough for me to eat some toast, before we took him back to our room.
We had planned to meet James’ Grandad in Manchester, but unfortunately his car broke down so was unable to come. We drove around Manchester trying to decide what to do with the rest of the day, and eventually decided that we might as well do the 1 hour 20 minute drive up to The Lake District so James could see his Grandad. We went to Grandad’s local pub for lunch where James ate loads of a jacket potato with cheese and beans.
We then went back to Grandad’s house where James made himself at home, climbing all over the furniture and up the stairs. The main attraction for him was a plastic tube and a golf ball. James doesn’t get to see his Grandad very often but when he does they always seem to really make each other laugh, and I think Grandad needed a lie down after we left.
There was no putting it off any longer, we had to begin the mammoth journey home. I wasn’t looking forward to the 3 1/2 hour drive back to Cheltenham with James. With all the traffic and Google Maps diverting us off and back on the motorway several times it ended up taking 5 1/2 hours. We were both amazed and so proud of how well James actually coped with this. He slept for an hour, then happily played with his cars, books and ate numerous snacks. We stopped once to get some food. James even ate some of my Costa mozzarella, pesto and tomato ciabatta. The only time he started kicking off was about 15 minutes from home and it only lasted a few minutes, as we handed him more snacks. I didn’t know he could eat so much. It meant James was having another late night, but it was all worth it to see him and Grandad have a lovely time together. Overall we had a very enjoyable weekend.