Andrea Mara

Official website

The 80-20 Rule of Holidays

Our holiday was 80% amazing, and 20% hot-sticky-cross-cranky. Or at specific moments, 80% hot-sticky-cross-cranky and 20% I’m a parent, get me out of here.

There’s the stuff that can happen on any holiday – even before kids, or when they’re older and a trip away (presumably) becomes a relaxing event. Like when a dying wasp leaves its mark or the weather fluffs its lines or Sat Nav goes off in a huff, leaving you stranded on unfamiliar motorways, wishing for a good old-fashioned paper map.

Then there’s the stuff that’s small-child-specific.

This is where the 80-20 rule really comes in – where 80% of the outcomes are determined by 20% of the family members. Because you’re only as strong as your weakest link. So your lie-in is only as late as your earliest riser, and your night out is only as long as your least able night-owl.

sam in pool

My weakest link comes disguised as a not-so-weak rampaging three-year-old. On any given night, whether he’s in a restaurant, a playground, or sitting in an amphitheatre watching a variety show, he appears outwardly like someone who can party all night. Three times we fell for it, and stayed out till 11. Three times we were nearly broken the following day, by a querulous, enraged barrel of hot upset.

And it’s not just the nights out that had to be curtailed by (eventual) good sense. Daytime got a look-in too. More than a look-in.

Last year, our smallest boy spent the holiday locking himself into rooms, spilling drinks, and wandering off from the mobile home without seeing the need to tell anyone where he was going.

This year, he was still locking himself into rooms, spilling drinks, and wandering off from the mobile home. He was also getting into pools that were far too deep for a three-year-old non-swimmer, disappearing in the middle of restaurant meals to chase pigeons, insisting on pouring his own drinks then surprised when they spilled, completely ignoring his parents’ every request, and his favourite pastime was locking himself into the mobile home any time the rest of us were out on deck (the seriousness of this event was always inversely linked to how much food and water we had outside with us.)

I looked back on what I wrote about him last year: “Next year, he’ll have some sense and it’ll be easier… And much as I’m looking forward to meeting next year’s reasonably sensible three-year-old, I’m really going to miss this baby-toddler who will be gone forever by then.”

Ha. He’s still here, and I can safely say, he hasn’t an ounce more sense than last year. He’s just more articulate in his complaints.

And to be fair to him, he wasn’t the only offender. His two big sisters did their fair share of squabbling and storming off, at their worst when temperatures were at their highest. And I admit that I’m not the most patient person when it comes to applying sun-cream to squirmy, runaways in 37 degree heat. My husband, wisely, stayed mostly in the shade.

But that’s the 20% stuff. The 80% was watching the girls’ excitement jumping in the pool, and announcing we’re going for ice-cream, and letting them loose in a playground, and the pasta-pizza decision, and taking turns to go to the shop and pick the pastries, and the day-tripping.

ponte vecchio

night out

The 20% was the smell of the morning sun before anyone else wakes up, and the taste of a glass of wine out on deck when they’re all asleep inside.

We did what we did last year; we worked around our limitations. And when we were sitting out on deck at night, watching the people from two doors up walking back with their three-year-old at 11 o’clock, I reminded myself that all kids are different, and that we weren’t really missing out (not really). And when I spotted the people next door coming back just before midnight with their four-year-old, I figured that next year, that might (might) be us. And that it really doesn’t matter at all – there will be many years ahead when we can go to the variety show or the magic show or the talent show.

And then, when that finally happens, I suspect we might miss sitting on the deck with a glass of wine, while swim-tired kids sleep quietly inside.

All is forgiven
All is forgiven


Speaking of me-time – has anyone else found a greater need for hobbies and time-out since having kids, in spite of having less time than ever before? It’s definitely the case for me, and for the women who contributed to this article for, doing everything from baking to boxing to GIY:

A need for me-time: Finding interests after babies

Her Family Andrea Mara





Click the button below to sign up to my Penguin newsletter.