As I step foot into the pool area of Center Parcs, I am struck by how much I stick out from the crowd; in a sea of manicured wives wearing flattering two-pieces, here I am as the unglamorous single mother in my 9-year-old-does-swimming-gala swimsuit (which flattens what’s left of my chest) and goggles, with fungal toenails and body hair which I could plait.
The fact that I am trying to hide my bikini line by adopting the pose of a footballer facing a short-range free-kick, is spared by the ring-marks from my goggles – which are now taking away the attention: I look like someone has drawn red glasses on me whilst I’m asleep. And if it’s possible to be any less glamorous, I hurl myself down the water slides, go head first round the rapids and come up spluttering after my attempt at diving into a jet of water.
Despite the pool being fun, it’s a test for the old self-esteem, and so we move onto cycling. Hills, a 5 year old on the back and sparse bike-riding over the last 20 years led to the inevitable: saddle sore which makes me feel, and walk, like I’ve just had sex with a horse. I don’t cycle again for the next two days.
The place is great. It has a reputation of being expensive but it’s not – the swimming is free and there’s so much to explore outside of the activities – which is where your purse gets a bashing. So we do nature walks, get hours of fun out of a bubble wand and play hide and seek in the apartment. Hide and seek proves interesting in a studio apartment, but I will not be defeated here. Having ticked off the usual under-duvet and behind-the-curtain options, I up my game. I remove the contents from the largest kitchen cupboard, breathe in and wedge myself in place. This is tough – I have instant raging sciatica, (from my knees being by my ears), I can hardly breathe, and the ‘gas isolation lever’ is digging into my back to the point that I fear blood will soon make an appearance. But my efforts pay off – my son cannot find me, and I am rendered a hero when I eventually resort to barking noises and he follows my woofs and then helps pull me out to safety.
A meal out is not off the cards. Whilst there was a time I’d line up three courses and two big glasses of wine, we now share an adult Bolognese and a jug of water. £11 – including a 15% tip!! And we’re made just as welcome as everyone else.
I may not be able to venture into the spa, but watching my little boy spend ages pouring a watering can over bubble jets in the kids’ pool is just as relaxing. I see things I wouldn’t have appreciated in the days I had a career.
Finally, the kids’ disco. I have never heard a Rick Astley vs Chumbawamba remix, or a trance version of ‘Let It Go’ but luckily there was a bar to help ease my pain. The best pint I’ve had in ages – thanks to the local ale on tap. And the DJ was not only very amenable to requests but he sourced out some unknown Pharrell for my boy and we had a jolly good time bobbing away together.
So I may not have the job I used to, but with Christmas and birthday money and the saving of about £3 a week, and I’ve figured there’s our annual holiday sorted. The time together in the setting was priceless.
On the final day, I donned my swimming costume, pressed my goggles into my face and walked out onto the poolside for the last time. And there she was: another mum, with the same swimsuit and goggles in-situ. I check her toenails – they are battered. I resist checking out her bikini line. I want to hug her – she’s up there with everything else that made this is a feel-good week.