Can parents still be spontaneous? Maybe

Ellen's children on a surprise visit to their grandma and her husband

Ellen's children on a surprise visit to their grandma and her husband - Credit: Archant

Ellen Widdup’s escape to the country

When you have children, running a household becomes a military operation. It requires lots of lists. Everything has set times, slots of activity, a smooth routine which can crumble around your ears if you are running even 10 minutes late. Forward planning is everything.

I did not used to be like this. I was once a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants kind of girl. It was something I had in common with my husband. We both liked to live for the moment and we rarely thought of the consequences.

There are many reasons why this kind of attitude doesn’t work when two becomes three, and then four. After all, when you have little people depending on you, you can’t just decide to stay out at an all-night party, spend all your money on something frivolous or go on a trip on a whim.

And the latter was something we used to do an awful lot. We took meandering car journeys to the seaside in summer and slept on the beach, we hopped on trains to explore places with names we liked the sound of and got super cheap, last-minute flights to Paris and Rome. Of course, back then we had more disposable income. Our salaries were a lot smaller but without the kids, they seemed to go a great deal further.

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We were never really bothered about our accommodation either, happy to rough it in seedy guesthouses, slummy B&Bs, sleep on friend’s floors and even use our leaky old tent.

It’s been seven years since we last went on such an adventure – the year before our daughter was born. We decided to drive to Wales - after donning a blindfold and throwing a dart at a map of England.

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It was April and although not cold, it rained steadily as we made our way across the country. We were not overly concerned. We had our sights set on cosy pubs and nice hotels with a full English for breakfast.

It was late afternoon as we made our way over the Derbyshire Dales, congratulating ourselves on our choice of scenic detour.

And then everything went wrong.

Our rusty old Fiat went over a pothole, cracking the exhaust pipe and causing a great clang and a splutter of smoke. The car then juddered to a halt and in his panic to restart it, my husband slammed it into reverse and jammed the broken exhaust pipe up into the engine. There we were, stuck. In a very picturesque setting - miles from anywhere.

Neither of us had any phone reception and there was not a house, or indeed another car, in sight.

At first we laughed. It was all part of the adventure after all. And then the weight of our predicament dawned on us.

We ended up spending the night in the car.

Later, when I regaled my friends with the tale, I made it sound romantic. Stuck, miles from anywhere, just the two of us. But it wasn’t. Not in the slightest. We had no blankets, nothing to eat or drink and only my husband’s collection of Smiths CDs to listen to - which we did, until the car battery died too, and with it, the heating. Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now takes on a whole new meaning when your toes have gone blue, your tummy is rumbling and you are sat in the pitch black in the middle of nowhere.

The next day we trekked two and a half miles to the nearest phone box, where, shamefaced my husband joined the AA. We decided that in future if we wanted to go on any more jolly jaunts we should make a list, pack appropriately and plan ahead. And we have stuck to that… until last weekend.

We woke late on Saturday morning without any pre-arranged engagements. Couples without kids might have thought the prospect of two long, leisurely days of nothingness would be sheer bliss. But those with children find such an idea is really quite horrific, especially when the weather is cold, wet and windy.

My husband and I sat in bed, wondering how we were going to go about amusing our two.

“Cinema?” I suggested.

“Urgh,” replied my husband. “Sit through two hours of Disney drivel? No thanks.”

“A dog walk?”

We both looked out the window at the rain and shuddered.

“Let’s ask the kids what they would like to do,” I suggested. He shrugged.

My daughter thought about it for a moment.

“You mean I can choose?” she asked suspiciously. “I’d like to see my grandma,” she said resolutely. Grandma lives in Yorkshire. A good 250 miles away.

I looked at my husband and raised an eyebrow.

“Ok,” he said. “Let’s go.”

Fifteen minutes later we were all in the car.

“Does grandma know we are coming?” asked my son.

“Nope,” grinned my husband. “But don’t worry. We can always sleep in the car if she isn’t in.”

Needless to say both grandma and her husband were home and thrilled to see us. We spent the night and the children loved every minute.

“Did you have fun?” I asked the kids as we piled into the car to go home.

“Yes,” said my daughter. “I like it when you are spontaneous. Can we suggest what to do next weekend?”

“Ok,” I replied, caught up in the excitement of our impulsiveness.

“We want to go to Disneyland,” they replied in unison.

Please email me at or find me on Twitter @EllenWiddup

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