This piece was written in July 2020 for my MA portfolio for the University of Lincoln. It has been published on acajournalist.com in Janaury 2021 to allow time for it to be graded.
By columnist Ailsa Adams, mother to two boys with a baby girl on the way.
In a click of a button, the trip was booked. Instant fear kicked in as I started to doubt how sensible our decision was. Were we being completely selfish and irresponsible to try and leave the safety of our home during a global pandemic? At this very moment Wilf attempted a backflip off the sofa whilst shouting “cowabunga” so my husband and I nodded simultaneously in agreement that it was definitely needed for all of our sanity and perhaps ironically, safety in Wilf’s case.
For our first trip away we decided to test the water and book just one night at the theme park, Chessington World of Adventure, near London. Though it wasn’t my first choice, the children were desperate to return since their visit last year. As parents we were comforted by the fact there would be half the number of visitors allowed in the park, so it felt like it might be quite safe.
The alarm was set for 5.30am for the first time in months and the entire contents of the house was meticulously stacked in the boot of our estate car, reminiscent of a game of Tetris. Another seemingly necessary byproduct of parenting is that everything has to be hideously brightly coloured like the game itself, as the lime green suitcase balanced below the bright red pushchair. This time though instead of the passport, wallet, keys debate before we left, we had to check we all had masks packed.
How can we possibly need an entire boot full of stuff for one night at a theme park? It definitely wasn’t because of the pandemic as the masks took up no room. Perhaps it is a British thing or a worldwide phenomenon that parents excessively overpack to cover all eventualities. I think in our case, the entire theme park population under the age of five could simultaneously wet themselves and we had them covered with fresh clothes.
The pandemic was constantly at the forefront of our minds and as a testing station occupied half the hotel car park, it was impossible to forget anyway. As country bumpkins this was the first time we had seen a station and the boys were completely blown away that the “actual” military army were there conducting the testing. As opposed to a fake army? I am not entirely sure but the word “actual” has to be annunciated excitedly when you are five and two, apparently.
Our temperature was taken as we entered the park gates and a pang of fear washed over me. Children were running and giggling all around us with little care for social distancing. As much as it was a lovely site to see children carefree and happy, I was angry they kept getting so close to us and were not discouraged by their parents. Perhaps pregnancy hormones added to my irritability but nevertheless, the empty pram proved to be a vital lack of social distancing deterrent, as I swiped it exaggeratingly left to right.
As we approached the queue for the Gruffalo ride, the character famed from Julia Donaldson’s “The Gruffalo,” I was optimistic that finally the British queuing ability would pay off. We would adhere to the new coronavirus rules and meticulously wait spaced out at two metre intervals. After a few minutes, it was clear this would not be the case as rude “Karens” pushed by us, touching us as they went to meet their spouse holding their spot nearer the front of the queue. I instantly wanted a shower as I imagined the germs spreading up and down our arms. The pandemic was adding a new level of anxiety and being close to other humans really felt unnatural.
I felt sorry for the boys as they were told for the fifteenth time “don’t touch that.” Their crestfallen faces added to my guilt that their whole existence had to be altered this year, with the inevitable “why?” met with “because of coronavirus.” Followed by a sad voice that said: “Coronavirus ruins everything.” For the children it is a nuisance and inconvenience ruining their fun. I envied their innocence and lack of understanding of the gravity of such a global catastrophe with no clear end in sight.
Both children cried on the Gruffalo ride and never wanted to go on it ever again. So glad we had bothered to risk our lives for the experience.
The day progressed in a similar fashion as my anger level rose with each person who invaded our space. When a tiger walked by the viewing window in the zoo part of the park, it was apparently totally acceptable to forget about the pandemic for an Instagram selfie.
Finally check in time for the hotel arrived as we walked back to a chorus of moaning over who got to sit in the pushchair. I longed to have a narrow enough bottom to be a contender for the coveted prize as my whole-body ached. An occupational hazard of this being the third child in a body well trodden, sagging and protruding in ways no woman ever wishes to. At this moment in time our decision to leave the house seemed extremely stupid and I regretted it to the point I had to swallow back a lump in my throat, people were just not taking it seriously.
We all pulled ourselves together and checked into our Giraffe themed room which was magnificent, looking over the nature reserve with roaming cattle, zebras and ostriches. Naturally, the children were more interested in the seagull that landed on the windowsill, but at least we were in our own space and could sit down away from the crowds with a hot cup of tea. Even if it was in a disposable cup. Why would the pandemic mean crockery in our room was a no go? The sheets weren’t disposable, so I am not sure why we couldn’t have proper cups that were washed on our departure.
Dinner was as expected, a reduced, carb heavy menu because of coronavirus with tables slightly too close together for my liking. My husband ordered a large glass of red wine as I glared at him, green with envy as I ordered a large water.
The following day the park was even busier, so the children picked out a couple of rides each and we made our way back to the safety of our car before lunchtime. As we sat in the car, both of us sighed with relief that our time had come to an end at Chessington, wallets jingling less after the obligatory gift shop purchases to signify the end of the trip.
Having had a few weeks back at home, meticulously checking everyone temperature to make sure we remained coronavirus free, I have reflected on our trip more positively. It was really good to get the children out of the house and they thoroughly enjoyed their freedom. No one got poorly, so the measures in place hopefully were good enough to prevent spreading the virus. It was also lovely to watch the children enjoy themselves in a setting that was off limits for so many months. Really not much of our trip was too far different to previous visits either and the coronavirus was more of a constant nuisance in the background rather than ruining the trip entirely.
Whilst I won’t be in a rush to book another theme park, I am keen to get us away somewhere in the countryside in our touring caravan so we can have a change of scenery again.