I'm back! and happy to report that all went well.
I have to admit I was a little apprehensive about skiing en famille. I knew it wouldn't be the laid back, start-at-10am, pitstop-for-a-drink every-few-hours skiing holiday of our carefree pre-kids days. (A bit of background: The Doctor and I have been skiing together since he took me, then a terrified beginner, to the same resort we have just stayed at, in my early 20s. My father in law is fortunate enough to have an apartment there - hence, the indulgence of a two week ski trip).
More to the point, I was worried about how Littleboy 1 would get on with being packed off to ski school and Littleboy 2 in an unfamiliar creche. The last time I tried to leave them in an unfamiliar creche, at a gym, I was called by the tannoy after 10 minutes to come and get them, because of the screaming.
But, with great snow, two weeks of warm spring sunshine, a drop of military organisation each morning, and the addition of kindly relatives (with bonus of dogs) who acted as surrogate grandparents in a chalet just down the road, our two weeks in the mountains was pretty damn good.
So here is the Nappy Valley guide to skiing without tears (or without too many of them, at any rate).
1. To all the naysayers who thought we were mad to drive through the night: it was FINE. We didn't fall asleep at the wheel. The Littleboys slept, the Doctor and I swigged coffee from our Thermos at service stations and took it in turn to drive. We tried not to worry that our European headlight adjusters were wrong when all the lorries started flashing us on the autoroute. Instead, we listened to Coldplay and Pink Floyd as we ploughed down the middle of France. (Trust me, Dark Side of the Moon is a truly surreal experience at 5am when you are very, very tired). Then, I had the most amazing experience of driving over a mountain pass into the Alps at 6am, the trees heavy with snow and looking like Narnia, dawn just breaking in the sky, with everyone else sound asleep in the car but me. However exhausted I felt, it was worth it for that.
2. Perserverance is everything when it comes to little boys and ski school. Littleboy 1 took to skis straight away, but the idea of being packed off in a mini cable car each morning, alongside a crowd of howling French children, to follow a ski instructor in a giant chicken suit around a mini-slalom course did not, funnily enough, appeal at first.
Day 1 of Ecole de Ski Francais' 'Club Piou-Piou' (I only discovered at the end that Piou-Piou was the giant chicken) did not go well; Littleboy 1 returned with the wrong pair of skis (we never saw his original hire pair again - a great mystery) acompanied by the report that he had 'cried and slept' rather than joining in with the lesson. But The Doctor (a passionate skier) was having none of it - he determinedly dragged Littleboy 1 back to the nursery slopes and had him skiing the nursery slopes between his legs by the end of the day. But still he didn't want to go off to the lessons. Day 2 went slightly better, but Day 3 was the nadir - he spent the whole lesson in what we came to call the 'crying hut'. When I asked him what he had done he pouted and said: 'I cried for Mummy'. But Day 4 was the turning point. I like to think it was the little pep talk I gave him (' you don't need to cry for Mummy, it would be much more interesting to play in the lovely igloo and follow the giant chicken' etc etc, ) , but in the end it was probably just a matter of time.
Anyway, the reports back from 'Piou Piou' were positive. Thereafter, Littleboy 1 became a ski demon. First in the queue for the cable car; determined to carry his own skis; and most importantly, no more tears on leaving us. We kept a surreptitious eye on his progress - even creeping up to the nursery area to video him in secret. He had clearly soon mastered button lifts, casually taking hold of them in a far more relaxed fashion than his mother. Stopping, however, was not his forte. Not for him the snowplough turn. Instead he prefers to point his skis straight downhill, laughing like a drain as he shoots off into the distance. The Doctor is glowing with pride, convinced that he will be a great skier. I am just terrified.
3. History does not relate what Littleboy 2 got up to in the French creche, but he, too, seemed to have a Day 4 Damascene conversion. Having screamed when I left him on days 2 and 3, and then steadfastly slept throughout the morning session (depriving me of my reliance on his afternoon naptime for a bit of peace and quiet), on the fourth day he rallied. "Il a bien joue," they reported. After that he scarcely even bade me goodbye as he ran in at 9am clutching his teddy bear. (I could even see French mummies looking at me askance as they prised themselves from their sobbing offspring, muttering 'Calme-toi, Olivier'...)
4. A kir, or on colder days a vin chaud, at 11.15 am is a great and wondrous thing. It improves one's skiing remarkably when one has to be back at the other side of the valley to pick up one's offspring at 12. However, a large carafe of red wine drunk with your two brothers-in-law on a sunny terrace at lunchtime does not necessarily improve skiing in the same way....
5. Skiing is great for encouraging small boys to sleep well. The Littleboys slept soundly pretty well every night, Littleboy 1 often passing out as soon as his head hit the pillow. Morever, he stayed in bed all night. Sadly the effects did not last. First night back, and he was up at 5am, having wet the bed.
6. Getting two small children out of the flat, fully dressed for the snow, with accessories such as sunglasses, mittens and hats that they cannot pull off halfway down the road, is an undertaking of monumental proportions. Thanks must go to The Doctor and his cousin, therefore, for rigging up ingenious solutions with pieces of string. Even if it made our children look like the eccentric British kids in a town full of chic French. More importantly, Littleboy 2's wellies and socks combo (see previous post) was perfectly adequate. No need for the £40 ski boots I could not bring myself to buy.
7. Despite the fact that the euro now almost equals the pound, spending money in a different currency still has the feel of Monopoly notes, therefore allowing you to harbour illusions about the simply horrifying cost of the whole adventure.
8. Taking chairlifts on Friday 13th is perhaps not a good idea. We managed to have 'incidents' on two of them, including The Doctor managing to render the whole thing 'en pannne' for at least five minutes. (And that was after me managing to damage my ski on the first run of the day and have to return to the ski shop). But that was not to beat the moment, a few days later, when nine people tried to get on the eight person chairlift. For some reason two giggling German girls had gone through a gate designed for one person. Thank God The Doctor realised at the last minute and leapt out of the way.....
9. Stopping at a roadside Novotel is a great idea if you want children's meals and a nice family room. But don't count on a decent meal yourself - even if you think that being in France will make it OK. The worst food of the entire trip (and that includes the baguette, Marmite and butter lunch on the Eurotunnel home).
10. Not reading a single newspaper, website or blog for two weeks was amazingly refreshing. We all need a break now and then, particularly from blogging, and a recharge of the batteries was definitely required.
But I'll stop going on about skiing now, and go back to my real life. Which involves electricians, removal firms and the like. Oh, and blogging. There will definitely be more of that.