“You know, Mummy,” says six-year-old James as I tuck him in, “the reason I love holidays is because we’re all together.”
“That’s lovely!” I smile, dropping a kiss on his forehead. His heart-warming wisdom stops me in my tracks and adjusts my priorities. But it also makes me feel slightly guilty. As I turn out the light, I reflect that James doesn’t know the half of it. How could he?
Surviving the Summer Holidays (unscathed) is undoubtedly one of life’s greatest challenges for womankind. A logistical exercise of epic proportions, it demands monumental reserves of diplomacy, strategic ability, tact, management skill and good old-fashioned stamina. Not to mention the frantic juggling of annual leave, the calling-in of favours, outside help and the goodwill of bemused grandparents.
It’s downright exhausting. So much so, it’s easy to forget what breaking up feels like to a child. Do you remember? That dreamy, utterly delicious realisation that six weeks of (hopefully) wall-to-wall sunshine are stretching ahead, with nothing to do but eat as many ice-creams as possible and have a great time. You’re blissfully unaware of the administrative payload on the poor parent who’s masterminding all this leisure for you.
Of course, the way you tackle the summer hols depends on your family circumstances, personality, kids and your own take on childrearing. Elaine, for instance, can’t wait for school to end, so she can climb trees, eat candyfloss, cycle off for picnics, build sandcastles and generally share messy, adventurous Enid Blyton-ish fun with her offspring.
For other parents, though, vacation logistics can be nightmarishly challenging and the role of 24/7 Entertainments Officer one that doesn’t come naturally.
And of course, kids are all different, too. Karen works from home effortlessly during the summer break, largely because her two dainty daughters would happily stay indoors permanently with Barbie, Barbie’s mansion, yacht, private jet, jacuzzi convertible and jaw-dropping wardrobe. (Mind you, if you had a lifestyle like Barbie’s, you might not feel the need to go out much, either.)
However, were I to try this, civilisation as we know it would probably collapse. For my three under-sevens, staying in is not an option. Every day – come rain, come shine, come blizzard – my sons need to burn off their energy by charging around a field for a few hours. They just do.
Hence my growing preoccupation with the weather as I limber up – physically and metaphorically – for the impending maternal marathon. The forecast assumes cliff-hanger-like proportions during July. I scrutinise the swirly bits sweeping across the Atlantic, wonder what the long words mean and ponder the implications for anything remotely outdoorsy. An anti-cyclone, I discover, equals good news; a depression … depression.
And there are vital decisions to be made, like whether to get out the paddling-pool now, even though it’s raining, in case there’s a drought later. Which of course has to be balanced against a rough estimate of how long it’s likely to take the water to turn interestingly slimy.
But James is quite right; the chief delight of the school holidays is the chance to spend time together as a family. And I love it. In a few years the boys will have far better things to do than spend time with Mum, so I resolve to do my utmost not to forget this in the midst of all the planning and organising and multitasking. I want to make the most of it now, while it lasts, as far as I possibly can.
Anyway, it’s the perfect chance to relive your own childhood. If you can’t beat ’em – join ’em. Anyone for a cornet?