Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Summer holidays - the hamster wheel

The hamster on the wheel - Summer holidays always have that effect– great fun, but absolutely knackering.  And when you get through them you don’t know which direction to walk (in the case of Mums with school age kids, it is generally en masse, in the direction of Costa).  And everyone says abstractedly as they clutch on to real life once more ‘Did you have a good Summer?’ and you reply, equally distracted as you watch the rearguard disappearing in a rapidly forming cloud of dust over to the coffee shop ‘It was brilliant thanks, yours?’ hoping that they don’t regale you with stories of how C  accomplished his gold badge at waterskiing and E ate a whole lobster and the most excitement you had was that the fish shop forgot to charge you for a large chips…

Before we started school in the UK - life was one long summer

It’s a bit weird, the whole idea of a Summer holiday.  As a child I loved it, but I am sure that my mother dreaded it.   My sister and I went to boarding school as my parents were based in Kenya, and so it was a double whammy.  My parents both worked, and my mother was a teacher.  From living a life as a working couple during term time, once her holidays hit, we descended, and it was a shock to the system for all of us.  Not only were we continually reacquainting ourselves with one another -often my parents didn’t recognize me because I had changed my hair colour, or grown, or was wearing the latest UK fashions never to be seen in Kenya (or probably in reality, the UK, I did tend to mess around with outfits a bit) – but there was an intensity in being thrown together for that 8 weeks that meant that tempers frayed, doors slammed and voices raised.  And that wasn’t Mum, that was us.   She on the other hand attempted to start where we had left off the last time, and that too didn’t work.  Every three months away we had grown a little, understood more of a world which was frankly becoming a little alien to her, and already we had tendrils, if not roots, in another place.  She met my friends sporadically, even though they were fixtures in my life since I was 11. We had a home world and a school world.
Me as a teenager at home in Kenya

This is not so unusual – even as adults most of us have a work world and a home world.  We have different personas for each.  G comes home from overseeing his little empire and immediately gets jumped on by the dog, who waits Cato style, just out of sight and ready to tackle.  This captain of industry is then tasked by his harassed wife (who is stirring some odd smelling stuff cooking in a pot whilst dictating into her phone a piece due in in the morning) to take the washing out of the machine and stick it in the drier.  No one who saw him in the management meeting in the morning would recognize this creature, bedecked in laundry and dog hair.

But I digress… back to Summer holidays.  Yes we all love them.  Yes it gives us all the chance to get off the carousel that is the school runs, school clubs, work and life.  But we then jump on to the hamster wheel and career off in another direction, fitting in fun, fun, fun with maniacal smiles as we race our kids from one activity to the other, lest when they get back to school and are asked that fated question ‘How was your Summer?’ they answer with the dreaded ‘Boring’.

And so we throw in a few downtime days, in which as a mother of teenagers you work from home and watch them watching others play games on electronic screens. Or you may inherit a few other kids on downtime and you can watch them watching others play games on electronic screens.  So then you get up, and take them out, or make them go out, and it all starts again, and the downtime day becomes costly, time consuming , constant food providing and a little fractious for all concerned.

I am of course exaggerating with the will of a mum who has a couple of weeks to go before life’s carousel starts again. I’ve run out of ideas and things to cook. This holiday courtesy of my kids I have cleaned up sick and shit and visited three hospitals.  And I haven’t escaped - at the moment I am sporting a rather attractive itchy viral rash that not only makes me look, but feel grumpy.

But despite all this we have had a great summer holiday!  We’ve consolidated old friendships and made new ones. We’ve had experiences of a lifetime waterskiing  in Majorca(no gold medals, just getting up was an achievement), canyoning in Wales, climbing in Reading, and adventures on a boat.  We’ve seen opportunities and grabbed them, and we’ve allowed ourselves to grow as a family with shared laughs and memories.  And I have no doubt that none of these will feature when my kids are asked ‘How was your Summer?’  And I don’t care.  Because the most important thing is that we were together, and they saw dad covered in laundry and dog hair, and mummy making a chocolate cake without chocolate because Eldest Son had eaten it, and they will remember it.

And to illuminate this point I asked Little Man what his favourite bit about the summer had been – was it Majorca, Wales, the day out at HMS Victory? He thought.  

‘I liked going shopping with my friend Erin’ he said finally.

Right… where’s Costa?!