The expectation: Ah, isn’t this lovely? You’ve waited so long for these holidays: no school run, no getting out of bed early, no yelling ‘teeth! Shoes! WHY DOES NO ONE ELSE CARE THAT WE’RE SO LATE ALREADY?’ into an empty space while the children, singularly unmoved, continue to build Lego mini figures or take everything out of their painstakingly packed school bags and lunch boxes. Instead, you’ll be lying in bed reading your book/ sleeping/ wasting time on Facebook until 9am while the kids catch up on all those lie ins they’ve missed during the school year. Or, alternatively, play together nicely downstairs. Out of earshot.
The reality: One of them (always only one; the other continues to sleep, just to give you a tortured glimpse of how it could have been) gets up at 6am, excited about a day of Lego building/ drawing/ colouring/ whatever the hell it is they do with their time. They want breakfast. They want a drink. They want company. They, reluctantly, disappear downstairs when you beg them just for five more minutes. You spend the five minutes reassuring yourself that they’ll become immersed in something and your five minutes will become a nice peaceful hour. You plan how you’ll go back to sleep. You think about the book you might read. No child can resist the lure of uninterrupted time with toys they don’t have to share. You wait.
After five minutes, they appear again. This time they’re louder, and you leap from the bed like a ninja, whisper-screaming that if they wake their sister, there’ll be hell to pay. Because the only thing worse than one child being awake before 7am is two children being awake before 7am. That never ends well.
The expectation: They’re spending six weeks together; they’ll take advantage of this and become friends, real friends! They’ll live in some kind of alternative fantasy universe together, being dragons or horses or characters from Beast Quest in that terribly charming way they did when they were younger and which I JUST DIDN’T APPRECIATE ENOUGH. (I was told repeatedly that everything’s a phase, and it was my mantra when they were babies, but foolishly I thought that was just the bad bits. It turns out, no) The mental, frankly ridiculous notion of having children 12 months and 5 days apart will pay off! They’ll be the best of friends and will bother me for nothing. While they play, Little-House-on-the-Prairie-like, in the sunshiney back garden, I’ll get to the bottom of the laundry basket. (This is the zenith of holiday accomplishments as far as I’m concerned; I got 85% of the way there once)
The reality: They fight. A lot. He focuses on Machiavellian tactics which (bloody naturally) wound her to the heart, and which she won’t shut up wailing about. To be frank, I find the crying about how he’s told her he doesn’t want her to be his sister any more even more irritating than the act itself. I have to stop myself telling her that I might feel the same in his position and she just needs to stop making such a fuss over something he is doing solely and precisely to provoke this sort of reaction. The phrase ‘stop making such a fuss’ is repeated so often I bore even myself, along with ‘I’m not listening. If you are being horrible to each other, I’M NOT LISTENING.’ My whole street has heard me yelling of a morning. I am SO OVER arguments about who last went in the front seat of the car. As they climb into the car, one victorious, one sobbing over the unfairness of life, I repeat empty threats at top volume about how we’ll just stay in all the time if they carry on like this. Such threats are met with a distinct lack of botheredness, probably because they’d rather stay in and build Lego than go to their swimming lesson anyway.
The expectation: You buy those nice shiney maths workbooks with all the gold stars, because there’s nothing you loved more when you were a child than a bit of holiday homework. (I was a geek. I’m still a geek. You know those types who thought the teacher’s threat of reading silently for a whole lesson actually sounded like the best lesson there ever was? That was me.) And you buy journals, because every child loves writing about their holidays, right? You anticipate a nice hour at the kitchen table of a morning, doing a few sums, dishing out a few gold stars, helping compose sentences with nice descriptive words about swimming and beaches and parks with your sunny, enthusiastic children.
The reality: The workbooks are used precisely once by one child, who then looks at you like you’ve grown a second head when you suggest it again. What, do maths when he could be wandering the house looking for his dad’s secret stash of Pokemon cards, and then’ borrowing’ a few which he will then use to defeat him soundly later? His workbook moulders in a corner for the entire summer. The other child loves a workbook and grows a bit obsessed with getting stars. This means you spend so much of your time being talked through sums and arguing about the best ways to work out fractions (nothing is done the way we did it at school – nothing, I tell you) and handing out gold stars that you start to think about burning the bloody book. Primary school teachers need a medal, I tell you. A medal for every day they spend in that classroom.
As for the journal – well. It starts beautifully. Well, it does for child 2; child 1’s remains resolutely blank – there’s too much Pokemon-pilfering to do. She writes in it every day, her handwriting is beautiful, she draws a lovely picture to go with it. I mean, you wouldn’t want to read it, full as it is of dreary, exhaustive details about swimming and tree climbing and playing with friends, but it’s still an aesthetic delight. By week 2, she’s throwing down the odd observation about the camping trip you went on in the rain to give them lasting memories, which mostly is about how she was sick in the car on the way there, in handwriting that the dog could have produced. The journal languishes in the same place as the other child’s maths workbook. You decide the summer dip, which you curse so much in your own students, can be the teacher’s problem, and reassure yourself (while drinking wine) that you’ve done your best. Child 2 is still colouring in maths worksheets, after all. That will probably make it to week 3.
The expectation: you’re full of plans about how you’ll spend all this time you have over the summer clearing out the house! You’ll reorganise the playroom! You’ll throw out roomfuls of plastic tat/ old clothes/ oxtonauts that the kids haven’t looked at in four years but clutch to their chests with fear filled eyes when you suggest a charity shop! This will be the best the house has ever looked!
The reality: it takes all your time to keep the house looking vaguely as if it’s ever seen a vacuum cleaner. The kids leave a trail of destruction everywhere they go. For the first week you attempt to enforce some kind of chores rota, remembering all that stuff you’ve read about responsibility and building self esteem; by the second you’ve lost the will to live watching them forage through piles of Lego and delighting in finding bits they thought they’d lost INSTEAD OF JUST PUTTING IT BACK IN ITS BOX. You spend so much time tidying up that you start to wonder how you usually fit work in. In fact, you’re not sure how you fit anything in at all. Just the sweeping, the endless bloody sweeping, and the laundry basket.
Happy summer holidays to all my lovely readers. I hope your realities, like mine, include not only that listed above but also all those myriad tiny moments of real joy and wonder that encapsulate motherhood so well, and which are present in each and every day.
And lots of wine.