So here we are again, looking across the yawning chasm that is the summer holidays or, as working parents like to think of it, the ‘what the fecking hell will we do with the kids?’ time of year again.
Each time it comes around, you are faced with the same falling off a cliff feeling. A routine that was just about holding together is now a distant memory, and you suddenly need to find some multiple of alternative scenarios that, if they were one of your kid’s science projects, would be held together with sticky tape and blue tack and probably not be earning an A+.
Already beleaguered Grandparents are called in, and any other family member who is able bodied and not crazy, as well as favours from friends, before you start panicking and wondering if that nice retired lady next door really needs all that time to herself and could possibly cover a few hours this Friday while you try and squeeze a 14-hour day into two nosebleed hours of intense catch up.
It should be a potentially joyous time of year, and if you can take a good chunk of time off work – teachers/politicians/lotto winners, you know who you are – then I’m sure the whole thing takes on another complexion. However, even if your earnings don’t require you to show up 365 days a year minus weekends, then you might too be wondering how the hell you keep everyone entertained, distracted and engaged in something other then screen time without killing each other and losing your own mind in the process.
Yes, there are summer camps if you can afford them, and potentially other band-aid options, but for many, these are out of financial reach. Also, if your kids are under five or six, their willingness to go and explore with a series of minders they’ve never met is next-to-none. Even as I write this, I am trying to cram an extra hour or two of work in after bedtime. Of course, bedtime is made all the more difficult by the fact that it’s summer and no-one wants to go to bed till 11 pm by which time your brain has capsized in a perfect storm of having listened to I’ve Got That Feeling 78 times while trying to create a bear cave out of your knackered sofa and a chewed up throw.
Most peoples’ houses and lives hang together with routine, and this is multiplied ten times over when you have kids – the younger they are, the greater the need. Everyone’s sanity revolves around a regular rhythm at least five days a week. Routine is the best counter-strop tactic available, and on those days when the family collective is having a hard time, reaching that bathtime point seems to suddenly return some kind of sanity – everyone knows where they should be, most of the conflict points of feeding/dressing/feeding/teeth brushing are at an end, and there is hopefully some serenity in sight.
One of the worst things you can do is to take that away from a parent for a protracted period of time and the fact is, losing that groove is pretty tough on all parties. The concept of time is something totally absent from younger kids, trying to explain that this is temporary, that you may be with your granny tomorrow, your dad the day after, a minder the next, is a big ask. Also, if your parenting style involves “going with the flow”, AKA not actually planning anything at all (dads – you know who you are) then the potential for serious carnage is all too great.
Is it any surprise then that we are thrown into a kind of face draining panic that might make you want to gnaw your own flesh and temporarily abdicate from your life? Trying to please all parties in your family at this time is just not realistic. Not to mentions the challenge that is our climate, when summer masquerades as every other season other than an actual summer. As July rain lashes on the windows, you wonder just what is the PG limit for reruns of Despicable Me fueled by jelly tots and pasta.
And nobody warns you. Before you enter this time, as you are in your blissful, albeit extremely impoverished early days of full-time creche oblivion, holidays are taken ad hoc, at will. You are completely unprepared for the enforced summer routine, and the fact that every parent in the Western hemisphere is held to ransom for those same six to eight weeks of the year. Airplane tickets soar to unattainable levels, and previously affordable ‘shabby chic’ Air B&B’s go to five-star prices and wall-to-wall bookings. Yes, I have discovered the peril of not booking a year in advance. You are suckered if you leave it too late.
So it’s time to start advocating for a parental summer recess, and if non-parents want to get on board too then I’m all for it. We can house it under an EU directive of some kind, let’s twin with France and shut down for August! This should be extended to both office and home spaces. Laundry needs to be postponed. Normal levels of housework banished to another era/time of year when things were sane. In some sort of emergency legislation, ice cream needs to be recognised as one of your five a day, as well as Capri-Suns, Liga and Tuc biscuits. Recommended TV quotas will be extended to whatever it takes to get you through the day, and night.
The fact that pretty much everyone is supposed to trundle on, while your whole support network is totally pulled from under you is a kind of madness. In order to make it till the end of the summer with all your relationships still intact, parents need a little more leeway. Everyone can, and will, survive it, and despite even the darkest of moments – supermarket meltdowns, car traumas, sugar highs and lows – it is worth trying to hold in your mind that the memories of this time will eventually become washed with a kind of Instagram filter that coders could only dream about, where everything is wrapped in sepia, you were always at the beach, listening to that summer hit in the car and it was fresh strawberries for breakfast, lunch and tea.