The school holiday space and time conundrum

I have a real love hate relationship with the summer holidays. In fact, I find that school holidays, and in particular, the six week summer break, are one of the most mind-bending, reality-twisting occurrences that I have dealt with as a parent.

At the end of the summer term I long for them. Days without the strict routine and pressures of the school run, the time to spend with my children without having to tick off homework, washing school uniform and attending the numerous events and clubs.

I can't wait for the holidays to begin.
But then they're here and it doesn't take long before I find myself wishing for the school term to start again.

Maybe it is just the usual cliche of the grass always being greener on the other side, maybe I can just never be happy unless I have something to complain about but really, I prefer to think that there is some strange, other-worldly, paradox about the school holidays. Almost like a wormhole or time-loop that suspends the normal rules of, not just routine, but time and space itself.


Wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey stuff

Take, for example, the perception of time during those long summer days. The first week passes quickly, luring you into a false sense of security that this is going to be the Best Summer Ever.

But by week two the days are dragging. It doesn't matter what you do, whether you get up and jump into the day feet first or take your time lounging in your pyjamas and enjoying the absence of a school run; by 9:30 you'll be checking your watch and thinking it is time for lunch only to realise that time seems to have stopped. The seconds ticking by ever so slowly as you frantically think up another activity to fill the time before the cherub's next need feeding.

And yet, the holidays as a whole seem to fly by. Blending into one big ball of wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey stuff. Park and library visits, play dates, baking and crafts, days out and endless provision of snacks.

Because that is the next mind boggling mystery of the summer holidays - where do my children put all the food they eat?!


But what about Second Breakfast?

They are constantly hungry. Eating like Hobbits for the entire break. Breakfast, Second Breakfast, Elevenses, Luncheon, Afternoon Tea, Dinner, Supper... During play dates I feel like I'm feeding the whole guest list of the Long Expected Party and my food bill has risen by a third (not including any wine, I hasten to add).

I don't know what to do. I try telling them that it isn't hunger but boredom and attempt to direct their attention elsewhere but the requests for sustenance are never-ending and maddeningly repetitive.


The Time Turner

Then, there is what I like to call the 'Time Turner Effect' because I swear one of my kids is using the device to replay the same day over and over again.  Throughout the holidays I put a lot of time and thought into planning different activities for us to do, to build memories as a family, keep the children's minds active and ticking over. We've learnt about the Ancient Greeks, built a toddler-sized Egyptian sarcophagus, baked cakes, made mosaic tiles, gone blackberry picking, explored the woods...

But in between those days I feel like I'm living the same one over and over, like the same episodes of Disney Channel programmes that the kids insist on watching during those days.

I get up, full of promise and motivation. I tell them the plan, a day at home, we're going to play, do a few chores, do something together and then snuggle for a film with popcorn and treats. That sounds like a good plan right?

It was a good plan. The first time. Now I'm watching Cars for the third time and I want to gouge my eyes out with a spoon and I can't even sit and scroll through Facebook or Twitter on my phone because I have promised myself that I will be 'present' with the kids, sharing this experience together.




Orcs

I'm going to say it. Usually my kids are pretty good. Of course, they're children and they have tantrums and attitude, but I'm proud to say that on the whole I love watching them play together. They're great siblings and I rarely have any complaints.

And then along comes the summer holidays. Now, my children are more like Uruk-hai, arguing because one of them is looking at the other one 'funny', bickering over what snacks they want to eat, play fighting with the swords I foolishly purchased on holiday (it seemed like a lovely idea at the time).

One minute they're laughing, reading and playing and the next they're tearing through my home like a hoard of the Goblin King's finest henchmen, destroying all in their path, stampeding over others and kidnapping babies (maybe not the last, but you get the idea).

As the weeks go on I fear they are listening to me less and less, that the sound of my voice is passing over their heads as the plot and scheme further ways to up Mummy's alcohol consumption.


Obliviate!

Despite all my moaning, I keep plodding on. I try to keep my spirits up in the same way that Samwise Gamgee deals with Gollum, daydreaming of chips and telling myself of happier days in the Shire. I like the snuggles, my kids faces smeared with blackberry juice and showing off their creations. Those are the things that I want to look back on in years to come, when the kids don't want to hang out with me during their holidays. They're only little for a short while.

I tell myself that they will treasure these memories...

Until that all comes crashing down. Less than a couple of hours after doing something 'fun' we'll be speaking to Nana or to Daddy and the question comes:

"What have you guys been up to today?"

And the responses nearly make me weep.

"Nothing"

"I can't remember"

What foul sorcery is this? Have they actually forgotten the trips out, the lunches at the cafe, the giggles we had skipping along the pavement and the fascination we had learning something new?

What is the point of doing any of this stuff, putting myself through any of this, if my children aren't going to remember or appreciate any of it?


"You are protected, in short, by your ability to love!"
It's a frustrating, exhausting struggle at the end of the day. My patience by this point is in tatters and my head is usually pounding. It's at this point that I want to call my husband's boss and curse him with a thousand boils on his bottom for making Matt late back.

Routine returns momentarily as the kids brush their teeth and we get ready for bed, ready the chapter book that is nearly finished and have a cuddle and kiss goodnight. I collapse on the sofa in a heap to continue binge-watching Chicago Fire and scroll mindlessly through social media, wishing that my summer days were as wonderful as everyone else's seems to be.

Then, it's time for bed and as always, I stop by in the kids room. They look so cute, so wonderful when they're asleep and my heart feels like it will burst with the overwhelming love I have for them. I smile as I remember the funny things they've said that day, or how kind they were to each other, how they held hands on the sofa when a scary bit happened in the film...

And I realise that the biggest mystery of the summer holidays is how loving these crazy little Orcs makes it all worthwhile, and that once the new term starts, I'm going to miss these days.


Until half term when the time-warp begins once again.

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