The end of the summer holidays only means one thing to families like mine: the end of the shared spreadsheet.
Our colour-coded Google Sheets document, titled “Summer Holidays 2021” has been keeping us grown-ups afloat over the past, long six weeks. Different cells demarcating which parent is working when; who has holiday/has agreed foolishly to go camping/to the Isle of Wight; and which set of grandparents have been kindly coerced into rolling up their sleeves and worshipping at the dirty, mud-covered altar of their grandchildren.
While writing this piece (it’s not yet 8am), I calculate I have approximately 17 minutes left before my children arrive back from their father’s, at which point I’ll be on breakfast and lunch-making duty, before driving them to the home of a friend and fellow parent who may in fact be an angel in human form, due to the fact that she’s agreed to look after both of my children (along with her own) on the dying days of the last week of summer. She even took them all (plus two others – yes, that’s six children under 10) on the bus to a trampoline park yesterday, and should henceforth be knighted.
Because that’s the other thing about summer holidays: you can really only make it work if you make friends with other parents. How else to plug the gaps left void by pricey summer camps and the cost of childcare; or to help those who don’t have family support nearby – if at all? One friend hasn’t seen her parents in years because they’re in New Zealand and subject to strict Covid controls – how could she possibly work (or even survive) the long break if she didn’t agree to swap a red day for a yellow, then earn it back four weeks later?
It’s impossible, that’s what it is – for working parents, yes, but in fact for all parents and carers who just need a moment to breathe and to not have to hear squabbles over who got to choose what to watch on TV yesterday morning, so it’s only fair that the other gets to choose today, and if you don’t stop whacking me with the remote control I’ll tell on you.
I love my kids more than anything else in the world, but I also really, really, really need a break from them. And I cannot wait – I’ll literally be there at the window, beaming, waving them off to school. I mean it.
We’ve had a brilliant, stressful, chaotic, cold summer together: we’ve been camping and to the Isle of Wight (I was that foolish parent); we’ve been to farms and celebrated birthdays and had sleepovers and stayed up far too late because bedtimes were moot; we’ve had film nights and been to weddings and driven to see distant relatives and reconnected with old friends and been on day trips, playing tourists in London; we’ve been swimming and to the cinema and the park and ridden our bikes to the local lake and eaten approximately 537 ice creams, and we’re all exhausted. I’m exhausted. And broke.
I can’t wait for my children to go back to school so I can start saving some money again, get a sense of routine back, work properly without keeping half an ear out for Terrible Unknown Incidents that may be occurring while I’m upstairs at my desk and – vitally – so that I can miss my kids.
When you’re around each other every single day for six long weeks (let’s not even start reminiscing about lockdown), you crave quiet, peaceful times, you need moments away to yourself to be able to remember who you are; to remind yourself that you’re not just someone’s mummy or daddy, or snack-provider, or taxi service, or funder of sweets – and sometimes it takes the hectic tsunami of chaos that is the kids going back to school to remember that.
As for me, my 17 minutes of peace have passed and I’m now simultaneously writing this, helping organise Pokemon cards into a collectors’ annual, making porridge “with a little sprinkle of cinnamon please, Mummy” and answering questions about ladybirds – and the moon.
Go back to school, please! But who am I kidding – I’ll probably miss them... at least until the fun begins again, with the return of the “October Half Term 2021” spreadsheet.