I am sitting on the freezer in the garage, eating Ben & Jerry’s straight from the tub. Week Four into the summer holidays and desperate measures are called for to save the few remaining shreds of my sanity. I have a maximum of five minutes before my idyll will be ruptured by shouts of “Mummy, mummy, MUMMY!” or the screams that herald one son thumping the other, so I spoon the ice cream into my mouth as fast as I can. I need the energy to get me through the next few hours until bedtime and I have already eaten every morsel of chocolate in the house, even the 80% cocoa solids one that I don’t like.
You see, I am not a mother who embraces the holidays with open arms. Since my Facebook newsfeed is full of the unparalleled fun other parents are (apparently) having with their offspring, I am forced to conclude that either I am an intolerant mother or they are exaggerating to impress their virtual compatriots. I, for one, slightly dread the endless progression of days to be filled, sibling fights to be refereed and activities to be dreamed up that invariably take more time to tidy afterwards than they actually keep the boys entertained for in the first place. This on top of the usual daily round of washing, cooking, (occasional) cleaning and generally trying to run my household. Having chosen to put my career on hold when the Heir was born five and a half years ago, and with a husband who works very long hours, I can honestly say that extra time spent with my children is not always a luxury.
Of course it isn’t all bad: I appreciate that I am lucky to be able to spend so much time with the boys, and that O would relish the chance to swap the two and a half hours a day he currently spends commuting for time spent with his family. It is just that eight weeks is an awfully long time to fill continuously with exciting entertainment. I do as much as I can to prepare in advance of the holiday: throughout June and early July I stockpiled various weapons in my armoury, filling up the arts and craft box, replacing long-dead batteries and amassing previously-unwatched Disney films. Best of all, I discovered that Nectar points can be converted to Ebay vouchers, which I used to purchase a vast bundle of used Lego. The look of incredulous delight on the faces of the Heir and Spare entirely justified the fortune I must have spent in Sainsbury over the past decade to have accumulated so much credit.
We started well, with a packed calendar and myriad activities. I try to avoid the big commercial favourites because they are so unbearably crowded (during a wallet-busting trip to Legoland last summer we spent so long standing in queues that we managed to go on a grand total of seven rides all day). However, the lovely weather opened up endless possibilities of picnics, playdates, nature walks (later using our finds to create “artwork” for the kitchen wall), den-building, and generally having fun outside. When the sun was simply too hot, I dredged though websites, books and magazines for indoor entertainment ideas and we have had great fun experimenting with new things. Any spare minutes were spent happily sorting and playing with the new Lego.
A trip to the beach when last we visited Granny and Grandad yielded a motley collection of stones, and in a flash of inspiration we decided to paint them. This proved a big hit and the kitchen is now home to a herd of brightly coloured stone creatures. Admittedly it wasn’t a hundred per cent success: the Spare painted more of his own hands and the table cloth than his stones; everyone entering the kitchen for the next three days ended up with glitter adhered to some part of their person; and I stuck my thumb and forefinger together when I resorted to superglue after PrittStick failed to stick pipe cleaner “legs” to stone “beetles”. But these were a small price to pay for keeping both boys entertained for the best part of an hour – something of a record for the Spare.
However, despite best intentions, my early holiday enthusiasm has diminished with the slow passing of time, and our busy schedule has tailed off into perhaps one structured daily activity. I spend the rest of the time bribing the boys to help clean out the chickens with the promise of a trip to the toyshop, bribing them to be nice to each other with the promise of a trip to the toyshop and turning a blind eye to them causing havoc creating obstacle courses across half the house (which I later bribe them to tidy up with the promise of a trip to the toyshop…)
Best of friends when they see each other only outside school/nursery hours, the Heir and Spare are currently at an age where too much time in each other’s company invariably results in wars of word and fist (I have it on good authority they should grow out of this by the time they reach their early thirties). It can be hard to gear activities to a level that suits both of them. The Heir will spend ages colouring, creating Hamabead dinosaurs or even (occasionally) practising his letters, but the Spare’s tolerance for any activity involving sitting still times out after approximately thirty seconds. He gets bored, and finds distraction in the destruction of his brother’s creations. On these occasions, when the Heir resorts to violence, I can’t blame him.
Once I realised that we would all benefit from a little time apart, I began to investigate options for outsourcing. A little bit of research revealed any number of holiday clubs and courses to suit most interests and pockets. I enrolled both boys into a week-long course of swimming lessons, happily envisioning a daily half-hour spent sipping Earl Grey and surreptitiously reading a magazine whilst pretending to admire their progress. Alas, the water-phobic Spare steadfastly refused to get in the water unless I got in with him and my bergamot-infused dreams dissipated as I towed him reluctantly from one side of the pool to the other.
When all else fails and both my brain and patience levels are completely drained (usually on a daily basis) I park them in front of a DVD. Even then they often fight over what to watch and instead of gently but firmly impressing upon them the need for harmony and sharing, I put one in the playroom and the other in the sitting room, each with the film of their choice. During the holidays even more than usual I choose my battles wisely.
In fairness to the Heir and the Spare, both have good imaginations and often come up with their own ideas. Yesterday, they decided that the one place they really wanted to play was inside the large dog crate that we keep to house the occasional sick chicken. I entertained a brief fantasy about locking them in for ten minutes while I had a cup of tea in peace, which remained unfulfilled largely because there was no available padlock. My sons mean everything to me, but after several weeks of their undiluted company I have decided that right now I love them best of all when they are asleep. Bring on the first day of term.