Sum­mer­time and the liv­ing still isn’t easy

The drudgery of home­work bat­tles is over but now it’s the strug­gle to keep the chil­dren en­ter­tained

The Irish Times - Tuesday - Health - - Health | Lifestyle - Jen Ho­gan

An­other school year is draw­ing to a close and I’m look­ing for­ward to the break from the usual rou­tine. We’re cur­rently in the mid­dle of that special kind of hell, known as summer tests, and as ev­ery par­ent of school-at­tend­ing chil­dren knows – summer tests are a fam­ily af­fair.

As the sun has shone and the timeta­bles have ar­rived home, coax­ing re­luc­tant chil­dren to study has never been harder. The modh coin­níol­lach is once again pub­lic en­emy num­ber one in my house and my hazy rec­ol­lec­tions of the Re­nais­sance pe­riod have been laid bare be­fore my chil­dren in spite of one child con­sid­er­ing me old enough to have ex­pe­ri­enced it first-hand. An­other, how­ever, is ul­tra-im­pressed at my abil­ity to do “tens and units” at speed.

How­ever, an end to the drudgery of lunch-mak­ing, home­work bat­tles and fran­tic searches for a sin­gle school shoe that has sud­denly dis­ap­peared two min­utes be­fore we’re due to leave is in sight.

Free­dom beck­ons and the chance to re­claim our days with­out con­stant clock-watch­ing for school pick-ups and af­ter-school ac­tiv­ity drop-offs. An­other chance for qual­ity time with my chil­dren is about to present it­self – so much qual­ity time, dur­ing which I can be the serene and com­posed mother I never quite man­age to be in the panic to get out the door each morn­ing dur­ing term-time.

But while I’m sell­ing the summer hol­i­days to my­self as thus, the con­stant ping­ing of What­sApp mes­sages in the back­ground and dis­cus­sions at the school gate as to what summer camps the chil­dren are go­ing to do, are be­gin­ning to slightly un­set­tle me.

We’ll most likely give the ma­jor­ity of these summer camps a miss.

Bal­anc­ing the cost of tak­ing the time off work to care for the chil­dren against the ex­pense of the summer camps is just one con­sid­er­a­tion – the lo­gis­ti­cal night­mare and con­tin­ued drop-off and col­lec­tion re­stric­tive­ness is an­other. But the rum­blings about “keep­ing them en­ter­tained” con­tinue, how­ever, and as we face into the abyss, I’m start­ing to fret I may have got this all wrong.

My plans for the summer hol­i­days are largely based on my own ex­pe­ri­ence, pos­si­bly even com­plete with a few of my mother’s phrases. “In the olden days”, I ex­plain to my chil­dren “you went out the front with your friends and played with all the kids on the road – we en­ter­tained our­selves.”

Stay­ing out all day

I rem­i­nisce with my be­mused and slightly dis­in­ter­ested off­spring, about stay­ing out all day, even wary of go­ing back inside to use the bath­room, in case you weren’t let back out again. “You’re ei­ther in or you’re out” still rings in my ears from all those years ago.

“Ex­cept for Neigh­bours,” I ex­plain to my chil­dren. “Ev­ery­one went inside to watch Neigh­bours –no mat­ter your age or gen­der.”

I’ve lost them com­pletely by this stage.

It makes me think, how­ever, how dif­fer­ently par­ents seemed to view

the summer hol­i­days years ago. That the hol­i­days were deemed “too long” has re­mained con­sis­tent, but I don’t re­mem­ber any­one stress­ing about keep­ing the chil­dren oc­cu­pied or at­tempt­ing to sched­ule camps on the same week as other class­mates. Maybe that’s the in­no­cence of child­hood and an obliv­i­ous­ness to cer­tain things, or maybe it’s just a re­flec­tion of a chang­ing so­ci­ety and a real need, over the summer pe­riod, to cover some of the hours that at­ten­dance at school usu­ally would.

Re­gard­less of the rea­son, my chil­dren have heard tales of some of the camps their friends are do­ing and my free and easy summer sud­denly doesn’t hold the same ap­peal for all the troops. As the sug­gested and var­ied list grew longer, the auld re­li­able mammy guilt had be­gun to creep in – un­til my phone pinged with the ar­rival of yet an­other What­sApp mes­sage.

This time it was from a friend who had booked her chil­dren into camps for each week in July. Her youngest ob­jected hugely, ask­ing why he couldn’t just stay at home and not have to get up early each morn­ing “like all his other friends”, he claimed. “The guilt!” she mes­saged, adding that she just hadn’t the leave to cover the en­tire pe­riod off work.

I smiled at the time­li­ness of her text and we con­soled each other in a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t man­ner”. Re­mind­ing my­self of the abil­ity of “mammy guilt” to in­fil­trate ev­ery sit­u­a­tion, I vowed to park it and re­turned to per­suad­ing my chil­dren of the va­lid­ity of trigonom­e­try and Ir­ish verbs.

“Mammy guilt will not get the bet­ter of me,” I re­solved men­tally, though not nec­es­sar­ily con­vinc­ingly, know­ing the proof will po­ten­tially be in the school summer re­port-card-shaped pud­ding.

Free­dom beck­ons and the chance to re­claim our days

An­other chance for qual­ity time with my chil­dren is about to present it­self.

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