My children are the loves of my life… but six weeks of misery-faced moaning about being bored, whingeing about the contents of the fridge and endless bickering almost drove me to breaking point, says mum of two Jacqui Paterson
I love my children.
They’re my favourite people on the planet and I genuinely adore their company, but my god was I counting the minutes until they went back to school.
The summer holidays are like an oversized slice of chocolate cake – to start you’re in heaven tucking into this sweet, gooey treat, but, halfway through the novelty begins to wear off. You continue to eat, enthusiasm waning with every bite, until there’s one mouthful left that you simply can’t face.
You really can have too much of a good thing.
An unapologetic introvert, I find the 24/7 demands of parenting challenging at the best of times. When we were all instructed to ‘Stay At Home’, I struggled with the lack of alone time in a perpetually full house.
The girls coped remarkably well, but unsurprisingly, lockdown rot set in and the bickering began. It was always more of a boredom release than a genuine bone to pick, as it didn’t matter how flimsy the argument was – whose turn it was to empty the dishwasher, who bagsied the shower first, who ate the last apple…
When the schools reopened they practically ran through school gates, while I pulled off, tyres screeching, before they could change their minds.
I think that’s a big reason why the summer holidays seemed more intense this year – we’d only just escaped each other’s constant company, and none of us was quite ready to spend long periods of time together again.
In saying that, it started off nicely enough. I was looking forward to a break from the rigid school-run routine and those first alarm-free mornings were bliss. But after a couple of weeks, a pattern began to emerge:
Kid 1 would announce she was hungry. I’d sort and send her on her way, then Kid 2 would stomp in, all floppy-limbed and misery-faced, to complain about being boooooored . After deciding on a suitable activity, Kid 1 would return and announce she was bored too (but didn’t want to do what Kid 2 had decided to do, because ‘Eww, that’s lame…’). One PS5 session bribe later, Kid 1 would skip out. Before the door had even clicked shut, Kid 2 would be back. You guessed it – now she was hungry too!
At which point Mummy would have a volcanic eruption and both girls would stare at her like she’d sprouted a second head. “Jeez, chill out Mum, we only asked for a sandwich!”
Their insatiable summer appetites almost bordered on ridiculous; humans half my size were putting away twice as much food – how was that even possible? As one left the kitchen, I swear the other waited outside the door to be tagged in; there was someone perpetually scrounging in the fridge, moaning there was “nothing FUN to eat”.
I had to bear in mind we were much more housebound than usual. The ongoing effects of the pandemic and our newest family member (the ubiquitous lockdown puppy) kept us close to home for most of this summer, but I tried hard to break it up with simple pleasures and lots of Covid-friendly days out – a shopping splurge here, pizza and a Disney Premiere movie there.
The biggest challenge turned out to be getting a day when both girls were in a good mood, as they seemed to take turns to bring ‘the cloud of doom’ with them on each outing.
One day I thought we’d finally cracked it. We’d managed to squeeze in a few dog-friendly days in Devon and the girls were getting along famously. We’d found a beautiful stately home-turned-gastropub overlooking a river to eat lunch. Clearly, things were going far too smoothly, as that was when the man next to me remarked (in that very polite and English way) “I think your dog might unwell…”
In fact, there was no question about whether the dog was ill or not, as the entire contents of his stomach were now sitting in an impressively large pile in front of him. Apparently, his stomach was not a fan of the dried meat treats we’d been feeding him. Good to know.
Back home, the weather inevitably turned rubbish, trapping us in the house together again.
As a working mum who made the (possibly quite insane) decision to have children in a different hemisphere to her family, I was used to packing an entire day’s work into those short hours between drop off and pick up. But that productive chunk of time was reduced to rubble by the kids, who’d seemingly set up a rota to harass me with increasingly trivial complaints. “She won’t get out of my room…” “there’s a spider in the study…” “she won’t let me use the last bath-bomb…”
By the final week I was literally checking off the days until they returned to school. Not usually a morning person, I sprang out of bed on their first combined day back, humming as I packed the 10-year-old’s lunch box. “Up you get!” I sing-songed, pulling up the blinds with a cheeriness almost criminal for so early in the morning.
The girls were as glum as I was overjoyed. As they trudged towards the school gates in their slightly-too-big shoes with resigned looks on their faces, a radiant smile spread across mine. I caught the eye of a fellow school mum and we both raised our fists into the air and silently cheered. She knew.
At home, I allowed blissful silence to wash over me. Alone, at last!
Jacqui Paterson is a mum of two daughters and blogs at jacquipaterson.com