Summer is a relative term in England. At best it’s inconsistent. At worst it’s almost non-existent.
But though it doesn’t always feel like the middle of July – London is going through a mini-heatwave, by the way – the kids are nearing the end of school. All of a sudden the wheels are coming off the childcare too. Just to prepare me for a number of weeks without any educational structure, there are all these little parties and school-related activities that are requiring me to take time off work or scramble around for alternative care.
At this point I feel like the unfit marathon runner reaching the 25th mile. All I need to do is limp over the finish line, exhausted.
So I’m approaching the six weeks the kids will have off school with some trepidation. The languid days stretch ahead of me like a blank piece of paper teasing the author who has writer’s block and a looming deadline. What will I do? How will I fill those days?
When I was child myself, the summer was a time of liberation. There was the feeling that the shackles had come off. Little did I know that my parents probably felt exactly the opposite. They probably dreaded the end of school as much as I loved it. Even though school means making an endless number of uninspired packed lunches and rushing in the mornings, there is something comforting in the routine – you know where you are.
In about two weeks I will be lost at sea. Like a sailor without a compass in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, all of my normal anchors will have disappeared.
On the upside, the summer means that I will get some time off work (much needed at this point), but not time off being a mother. If anything, I’ll need to be an even better version of my mother self: the version that doesn’t start screaming before the kids have even had their breakfast cereal. The version that is creative and inspring. The version that comes up with activities to entertain them. The version that doesn’t exist.
The children, who are still too young to be truly independent, will likely end up pointing out all my shortcomings. They seem to take great pleasure out of calling me the ‘angry elf’ when I raise my voice or ask them to put their pajamas on for the umpteenth time.
‘You’re an angry elf, you’re an angry elf,’ they tease me, conspiratorially laughing together. I’m no better than the Grinch who stole Christmas, always ready to put a dampener on things that should be great fun. At least that’s how it seems.
Then I get the Chatterbox mocking me. She is good at impersonations and mimicking others, even down to my own American accent. It’s a surreal thing to have your child making fun of your accent in order to get you riled. It works too.
The Raging Bull is supposedly in her cute phase, as an almost-four-year-old. And she is cute; but she’s also a terror. She’s taken to stomping her feet when she doesn’t want to do anything, and humiliating me in public.
‘You’re not my friend!’ she screamed at me today, throwing me a look that would reduce Medusa to a quivering wreck and jabbing me in the stomach with her little fists.
I’ll be in California for five weeks of uninterrupted summer – no English Husband and no routine.
I know I will be stretched as a parent, because family holidays have that way of testing your familial bond. If you are speaking to each other at the end of it, I’d say you’ve done pretty well.
I remember once going to Europe with my parents and sharing overpriced, tiny hotel rooms. I barely slept. My dad snored his way through every night, leaving me shattered the next day. We fought over wine, we fought over directions, we fought about what we wanted to see. In general, it was an exercise in contained hostility with some sightseeing thrown in.
My mother broke down, with swollen feet and exhausted, frayed nerves – crying that she would never, ever go on holiday with us again.
California, here I come.