Beach holidays. A time for peaceful reflection and wiling away pleasurable hours on sandy shores. Loosened from the binds of the drudgery of your normal life. Free as a bird. Or so you might think. In reality there are rules to be adhered to, boundaries that must not be crossed. For those of you thinking about your summer holidays, here’s a helpful guide to save you from any transgressions*:
* Of course, these bear no connection at all to my own experiences. Hell no. Absolutely not.
- Thou shalt not buy a swimsuit a size larger than you need and then wonder why the tummy control panel has no effect.
- Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven photograph that thou shalt then upload to Facebook giving two fingers to thy neighbours back home. Shew mercy unto the thousands of them that are confined to greyer skies.
- Remember the breakfast buffet, to keep it holy; for fellow guests shalt not hesitate to consume it before you get there. For in two hours the kitchen made the buffet, and rested the third hour wherefore a fat Australian ate it all.
- Thou shalt not covet your neighbour’s finely honed bikini body, nor her ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s.
- Thou shalt not wonder why you were so worried what you would look like in a bikini.
- Thou shalt not tell your child that you have seen a venomous sea creature for they shalt not go in the sea again.
- Thou shalt not be impressed by thy neighbours who clearly think a jetski is a penis extension.
- Thou shalt not get sunburnt on the first day. Thou shalt be able to wear a bra; thou shalt not apply a whole tub of your children’s Sudocrem; and thou shalt not get stuck to the bed sheets.
- Thou shalt be the best at aqua aerobics because thou shalt have a 3-year-old clinging to your back for the whole class. Hallowed is supposed ‘me-time’.
And, most importantly:
10. Thou shalt not curse the vile cocktail of sand, suncream and sweat and vow never to return to a beach again.
In two weeks’ time, my very, very nearly 3-year-old is going to be separated from me. This is the boy who arrives in my bed every night and attaches himself to me like a rucksack. He’s the boy who demands to be carried up and down stairs – unless it would involve relinquishing the iPad. Every trip out (no longer with the buggy) poses the risk of carrying three stone’s worth of child along with all the shopping. But in two weeks’ time he has his first swimming lesson and, unlike every other visit to the pool, Mummy or Daddy isn’t going to be in there with him. He is going to be floating on the Sea of the Unknown.
Praise be for free trial sessions. The sense of impending doom makes me thankful that there’s no need to pay for a term upfront – I fear we may as well put a wad of cash straight into the pool filter. Perhaps I should have more faith; after all, my son happily relinquishes the maternal apron strings to go to nursery. It might not be so bad. But then I remember every Monday morning when I have to carry him throughout a whole pre-school music and movement class as he bellows at me to stop singing and dancing. In my mind, the calm blue surface of the pool transforms into a thrashing, stormy black mass of water.
And then there was the little boy I used to watch (biting my nails) whilst my older child had her lesson. Dressed by his parents like a surfer dude, it became clear that any activity involving water was not going to elicit any hint of a ‘cowabunga’. He was the one who used to bawl throughout the class, his screams echoing around the pool leaving parents visibly wincing. The only child that the swim school had to confess they could do nothing more to help. Let that not be us. Please let my son not be the second child to be cast out back onto dry land as a hopeless cause.
I must banish visions of the swimming teacher peeling my little man from me as tears stream down his face and the pool resounds with cries “I WANT MY MUMMY!”. I keep telling myself that he’s perfectly happy with water and swimming pools. And, as he keeps telling us, he’s a Big Boy now. Maybe Mummy should just get a grip and have faith that he’ll slip into the water like a Merman on that fateful day. He may glance back to check we’re still by the pool, but then he’ll flick his tail and splash into this Sea of the Unknown. Failing that, one should never underestimate the power of a new Spider-Man swimsuit …
Typical playdate aftermath.
This has been the Week of the Afterschool Playdate. Four of them. I’m not complaining. I like playdates. They’re all part of the fun of having a school-age child and long may they continue. My daughter gets excited about them for days beforehand. I get excited for days beforehand because I can use the cancellation of the playdate as a threat should her behaviour particularly rile me. There’s much to be said for carrot and stick parenting.
Call me anal, but when I host a playdate I do like to be prepared. I need to have a plan of action designed to ensure maximum happiness and minimum tantrums:
- Have a packet of chocolate fingers at the ready. (Plus a packet of wipes for cleaning the residue of chocolate finger fingers off the walls.)
- Disguise all evidence of slovenliness and practically Ofsted the house.
- Find out about any allergies the guests may have so that they leave my house intact in their parents’ car as opposed to in an ambulance.
- Purchase some kind of craft activity that will inevitably take only 3 minutes to complete and cause upset because the pompoms won’t stick.
- Shut the door to my bedroom – for all kinds of reasons. I did once find the laundry basket emptied and its dirty contents employed as fancy dress.
It was with some alarm then that I heard of the Dutch concept of afspreken: the impromptu playdate. Yes, impromptu. Unplanned. If you have any ounce of control freakery in your body then a shiver will have just run down your spine. Apparently, your child can appear out of the school gates with another child and tell you (yes, TELL you!) that Whatisname is coming for tea. Just think – you might not have had time to stock up on chocolate fingers or to run a check on Whatisname’s suitability for sharing the honour of a playdate with your little darling.
Is afspreken a step too far for the British sense of order? Quite frankly, I expect a handwritten invitation to be delivered several weeks in advance by a servant in a hansom cab. I will then respond in an appropriate manner and the date will be engraved on a stone tablet. Or just a text would do.
I should probably loosen up. Get used to the idea of not being able to plan everything down to the last Pom-Bear. (In the same way I should practice my ‘delighted’ face should my husband ever surprise me with a friggin’ hot air balloon ride.) Afspreken doesn’t appear to be taking off in our school playground. If it does, I’ll be ready – which will make a complete nonsense of it as I’m not supposed to be ready for it at all.
I’ve been wondering why I write so much about my daughter and so little about my son. The former is 5-going-on-15 and the latter – still my big baby – is approaching 3 years old. To redress the imbalance, here is the story of one boy’s obsession with Play-Doh, Cookie Monster and YouTube.
I am preoccupied with the idiosyncrasies of my daughter. Perhaps it is because she is older than my son and is blossoming (nay, erupting) into an independent being that makes her so fascinating. I’m not sure I’d go as far to say that I understand her – some days I don’t understand my her at all. She’s 5 years old – I shouldn’t expect to. As a female I am sensitive to what she might come up against in life and topics involving women now make me rantier than ever before. My daughter thus provides plenty of writing inspiration, directly and indirectly.
When it comes to my son I seem to have missed (or at least underestimated) his power to make me to write. Whilst worrying about the surge of pink in the house, I’ve taken my eye off the ball and this baby boy of mine has grown into a fully functioning, determined and funny little man. He has the randomness typical of all toddlers, but, when he wants to, he has the focus of a laser beam – ie, he gets inexplicably obsessed with unusual things.
Nothing demonstrates this more than his current obsession with watching YouTube videos about Play-Doh. Somehow he stumbled across a review of a Cookie Monster set and his passion has known no bounds since. I suspect that a good proportion of the 7 million plus views this particular video has had can be traced back to our house. There is something wonderful about his fascination with something so simple: a blue plastic monster being fed Play-Doh fruit and vegetables. Nothing more, nothing less. Over and over and over again.
In the last few days his YouTube obsession has manifested itself in the real world. (Let it not be said that an addiction to technology stops children from engaging in ‘proper’ play.) Ten empty tubs of Play-Doh later and we have a whole box full of Cookie Monster’s favourite foodstuffs. I’ve had to hide the remaining tubs of Play-Doh lest they lose their virginity to the swirling, sticky mass that is Cookie Monster’s lunch.
Here is the thought process of a 2-year-old boy in pictures. Only three pictures. He’s a simple beast. (I suggest you look away if you can’t cope with more than one colour of Play-Doh mixed together.)
In my preoccupation with the complexity of a 5-year-old girl making her way in the world, I’d forgotten that simplicity is just as wonderful.
Next time: The one where my son watches a video (13m 14secs) on loop of someone opening 100 Kinder eggs. No, really.
As parents we like to think we know what’s best for our children. We want them to have a good start. With our benefit of hindsight, we don’t want them to make the same mistakes we did. But ‘knowing what’s best’ is a spectrum, one end of which is occupied by the unpleasantly Pushy Parent. At what point does pushing your child stop being for their benefit and start being detrimental? It’s a tricky area for parents to manouevre in and one that’s perhaps impossible to get right.
Every Saturday morning my 5-year-old daughter has a drama class. Fifty per cent of the time she’ll happily dress herself in the kit and bounce off down the road. The other fifty per cent she will cry, refuse to get changed and spend an inordinate amount of time sitting on the toilet to avoid going. On those weeks – and following a long battle – she will finally get ready and leave on the condition that if she says she still doesn’t want to go when we get there then she can come home again. Invariably, she is coaxed by the teacher to stay and will bound out at the end of the class having had a wonderful time. Kids don’t know what’s good for them.
Or do they? I feel for her entirely. She’s not being completely irrational (for once). It wasn’t until recently that I realised quite how much like me she is. I’ve always described myself as a closet extrovert – some people never see the extrovert whilst others would never believe the introvert existed. When I tell people that my daughter is shy no one can quite believe it. Nor can I. The little girl I see dancing, singing, bossing and going bonkers at home turns out to be quite different from the little girl in the classroom. She’s like me and this is not what I want for her.
I remember very clearly how hard it was to put my hand up in class. Even at university I would sit silently in seminars afraid to put myself forward in case I got it wrong. What remains now is a real sense of frustration at what could have been had I just had the guts. Maybe I could’ve been an astronomer had I not been afraid to take a degree course that involved going on field trips abroad. (Now I press my nose against the velux window in the loft room and look up.) Tempting as it is, I don’t want to live ‘my life that wasn’t’ vicariously through my daughter – that would be just plain selfish. What I do want though is for her never to have to look back and wonder what she could’ve done had she not been shy.
It’s hard to persuade a child to be brave – that it’s okay to get things wrong. They don’t have to be perfect. After all, mistakes help us learn. Children naturally seek comfort so why should they push uncomfortable boundaries? How far parents should push those boundaries for them is not an easy question to answer. There is a point where you must stop and ask yourself why you are pushing and who you are pushing for. If it’s for yourself then hopefully the bad parenting klaxon will sound and knock you squarely on the head.
Whilst my daughter continues to dash out of the drama class bursting to tell me what she’s been doing – the earlier tears a distant memory – I will continue to push her to go. It’s painful to see her cry but each time she will take a little step towards being brave enough to go out and grab life by the horns. And I’m tremendously proud of her.