Sun, sea, sand and ... stress! I might be remembering childhood summers through rose-tinted glasses, but I’m lowering expectations in a big way to survive the next few months
• IT’S time to buckle up. We’re in for a bumpy ride … I’m talking about the school summer holidays. Again. I’ve nothing against school holidays per se, and for sure I think the kids and the teachers all deserve a good rest, it’s just that I’ve serious PTSD from last summer, when my kid hadn’t even started school, and we were completely WFH and it was all one big horrible, sticky, teary, never-ending mess (I feel l like hiding in the hot press just thinking about it). I’m sure this summer is going to go a lot smoother (famous last words), but just in case I’ve put together a few random thoughts (my speciality) to get us off to a good start. Oh, and for God’s sake, mark it in your diary to apply for parental leave by next April at the latest ….
• Right, so for starters, totally give up on the idea of any ‘me time’ between now and September. Don’t even tease yourself with the notion. Even those precious few minutes you got after school drop-offs and on the way to collect (where, if you were lucky, you got to listen to the news headlines so you had some idea what was going on in the world) have been taken from you now. Deal with it. Bed times will also get pushed into different time zones for all ages, accept it. Also accept that you may need to remodel your style of parenting. For example, I find the odd threat always helps focus the mind: eg ‘teacher sent a text message earlier saying all the mums will be called in to explain what’s going on, if you don’t go to sleep right now (the thought of me setting foot in the classroom absolutely horrifies her!). If things are going really awry, I substitute ‘teacher,’ with ‘principal.’ Always gets results. That’s totally off the table now until September. It’s probably a bit too early to bring in the man himself, Santa (or is it?), so we’re stuck in a bit of a no-man’s land where the kids have nothing to lose. It’s going to get ugly, be prepared.
• Next, easier said than done, but be laser-focused. It’s going to be a case of survival of the fittest over the coming weeks so you need to be on your A game. Lots of well-being experts advise getting up around 20 minutes before the rest of your family to ease yourself into the day, ground yourself, breathe, put your bare feet on the grass, stretch, enjoy a peaceful coffee, do some journaling, that sort of thing. In a parallel universe that might work, but not during the summer holidays. What you have to do is get up at least two hours early and as Mark Twain famously said, eat the frog. Do the worst/hardest task of the day, get the monkey off your back (and sure, get the elephant out of the room while you’re at it). If you’re WFH that might be writing the most challenging report, it could be clearing the laundry, doing your work out, whatever it is … get it done. As Twain put it: ‘Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.’ Not until you start bedtime negotiations anyway.
• Also, set realistic expectations. You might torment yourself that everyone else is like the Brady Bunch, gleefully tossing beach balls at each other, heading off on picnics with their ginger ale and boiled eggs or playing charades around the fire pit, while you’re frantically driving around to discount supermarkets to see if there are any paddling pools left. Chances are they’re probably as frazzled as yourself, they’re just better at hiding it. And it goes without saying to do yourself a favour and stay off social media (where the message is basically as messed up as ‘love your body, whatever it looks like … but don’t even think about wearing a bikini unless you’re in the shape of your life’). Be kind to yourself.
• If you’re working outside the home, do your best to maximise the long evenings, even if you’re wrecked. Don’t reserve all the fun for the weekends.And keep things simple – it might just be a late-evening dip, where everyone grabs a towel and a bread roll (forget the usual 23 bags of stuff) and heading off for an hour; having your dinner outside in the evening, or forgetting dinner entirely for once and going for a spin and a bag of chips! Make an effort to bring some novelty into the potentially mundane Monday-Friday regime or you’ll crack up. Also communities all over the place are back hosting festivals this summer – for the first time in two years – so check out a few. The variety of what’s on offer is mind blowing and it shows community spirit at its very best.
• Teenagers, of course, have already been off for a few weeks, and if they’re not of an age to get a summer job, it can be a long old stretch at home. Line up the errands for them and keep them busy: get them to mow the lawn; teach them how to poach an egg (I was going to suggest an omelette but even I still struggle with that at times); or a simple carbonara. Lay down the ground rules so it’s not constant negotiations (ie sulking and door slamming). Have I any teens myself? No. Thank god. Good luck with that.
• Camps can be helpful for lots of families to keep kids entertained. But if you’re back in the office there’s still the issue of how to get them there and back. This is a time for people to work together (it takes a village, and all the rest). So help each other out if you can at all, and it goes without saying of course to repay all favours when you can. Bring wine, a dinner, a bag of scones … just don’t ever take any mums who are ‘off’ for granted. That’s definitely not cool and we are cool (right?).
• That’s probably enough for now, is it? Any other ideas, please get in touch! Anyway, has anyone else noticed that the rabbits are back in abundance? I think I might have been wrongly blaming the puppy for all the holes. There’s a fierce amount of wildlife around right now between the rabbits, the bees, and birds (who are doing their best to build a nest in my porch). I’d like to think I’ve played a role in that by holding back on the weeding and strimming a bit. It wasn’t easy, either, as I love nothing more than strimming. It’s a bit like tweezing, though, it’s hard to know when to stop. One hair too many and you’ve lost half an eyebrow, one minute too long strimming and you’ve razed the ditch. Hazardous.
• Finally, mark August 19th in the diary. It’s when Sharon Horgan’s Bad Sisters is out on Apple TV. I absolutely love her – Motherland has to be one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen. Bad Sisters is a 10-part comedy/thriller with an incredible line up of Anne-Marie Duff, Eva Birthistle, Cork’s Sarah Greene and Eve Hewson, and it promises to be fabulous. I can’t wait, and sure there’s only another fortnight after that more or less, and they’ll be back to school. C’mon, we can do this!