We’re back from our holidays. They flew by far too quickly. Yes, I miss the heat of the sun, the sea, the swimming, the sunset glass of rosé… But what I really miss is hanging out, our little gang of four, and the slowed pace.
On a day-to-day basis, we are definitely lacking time to ‘stand and stare’. The school run. Work. Domestic admin, After-school clubs. Throw in – from September – nursery and weekend commitments – and you have yourself a perfect storm of being busy. And I’m definitely not the busiest amongst my friends. I watch what some of them manage with awe and wonder.
So for the rest of the summer, I am consciously letting the children take the lead. I realised on holiday that they don’t actually need very much. There I was, worried that we weren’t doing or seeing enough. But then I realised: there they were, blissfully happy with the simplified day. They wanted nothing more than to potter to the pool or the nearby beach, swim and play on the sand with us, then head back for lunch and more swimming with their new friends. They wanted to spot pirate ships and build sand villages and jump in the sea with mummy and daddy. They weren’t bored. They didn’t ask for stuff (aside from François, the inflatable turtle, who had to come home with us). When it was too hot to go outside and they needed a rest, they watched the same episode of Paw Patrol on DVD (how retro) or painted the stones we’d picked up on the beach. They fell asleep, weary and happy and loved.
When we got back, I asked my little girl if she wanted me to sign her up for swimming or art camp, she shook her head: “I just want to be with you”. Before, I might have persuaded her (or signed her up anyway…), but this time, I didn’t. We’ll go swimming together instead. Do craft projects at home. Escape London at the weekends for some green space. And it’s okay not to have grand plans. To consider baking fairy cakes and then scooting to the park at a snail’s pace (because the little one has to stop every other minute to investigate something vital, like whether or not a stick is worth picking up) a perfectly acceptable amount to “achieve” in a day. Because achievement is a relative concept. Because so much of their life is – and will be – structured, and when term resumes we often won’t have the luxury of time to go at this slow pace. (I have become a master chivvier since having children.)
In the last week, I’ve had two almost identical conversations. Both involve parents who have young children. Both involve seemingly incurable illness (although we hope). Both said that, whilst they will leave their relationship with great sadness, they have been lucky to find it and experience such happiness, so they can face saying goodbye to it with a degree of equanimity. It’s leaving their children that makes them want to rage against the dying of the light. It made me come home and sit by my children’s beds just that little bit longer when I went in to kiss them goodnight.
So, I won’t stop reminding them of their manners/making them sit on the thinking step when they chuck toy cars at each other/insisting that chocolate isn’t a food group in itself/whisking Uncle iPad away when their time is up: I have to at least maintain the pretence that I’m the boss. I expect I’ll still cram work into the corners of our days on occasion. But I will slow down when we’re together. I won’t schedule every day. I will let them choose to keep it straightforward. I’ll try and keep hold of the simplicity of just being together. When it gets too frantic I’ll try and remind myself of the holiday lessons. Take it slow. Let them just be. Give them as much time and love as I possibly can. I’ll probably (almost definitely) fail on occasion. But I’ll try.