Life & Culture

Summer holiday blues and sprinkles


As a working parent, I find the prospect of sorting out summer holiday arrangements for my kids (age 11, 7 and 4) more daunting than anything I need to do in my actual job.

It all starts some time in June, when I can finally no longer ignore the fact that the holidays are approaching and realise that I'd better make some plans.

So I print off one of those calendars that has a square for each day, and set to it. Which grandparents can help when, and how many children can I give them at a time? Which friends are around for play-dates and when can we reciprocate?

And then, what about camps? The most valuable resource for a London working parent is the summer camp. In case you don't know, these are a kind of holiday day centre for primary school children. There's a camp available for pretty much every hobby you can think of - so if your children are keen to learn close-harmony singing, or want to hone their lacrosse skills, or fancy crocheting their very own handbag, there's probably a camp that will let them.

All you have to do is tip your salary straight into the account of the camp company, and your kids are sorted for the holidays.

After many phone calls, emails and tense discussions, I got it all organised. But ever since the holidays have started I have a lingering fear that I've forgotten to make a vital arrangement.

Every day that I arrive home from work to find that all the children have been brought to and from the right places at the right time feels like a tiny personal victory.

The whole experience was encapsulated in the supermarket this morning. I was trailing my three kids round, fending off requests.

"Mum, can we get sprinkles," said one. "We need sprinkles!"

"No one ever needs sprinkles," I replied.

"I do!"A woman's voice rang out from behind me. I turned around and saw another mum, also with three kids in tow.

"It's the middle of the summer holidays," she explained. "I really need sprinkles."

What strikes me is how incredibly hard it all must be without the support network that I have. We have an au pair for starters.

Then the children have three kind and willing grandparents who are able to help out.

We can afford to the send the kids to camps for some of the time at least. And I only work three days a week, so often I'm around anyway.

In other words, we're massively privileged - and yet still the whole thing feels like an organisational nightmare. What on earth do parents do who don't have that structure behind them?

And what about the days when I'm not working? These are tiring, irritating, entertaining and joyful - often all within a five-minute period.

The children squabble incessantly. I forget to drink enough coffee and become horribly snappy. I realise that while I've been doing a lovely art project with one child, I've taken my eye off the ball and let the other two watch the iPad for two hours straight.

The joy appears at unexpected times, as likely during mundane moments around the house as on a flashy, exciting day out.

One morning last week, our youngest two surprised us by laying out breakfast before we got up, and then serving it to us, restaurant style. It was very sweet, except that every time we asked the four-year-old for something, he lay down on the floor crying: "But I don't want to do that bit!" This is something I'd quite like to try in the office next time I'm asked to carry out a task I don't really fancy.

There's also the issue of Jewish mother guilt, with regard to how the kids are spending their days. Sometimes I think: "My children must be allowed to be bored! Then they will invent their own games. They will build dens in the garden, and make whole imaginary worlds using only some pipe cleaners and sellotape."

Then I see all of the amazing things that London has to offer children, and veer in exactly the opposite direction. "They must embrace the riches of our wonderful city," I cry, and spend hours browsing listings websites specifically set up for angsty middle-class London mums who want their children to be stimulated and educated at all times.

All in all, I find the whole affair pretty tricky.

Every year, as September approaches, I have at least one friend who sighs mournfully and says (without a hint of irony): "I'm so sad the holidays are nearly over!"

I look at that friend with loathing in my heart, then gleefully set about packing the book bags, ready to send my little darlings back to school.


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