I remember when I used to look forward to the Summer holidays. The holidays offered the promise of warm, sunny weather with no need for an alarm clock and most importantly, weeks of leisurely, relaxing, stress-free tranquility stretched ahead of me. As a primary school teacher one of the perks of the job, in the absence of any satisfactory financial remuneration or opportunities to have a quiet 5 minutes with a cup of tea, is the holidays. Especially the long Summer holiday. That is unless you happen to have the pleasure of living with my children, Sam, aged 5 and Henry, aged 3. Purveyors of the finest tantrums, tears and arguments, often imitated, never bettered. In fact as I write, the continuous soundtrack to my life is playing in the background – “no, that’s mine!”, “mummy!”, “ouch, that hurts!”, “get off of me!”, “give that back!” “I had it first!” and so on, all punctuated with the obligatory screams, shouts, wails and shrieks. Of course it isn’t all unbearable, at the end of each daily tunnel is the light known as bedtime. It’s just that sometimes, and by that I mean frequently, it can be a very long tunnel to get through. A very, very long tunnel.
Take today for example. The joy began at about 8am when I heard the boys’ bedroom door open, the approaching patter of small running feet and the familiar cry of “angry birds, mummy, angry birds”, which is Henry’s way of saying “good morning mummy and how are you today?” as he reaches for my iPad, settles himself in bed next to me and lights up the room with the glare and racket that accompanies the game that he is currently obsessed with. Not long after Sam appears at the door, clearly drawn by the frantic screeching of angry birds being flung against towers of crumbling blocks and then the two of them get busy arguing about whose turn it is and wrestling the iPad from one to the other. Suddenly getting up and about is a much more attractive prospect so up I get, intending to prepare breakfast for the boys. With cereal ready in bowls, juice poured in cups, chairs set up around the table and the television on, all that’s left to do is to negotiate the surrender of the iPad, placate the resulting hysterical tears and settle my little angels into their places for breakfast.
Breakfast turns out to be a very sedate affair, if you ignore the Weetabix splattered up the wall and the juice spilt on the table and then splashed into far reaching corners of the room by little hands slapping into the puddle. The televisual entertainment provides a short interval for a cup of tea and a quick shower before the calls of “mummy, finished!” signal the start of a new chapter of chaos and activity. Soon the children are washed, brushed and dressed, presenting a short lived illusion of calm, coiffed and well behaved little cherubs. Let the day’s entertainment commence.
We spend a happy hour going for a walk around the neighbourhood. The calm is only broken whenever we meet a junction and both boys decide they want to go in opposite directions, regardless of any plan mummy may have had for the walk, and then squabble and point and shout “no this way!” and throw themselves on the floor kicking legs and waving arms and wailing in despair and temper. Eventually I will be helped along by some such blessing as a passing tractor, a cat or even an ant which brings both boys to their feet, tantrums forgotten in an attempt to pursue whatever has just been spied. I breathe a sigh of relief and we continue peacefully once more until the next junction.
Eventually our lovely walk must come to an end and we return home for a drink of juice. Once the battle over who gets the blue cup has been won by one or the other, we are able to move on and then they settle down while I make lunch. Again, this is surprisingly relaxed with the two boys happily chattering away about general nonsense. I sit and watch them and laugh at their topics of conversation and the good humour that binds them, however rarely it is seen, and allow myself to pretend that this is how life always is. Then it is Henry’s nap time and I spend about an hour rubbing his back in an effort to get him to sleep, only for him to wake up after about half an hour ready for more fun.
The afternoon is spent at the pool and after the battle of wills that is also known as applying sun cream we are ready to go, armed with various inflatables. We have a brief delay due to Henry having a wee on the floor, but after a quick bout of mopping and disinfecting, we are finally out the door. This afternoon we are lucky in that the oasis of contentment is maintained for some considerable time. Very occasionally I hear a familiar wail that reaches me on the breeze, but for most of the time I am able to sit undisturbed poolside and read. Once again I find myself wondering why can’t life always be like this? I watch my boys playing goodnaturedly together, jumping in the pool, laughing, swimming about and having fun. Of course though this isn’t the reality of my life and the interval of cooperation is soon forgotten as I attempt to get the boys out of the pool so that we can go home for dinner. It is unsurprisingly tricky to retrieve two reluctant children from a pool, but I persevere and am soon rewarded by claiming my heartbroken, crying, fun-deprived children back onto dry land and the many bemused poolside spectators of our floor show are soon denied further entertainment as we head back home.
While the boys keep themselves busy by fighting and arguing in the front room, I hurry to get dinner ready before any serious injury is sustained, and then settled in their chairs once again I spend a quiet half hour while they eat their dinner and I have a cup of tea and a rest while steeling myself for the prospect of bath time ahead of me. With everything cleared away I am able to chase the boys around the room gradually undressing them as I catch them, and then breathe a sigh of relief when they are finally contained in the bath. Hair is washed, teeth are cleaned, battles for toys are fought and won, and then before I know it the boys are out of the bath, dried, powdered, dressed in pyjamas and we are ready for a bedtime story. After another brief chase I am able to gather them in bed for the story. As soon as the book is finished and closed, like greyhounds out of a trap they are off and running around the house chasing each other. Giving it one last effort, and spurred on by the prospect of the end of the day coming ever closer, I give one last chase.
Finally both boys are in bed and I roam around the house tidying away the detritus of the day. A potato with teeth marks in that has been put in the fruit bowl is returned to its rightful place. A stray spoon crusted with what looks like yogurt that is lurking behind the curtain is put away. Numerous toy cars are rounded up and placed in the garage. The dog, sensing it is at last safe, emerges from under the dining room table and with a wary look from side to side, takes his place on the sofa. Normality and calm is gradually restored.
Later I go in to check on the boys and I find them cuddled up in the same bed together, snoring soundly. I feel such a strong surge of love as I gaze upon them, all the tension of the day forgotten as I tuck them in, close the door softly and head for the bottle of wine waiting in the kitchen. However, as much as I can reflect on the day through rose tinted glasses now that the boys are fast asleep, I know that when I hear that bedroom door open in the morning and hear the approaching patter of small running feet, and anticipate the day ahead with all the tantrums and arguments that it will bring, the first words that will go through my mind will be, “I remember when I used to look forward to the Summer holidays.”