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KIRSTY STRICKLAND: School holidays are lovely – until you actually have to live through them

Congratulations if you've made it through the school holidays in one piece. Photo: Shutterstock.
Congratulations if you've made it through the school holidays in one piece. Photo: Shutterstock.

Children will return to school this week and I sincerely hope I’m not alone in being absolutely thrilled to wave them off again.

In theory, school holidays are a lovely idea.

They are an opportunity to spend precious time together; to make memories and connect. They are a break from the constraints of your usual routine.

The plan is always that the sun will shine and your rosy-cheeked children will have the time of their lives.

The reality is somewhat different.

Parents still have to work during the holidays. The vacuuming still needs done and somebody has to cook the dinner.

During school breaks we still have to do everything we usually do.

It’s just we have to do it while also dealing with the demands and desires of tiny, terrifying, versions of ourselves.

It’s a recipe for parental guilt.

Don’t make me bring out the list Mum

Whenever my daughter comes to me with a list and the promise that she has a “GREAT IDEA’’ I know I’m in for a whole heap of trouble.

Her scrawled lists are full of activities she wants us to do together that day.

They always start off small: board games, dancing, a visit to the park.

But her ideas grow steadily more time-consuming as the list goes on.

She wants to build an elaborate den.

Then she wants me to organise a scavenger hunt.

She would like to make a cake that I don’t have the technical skill-set for.

‘Mum can we bake?’ – four words to strike terror into any parents’ heart. Photo: Shutterstock.

And – if we’ve got time – she needs some help with her plan to overthrow the government.

The lists never include things like sitting quietly and contentedly while I get on with work or helping me sort out invoices.

Funny that.

My daughter didn’t hand me a list at the start of the Easter holidays this time. But in many ways just made the whole thing more nerve-wracking.

I knew there was one squirreled away in the darkest corners of her mind, ready to be deployed at the most inconvenient moment.

The school holidays were great – so why do I feel like a failure?

In an ideal world, we would have endless time to entertain our children.

We’d make sure they were mentally stimulated and had plenty of screen-free time and fun days out.

They would eat freshly-prepared nutritionally-balanced meals.

Parents and children would spend the holidays smiling beatifically at each other like they do in Disney movies.

Am I the only one who feels like they failed miserably at all these things during the Easter break?

Yes, we did loads of lovely things together during the school holidays.

My bank balance and list of unread emails can attest to that.

But there were gaps of time filled not with interesting activities, but work; chores and a desire (on my part) to just sit still for a few hours.

You do not have to do anything – but if you don’t it will be used in evidence

The thought of the school’s “What I did on my Easter holiday” diary looms large.

Because they never remember all the good stuff, do they?

Those big details that show you are a dedicated and thoughtful parent always seem to slip out of mind.

Last year, my daughter told me the teacher had asked them to write down what they had done at the weekend.

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She told me she wrote something like: “I didn’t see my mum at all because she was too busy working to play with me.’’

Imagine my horror.

It’s a sad tale indeed. The poor wee soul.

Only what she forgot to mention was that she was actually staying her dad that weekend and had been out gallivanting, eating candyfloss at the shows, annoying the lions at the safari park and generally living her best life.

Only the realisation that the teachers probably think I’m slightly mad already stopped me phoning the school to correct the record.

‘This is their world – we’re just living in it’

The thing people don’t tell you about having children is that nothing you do is (or will ever be) enough.

We have to discover that wisdom on our own and when we do, it’s quite freeing in a way.

No matter what fun activities you squeeze into any given day, that one time you say no to their request will be met by protestations.

There’s no grace period with children.

The teacher won’t be told about this bit. Photo: Shutterstock.

They don’t care about exonerating circumstances and their memories are only as long as the last ‘”yes, of course darling’’.

It’s a good job they’re cute.

Last week, I begrudgingly squeezed myself into a swimming costume to take my daughter to the pool in time for it opening at 7am.

I knew I’d have to work for the rest of the day and was attempting to avoid any complaints before they arose.

Was that effort remembered come 10am, when she moaned about the fact we couldn’t go to the science centre?

Of course it wasn’t.

This is their world and we’re just living in it.

Work, tea, chores, silence – the perfect school holidays antidote

Thankfully, order has now been restored.

Our children are back in the capable hands of their heroic teachers.

And now I’m going to make my own list of fun things to do with the time.

It will contain nothing more exciting than work, tea and chores.

But doing those things in complete silence and without any guilt will transform them into luxuries.

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