As new parents, experienced parents will tell you to relish every moment you spend with your little one and to soak up every thing they do as they grow so quickly. They will tell you not to wish away the sleepless nights and that before you know it your little one will be leaving home. You may not be able to find joy in sleepless nights. The endless nappy routine might leave you wishing you could fast forward to the days of a independent toilet goer. Your toddlers tantrums may have you wondering where all the days that you were supposed to relish and enjoy are. They do happen. It might take you five years to really find them it they do happen and more often that not the day you will treasure the most comes on your children’s first day back to school.
Don’t misunderstand the joy of summer holidays. Personally I love the break from routine that July and August bring…living in Northern Ireland our summer break starts at the end of June! It is the prospect of easy days and long lie-ins that get us parents through the final weeks of term. The dream of having a few extra pairs of hands to help out at home make it that little bit easier to endure the bin bags full of your child’s school work that are dragged out out of school in the last week. You are even excitedly planning where you can hang the three foot tall sunflower painting (complete with real seeds) that your five year old has so proudly presented you with fresh from the classroom wall. Really, you’d think that with five children I’d have learnt by now!
They first few weeks are easily managed. As a mummy who works from home, my children spend the summer with me so I can convince my little boys without too much persuasion of the novelty of having a pyjama day while letting the Nintendo Switch babysit and I let my teenagers actually lie in bed to keep them out of my way while I work. If the weather gods are kind then I can ease the guilt of using virtual childcare by letting the boys trampoline in their pyjamas before summoning the teenagers to make lunch.
By week three I have been rudely awakened to the realisation that the extra hands that are now once again in full time residence at home do not actually help out at all, at least not in a positive way. They simply and without any thought for your summer ideals, help themselves to endless snacks destroying your carefully planned weekly food shop before midday on Monday then return for another cup of juice along with the last helping of your sanity.
As I try to channel that excited mother that was so keen for the end of term in June, I realise that she has consigned herself to becoming a gin soaked mess who is now hiding under a picnic table in my over active imagination until September!
This years Summer Holidays were mercifully broken up by a glorious few days in Donegal which started with a family car filled to bursting with six of us, our luggage and enough snacks to feed the 5000 if the loaves and fishes were tinned pasta and fruit shoots and ended with a car door opening to an avalanche of multi grain shapes in a McDonalds car park and a broken finger.
Admittedly the few days after the holiday, which might have stretched out as far as a week, were like the beginning of the holidays again. The pyjama days were back and the whole household was on a go slow, but those days were numbered. It was August…so it was officially time to get ready for back to school. The school bags and lunch boxes were ready. There were new juice bottles that my boys were desperate to christen. My over enthusiastic June self had bought brand new school t-shirts knowing that I had enough handed down school jumpers in my house to clothe the whole school so in my summer mother head I had got the uniform sorted. I knew that I still had to buy trousers and I wasn’t quite ready to remortgage in order to scrap up money to buy four new pairs of school shoes. That’s what the last week in August is for surely.
School holidays change the way a parents brain works. Your term time brain knows that the packed lunches won’t be made the night before and stored in the fridge to help make the mornings easier. The same way that it knows that the “school” socks that you have bought will only exist for the first days then after that you will be lucky if they are wearing them one day a week.
This is why school is so important not only for children but for us as parents. The time that your children spend at school allows you to silence the voice of that over enthusiastic parent who thinks they can do it all perfectly. I like to pretend, mostly to myself as my husband sees right through it, that I actually really miss my children when they are at school…the house is quiet without them and it’s great! I am in fact like almost every other parent ,well at least the ones that I know, I enjoy the time that my children are delightfully the responsibility of someone who can actually get them to listen and pay attention to them for a few hours!
Those few precious hours allow your brain to rest and fill up with fresh new unrealistic parenting ideals. Every day at before school pick up I am sure that the homework is going to be done without any delay, dinner will be eaten as it’s served without the negotiation of how many stickers my six year old will get if he eats four chips and that yes I will actually make their packed lunches this evening so tomorrow morning runs smoother. Then you see the little faces and straight away those ideals are thrown out and you are immediately no longer mummy, you are the pack horse to carry all of the things that they are suddenly too tired to carry and the driver home to get the snacks that they so desperately need after school.
My advice for new parents…throw all those ideals out the window now. Don’t buy the school socks and just throw together a lunch before they leave for school. Let’s face it they are probably just gonna wolf it down without any care for what’s in it any way!