Summer with the children: ‘You’re either in or you’re out’

Parents seemed to view the holidays differently years ago: I don’t remember anyone stressing about keeping the children occupied

Jen Hogan with her daughter Chloe and sons, from left, Adam, Noah, Zach, Tobey, Luke and Jamie pictured in their home in Co Dublin. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Jen Hogan with her daughter Chloe and sons, from left, Adam, Noah, Zach, Tobey, Luke and Jamie pictured in their home in Co Dublin. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

Another school year is drawing to a close and I’m looking forward to the break from the usual routine. We’re currently in the middle of that special kind of hell, known as summer tests, and as every parent of school-attending children knows – summer tests are a family affair.

As the sun has shone and the timetables have arrived home, coaxing reluctant children to study has never been harder. The modh coinníollach is once again public enemy number one in my house and my hazy recollections of the Renaissance period have been laid bare before my children in spite of one child considering me old enough to have experienced it first-hand. Another, however, is ultra-impressed at my ability to do “tens and units” at speed.

An end to the drudgery of lunch-making, homework battles and frantic searches for a single school shoe that has suddenly disappeared two minutes before we’re due to leave is in sight, however. Freedom beckons and the chance to reclaim our days without constant clock-watching for school pick-ups and after-school activity drop-offs. Another chance for quality time with my children is about to present itself – so much quality time, during which I can be the serene and composed mother I never quite manage to be in the panic to get out the door each morning during term-time.

But while I’m selling the summer holidays to myself as thus, the constant pinging of WhatsApp messages in the background and discussions at the school gate as to what summer camps the children are going to do, are beginning to slightly unsettle me.

We’ll most likely give the majority of these summer camps a miss.

Balancing the cost of taking the time off work to care for the children against the expense of the summer camps is just one consideration – the logistical nightmare and continued drop-off and collection restrictiveness is another. But the rumblings about “keeping them entertained” continue, however, and as we face into the abyss, I’m starting to fret I may have got this all wrong.

My plans for the summer holidays are largely based on my own experience, possibly even complete with a few of my mother’s phrases. “In the olden days”, I explain to my children “you went out the front with your friends and played with all the kids on the road – we entertained ourselves.”

Staying out all day

I reminisce with my bemused and slightly disinterested offspring, about staying out all day, even wary of going back inside to use the bathroom, in case you weren’t let back out again. “You’re either in or you’re out” still ringing in my ears from all those years ago.

“Except for Neighbours,” I explain to my children. “Everyone went inside to watch Neighbours – no matter your age or gender.”

I’ve lost them completely by this stage.

It makes me think, however, how differently parents seemed to view the summer holidays years ago. That the holidays were deemed “too long” has remained consistent, but I don’t remember anyone stressing about keeping the children occupied or attempting to schedule camps on the same week as other classmates. Maybe that’s the innocence of childhood and an obliviousness to certain things, or maybe it’s just a reflection of a changing society and a real need, over the summer period, to cover some of the hours that attendance at school usually would.

Regardless of the reason, my children have heard tales of some of the camps their friends are doing and my free and easy summer suddenly doesn’t hold the same appeal for all the troops. As the suggested and varied list grew longer, the auld reliable mammy guilt had begun to creep in – until my phone pinged with the arrival of yet another WhatsApp message.

This time it was from a friend who had booked her children into camps for each week in July. Her youngest objected hugely, asking why he couldn’t just stay at home and not have to get up early each morning “like all his other friends”, he claimed. “The guilt!” she messaged, adding that she just hadn’t the leave to cover the entire period off work.

I smiled at the timeliness of her text and we consoled each other in a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t manner”. Reminding myself of the ability of “mammy guilt” to infiltrate every situation, I vowed to park it and returned to persuading my children of the validity of trigonometry and Irish verbs.

“Mammy guilt will not get the better of me,” I resolved mentally, though not necessarily convincingly, knowing the proof will potentially be in the school summer report-card-shaped pudding.

Summer Camps
John Sharry: How can I keep my 14-year-old occupied over the summer?
Sheila Wayman: Help children ‘follow their bliss’ to summer camp
Damian Cullen: 2018 guide to the biggest, best and beloved camps

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