With August drawing to a close and returning from school so close that you can almost taste that first blissful, lonely cup of tea, I suspect many moms will be concerned that this isn’t the family summer golden memories are made of.
After such a rotten time, with months locked up at home, our little darlings deserved the vacation of a lifetime.
And yet, thanks to soggy staycations, chaos in foreign holidays and a myriad of UK attractions that are restricted or closed, it sometimes felt almost impossible to handle them.
You wanted it to be, well, perfect, but if you’re worried they’ll drag themselves back into class the first day feeling down and disappointed, you’re wrong. Let me explain why your cherubs had a blast this summer – and why you’re the only one feeling let down.
Gill Sims reassures parents that their kids will have a blast this summer, despite swampy vacations and overseas vacation chaos (file image)
Once upon a time determined to give my precious moppets an idyllic, sun-filled childhood, a glorious summer reminiscent of the delights of The Famous Five.
According to my plan, the summers would be one long, endless round of yawns and wails – rosy-cheeked children tumbling merrily through sun-drenched meadows. Or merrily splashing in sparkling streams, swathed in pastel and delectable, as I, their doting mama, watched lovingly before handing out gooseberries, homemade cake and, of course, lots of ginger beer.
I bought a cute wicker picnic basket from TK Maxx, ‘borrowed’ (ie pinched) a very Instagrammable vintage cooler from my mother-in-law, and paid a ridiculous sum for a small portable barbecue from John Lewis if obvious beach sausages would also feature in this one. fantasy summer, and I doubted my fire-lighting skills.
(If I wanted to be a fit, sustainable mid-range, a disposable barbecue wouldn’t have completed the look at all.)
In short, I was all set. When we lived in Scotland there was an abundance of glorious countryside, lochs and glens and mountains just a short drive away, ready for our summer adventures.
How wonderful it all would be, and with what happy memories my precious moppets would be decorated!
Unfortunately my son and daughter had not received the memo.
Gill said when her kids were both under ten they refused to wear gingham and preferred the local pool over lakes (file image)
The vintage cool box proved extremely heavy to carry to begin with, the wicker basket was cumbersome and the problem with the portable barbecue was that it took forever to cool before you could put it back in the car.
But worst of all, my dear children, who were both under ten at the time, were extremely resistant to any attempt to force them into the japes needed to create Happy Memories. They flatly refused to wear gingham.
They didn’t want to merrily swim in rivers and lakes, they wanted to go to the local pool and play on the sweaty inflatables.
Our visit to a lake island with an old priory (and I was pretty sure there was a thief’s den hidden somewhere if we could only find and thwart them) started with the kids wailing that they just wanted to go to the park. It ended with a stern admonition from the historic Scotland lady as they climbed the walls, while I was distracted unpacking the lovingly prepared picnic for them.
Kids are just as happy with a garden hose as a water park
They splashed quite a bit in sparkling streams, but mostly howling because they’d fallen in at an inopportune moment and I yelled at them to get out.
One particular low was having my son steri-stripped back together after he managed to fall before we even left the parking lot.
And their favorite part of any visit to historic places was a trip to the gift shop. Here they would argue for overpriced candies and plastic tat, while I tried to suggest a nice book, or even, perhaps – the cheapest thing on the market – a pencil.
Gill said she turned to electronics after breaking her ribs and surprisingly her kids called it the best school holidays ever (file image)
And six years ago, the day before the holidays, I was cleaning the tub when I slipped and broke several ribs.
The nice doctor gave me a series of strong painkillers and pleaded for rest, which I didn’t have much choice in, because almost everything hurt terribly, especially driving.
Pained with guilt, but with little choice, I turned the kids over to the electronic babysitter, laying on the couch, trying not to slip into a co-codamol coma.
I felt terrible about this. No outings, no picnics, no fun, no homemade cakes, no plans to foil, no Happy Memories are made at all.
Just before the kids went back to school, I apologized profusely for the crappy vacation they’d just had. They looked at me in surprise. Because according to them this was by far the best school holiday ever! Unlimited Netflix and Minecraft. No improving days out, no castles, museums or manors. No rivers to fall into, no mud to wade through, and no picnic baskets to lug around until a suitable spot is discovered.
While I had tormented myself with the eternal motherhood debt, they had an absolute ball.
Gill said her attempts to recreate a 1950s fantasy summer did nothing but raise her blood pressure and annoy her kids (file image)
And I wondered why I’d bothered to bake pies the night before our outings, pack the wellies, raincoats, sun hats and sunscreen and mosquito repellent and warm fleeces – all needed for a UK getaway – when they got home. were perfectly happy with a Jammie Dodger?
At that point, I decided it was best to lower my expectations.
My attempts to recreate a fantasy summer of the 1950s did nothing but raise my blood pressure and annoy my kids.
The wicker picnic basket has been gathering dust for years and the portable barbecue languishes unloved in a corner of the garage.
I held on to the cool box I ‘borrowed’, because it was useful for keeping beer cold at parties, but it hasn’t been on an expedition in a while either.
And since the bar has been lowered, everyone has had a lot more fun.
Even the day I discovered I had nothing in the house for a picnic, I stopped along the way to buy chips and sausage rolls – far from scarring for life, the kids were delighted and asked if we could do that every time, please? (No, we couldn’t, because mommy has standards, baby.)
Gill admits she hopes that one day her kids will turn around and rave about their picnics on the beach or by the river (file image)
But I still cling to the hope that one day my little darlings will turn around and ravish about those magical picnics on the beach or by the river, and give in to the happy memories they made there. But they still insist that the Netflix holidays were the best ever.
So if you’re feeling guilty that you didn’t get to do much with your kids in the summer, or that a swampy local beach heralded an epic adventure abroad, stop by.
I’ve learned that kids are just as happy with a hose in the yard as a water park, and it’s much more character building for them to come up with their own entertainment, rather than plan every detail for them.
In fact, it’s amazing how much actual parenting you can give up guilt-free when you rebrand it as “character building.”
Kids remember the craziest things too, so a 99 with a flake by a paddling pool probably brought back as many happy memories as a week’s drive to France – and caused a lot less stress.
Why Mummy’s Sloshed by Gill Sims (£8.99, HarperCollins) is now available in paperback.