We’ve all been there. The first day of the school holidays began with me laying down the law with my two sons, aged 8 and 11. I’d asked them what they wanted to do over the summer holidays, hoping we’d all contribute scribbles to an Instagram-worthy wishlist of wholesome activities. ‘Blow a massive bubble with Hubba Bubba!’ said the 8-year-old. ‘Buy some Hype slides in the sales’, said the 11-year-old. I was not amused. What about the circus? What about some mindfulness? We could prepare a dinner together using freshly picked vegetables from the allotment!
‘And I just want doughnuts for breakfast tomorrow. Come on mum! We’re on holiday!’ Hmm…
Expectations vs reality
If this were a work thing, I’d have immediately spotted the yawning chasm between each party’s expectations and the likelihood of achieving these (insane) ambitions. Instead, I sighed heavily and wrote down a combination of things they wanted to do and things I wanted us to do. Playing Fortnite at granddad’s sat alongside daily reading time, which seemed like a decent enough compromise.
Before long, I found myself hurtling around after the pair, two steps behind them in their ongoing mission to destroy the house and each other. I refereed as best I could, gesticulating wildly with one hand, phone in the other texting my partner that it was only day one and I was already losing my mind. We made badges in the garden which took all of about 4 minutes. While I tidied up, the boys went back into the house to make further attempts on each other’s lives. I could hear the yelling from the garden and no amount of frenzied humming or Alexa! Volume TEN! could drown it out.
Back inside, I threw together a freezer lunch – sausage rolls, chips, beans – and while I waited impatiently for the food to cook my youngest attempted to amputate my leg with a plastic sword. ‘Does this hurt, mum?’ he enquired, before doubling the pressure. ‘How about this?’
To the library!
Once lunch was out of the way, there was only one thing for it. We HAD to get out of the house before something really bad happened. (To them). The local library is a ten-minute walk away so we headed out, on a mission to join the Summer Reading Challenge, sponsored by your ever-loving Beano (end plug). The library foyer is lined with beautiful art nouveau tiling which instantly cooled us down. The quiet actually seemed to calm down the boys, despite my fears they’d flamboyantly flout the SHHHHH! rule.
First hurdle: no membership cards. Turns out that’s a pretty easy one to fix. The library staff were absolutely brilliant with us, patiently handing out forms and instructing us to come back in a bit once they’d sorted our cards. They explained how the Summer Reading Challenge works (you get a wall chart, note down your six reads for the summer and get a batch of Beano stickers for finishing each one) and made the kids feel really welcome.
The children’s library was pretty busy but the boys set off alone down the aisles to find their new books. They figured out how to log in to the computers and search the library catalogue. I dusted off my knowledge of the Dewey Decimal system (impressed myself with that one way more than anyone else) and a trip to the loos up near the reference library resulted in us getting sidetracked to hunt for the oldest book we could find – 1860 for the win.
Eventually, the boys made their selections: The World of Norm by Jonathan Meres for the oldest and Bunny vs Monkey for the youngest. Back home, I tentatively suggested we all head into the living room for that daily reading time and they only bloody agreed! For half an hour, we all sat in silence, together, reading.
Now, as you can probably tell, this was an unexpected outcome. But if we can recreate this over the coming weeks I’ll be a happy (and slightly less frazzled) parent.