Like many people, as a child I spent much of the school holidays at my grandparents’ houses. Of course, at the time I thought it was all for my own entertainment. Those were the innocent days before I discovered the two words that strike cold fear into the hearts of working parents: holiday childcare, and realised that Grandparents are truly the superheroes of the school hols.
Never mind sleepless nights, sore nips and two-hour tantrums- why does nobody warn us about this before we have kids? (I mean, it should have been obvious, but it never occurred to me). I can still remember doing the sums with a rising sick feeling when our oldest started school: 2 parents, 4-5 weeks annual leave a year each… it does not add up to 13 weeks school holidays, plus inset days.
I’m leaving my permanent job later this year to go freelance, and I’m only half joking when I say that it’s partly so that I can avoid at least some of the dreaded holiday childcare planning, by being more in control of my time. (That’s the theory anyway, though I can almost hear the howls of laughter from my freelancer readers).
But for now, the school holidays- with accompanying Spreadsheet of Doom- are a hodge podge of annual leave days, swaps with friends, the odd stint in holiday club. And, now that both kids are a little older, the first trips to grandparents.
And so last week, the children went away for three whole nights to their grandma’s house. This was the longest either of them has been away, and the only time (apart from one night) they have both been away at the same time. In a different city.
They had a fantastic time. It’s wonderful that they get to start building the kind of holiday memories that I treasure now. But for me, it was a mixed experience. God knows that, when I had a gigantic baby who wanted to cuddle all the time, and a toddler who ran rings around me mentally and physically, I dreamed of the day when me and their dad could have a night or two to ourselves. But now they’re big kids, and that time has finally come, it turns out that I am the only gigantic baby around here these days.
So if you’re looking forward to some kid free holiday time, here’s some advance warning of how it might pan out for you (or if you are not prone to melodrama, perhaps not so much):
Separation. For the days leading up to the parting you try extra hard not to shout. You take deep sniffs of their necks and heads, and push back their hair from their faces so you can drink in their features. All of this because, in the back of your heart you fear you will never see them again. You say goodbye, and then…
…Melancholy sets in. Hear that sound? It’s silence. Initially delicious, very soon hollow. You may or may not stand in their bedrooms when darkness falls and want to cry. You may or may not bury your face in their pillows. It literally feels like parts of your body are in another town.
Hysterically making the most of it. Suddenly, you can almost hear the ticking of your freedom trickling away. You tidy like a mad thing, revelling in the fact that nobody will follow you around scattering Lego in your wake. You turn to your other half in a panic. We should go out! Go for walk- in the evening! Get lashed! Get naked! Instead you eat tea in front of Peep Show as normal.
Transient glee. You are woken the first morning with a cup of tea instead of a small child roaring MUMMY. It is not 6am. You can piss about on your phone in bed without feeling guilty or anybody demanding to watch videos of cats falling out of trees. You put on so much make-up you look like you are going to the Oscars, just because you have the time. The house is still tidy. It stays tidy. You go out for a meal, with your partner- in the evening!
Pining. Before long, you are spending 60% of your time looking at photos of the kids. You text Grandma too frequently for updates. You still secretly half believe that you will never see them again.
Joyful Reunion. As their train pulls into the station you have butterflies in your tummy and you, embarrassingly, burst into tears. You squeeze their cheeks too hard and want to devour them whole. You will never, never get cross with them again.
Immediately stressed and knackered. Within minutes, you feel as if they have never been away. Hustling across the station repeating ‘hold my hand, hold onto my hand, watch where you’re going, STOP.’ By teatime you have heard MUMMY ten thousand times. You are tired. You could do, to be honest, with a break.
They say that absence makes the heart grow fonder. Parental love is so bloody rampaging and giant that I don’t think it can really get any ‘fonder’. Unless it’s ‘fond’ in the Shakespearian sense, sometimes used to mean ‘mad’. In which case, yes, absence did make my heart grow fonder- madder, and more irrational. But it also taught me, that, truly, if you can step into your childrens’ bedrooms and see them sleeping safely in their own beds, there is nothing more you could possibly need.