I love the holidays. That moment when you close the door on your classroom on the last day of the summer term with all that time stretched unfilled before you is like no other. These days, now that I am not just a primary school teacher but a mother with three children of her own (no relaxation of responsibility at three fifteen for me), that last day leaves me sweating with relief. No more school runs. No more remembering lunch money, reading books, PE kits or responding to sudden demands for money for cake sales, cakes for said sales or random fancy dress, let alone forgetting the random items I might need for the mummification of oranges (all a part of the life of your average primary teacher). For six weeks I can hang up the school bags and set my own agenda.
I think it’s one of the things I like most about this time of year. After endless weekdays set rigidly to a timetable, so inflexible that I must visit the toilet only at certain points in the day, and weekends crammed with other people’s activities, the loss of routine leaves me with a sensation of lightness, of freedom. I remove my watch and kick off my uncomfortable shoes with gay abandon.
Not so Sam.
As he matures it seems that his ability to entertain himself lessens. Like his younger siblings, he too misses his classmates, the young people he spends his days playing with, learning with, fighting over. He misses his teachers, his routines. And staying away from home. He’s not awfully keen on that either.
I should know by now how it is. It’s not like I haven’t been on tons of holidays with him before, but somehow I always forget. Take this weekend. We haven’t been away camping for some time (the unreliability of the weather combined with the unfeasible size of a tent designed to hold a family of five and give them somewhere to hang around, damply bored, while they wait for the rain to clear has ensured our reluctance to pitch camp of late), but our tenting holidays must have made a positive impression because Sam often hopefully mentions the possibility, usually on a damp, December Sunday afternoon when there is nothing better to do than suggest interesting and fun activities that nobody else wants to do.
Putting the tent up for a trial run throws not only Sam, but the others too, into a frenzy of excitement (another reason not to get it out, if you ask me). The three of them run around the unfamiliar space, almost as wound up as if they had suitcases (the most exciting thing known to child-kind), crashing into fragile walls, bouncing off everything, regardless of who might be attempting to sleep on it later, their joy a palpable, physical thing.
Over the years I have tried to analyse just what it is they find so appealing. Maybe it’s the prospect of undistracted time with mummy and daddy, with no washing or ironing or fixing or any other tedious household chores to get in the way. It could be the relative freedom provided by campsites; a defined yet unimaginably large area over which to roam, other, unknown children with whom to play. For Sam, you never know your luck, you might get to have an explore around other people’s camper vans; if you’re really lucky, there might be quad bikes or mini tractors moving caravans around so that they can be cleaned via pressure washer.
Or maybe it’s the unaccustomed delight of being in the outside in your pyjamas and skipping up and down to the facilities with torches. When they were younger, and we went camping because we couldn’t afford to do anything else, we would pitch the tent and they would leap, regardless of the time, into their night attire, cuddled up into a bundle of babies. Until it was time for them to actually go to bed, that is.
Now I love an adventure. I love setting off into the (relative) unknown, discovering places hitherto unexplored (by me) except by their names on a map, or in a novel I may have read. For me, the wake up to reality call is usually the point at which I investigate the shower block. Dead flies, clumps of muddy grass, other people’s hair; all these things have my flesh shrinking in distaste. For Husband, it is that moment when he goes to the loo and comes across Men In Vests Having Washes. For the children, and for Sam in particular, it is when, instead of packing it all away and heading home, they are expected to settle themselves down to sleep.
I know they are not alone in this. All around us, in the gathering gloom, is the sound of children-who-do-not-wish-to-sleep and their increasingly frustrated and desperate-for-a-bit-of-child-free-time parents. Shouting and screaming usually starts at around 9:30 and finishes at around 11. These days, we have accustomed (just) ourselves to their evening company, become less frazzled by their sleeping bag chatter.
But only slightly. For we know that it won’t be long before our night-time visitor will be making calls. It won’t take much to wake him and we will be awake too, listening helplessly to the zipping and unzipping of checks on siblings and parents. It’s remarkable how difficult it is to extricate oneself from a half-sunk mummy-shaped sleeping bag (I am never succumbing to a blow up mattress ever again, detestable things). One is pretty much guaranteed to gouge one’s toe on some sort of essential equipment that just happens to be strewn across one’s path on one’s journey to reassure the anxious boy who is longing for his own bed, unconvinced by the sleeping silence around him that it is still night time because, to him, the light is coming and so is home time.
I know I ought to prepare him thoroughly for a holiday, but in my excitement, the packing, the list making, the route finding, I know I that will think that what I did before will be enough. I will think that because he was OK last time, he will be again. I forget about it and curse myself for my omission, until that eventual night when we are all so wasted with all the walking in a night that is full of unspoken terrors that we have no choice but to sleep, wherever we are – and long privately for our return home.
My bundle of babies.
Yes, yes, it’s a Game of Thrones reference 😉