Way-hey! It’s the start of the holidays! School’s out, the sun’s shining, so let the fun begin! Well, it’s fun for the kids, anyhow, who’ll be at home all day, getting under everyone’s feet and turning the place into a complete and utter madhouse. To tell the truth, I don’t know how I’ll cope. Or rather, I don’t know how my partner will cope. Me, I’ll just be going to work as usual. And I hate to say it – and feel a tosser for doing so – but I’m feeling a bit left out.
One of the many reasons why my partner retrained as a primary teacher was so that he’d be around in the holidays for our kids. It was a good decision, but not one that I could have made (I am monumentally awful in front of a class of thirty). This summer is my partner’s first as a qualified teacher, and our eldest child’s first following a year at school. It’s a special summer for both of them. They deserve it – they’ve both done so well — but I can’t help thinking hang on – I want in! How can they be having an idyllic Cotswolds summer without me in it?
When I was growing up, children – as in middle-class children like me – spent the summer holidays with their mums. It’s just what they did. I realise that that’s not the case now, that most mothers are in paid employment and can’t take a whole six weeks off, but the fact that I have a partner who can – well, it makes me very lucky. It makes me very lucky but, what with me being me, it manages to make me a bit sad as well. I’ll be perfectly honest: I am jealous and I feel like I’m missing out.
Today my partner took Eldest to paint his classroom in preparation for next year. Many of the local mums were helping out. It’s that kind of school, in a very posh area, surrounded by lots of proper old-style “summer holiday mums”. I’m not a summer holiday mum.* I feel acutely aware of this, and all of a sudden, I regret it. I want to be snot- and paint-stained, too.
I know that the summer holidays will not in fact be some great idyll. Youngest is potty training, Eldest is still Star Wars obsessed, and we don’t have enough money for educational day trips every sodding day. Even if it remains warm enough to go to the park, the park gets boring. We still don’t have enough connections with other parents. Eldest’s best friend is away for the whole six weeks (this has nothing to do with the lego / washing machine incident, as far as I’m aware). It will be tough on my partner. But I know both my boys will gain so much from being around their dad. They’ll gain from being around their dad, but they won’t be around me.
And yes, this is all starting to sound a bit Daily Mail, a bit “Career Woman Has Regrets”. Well, no, not really. We can’t all be around our children all the time, not unless we create a society in which no parents are obligated to work. I’m only doing what countless fathers have done. But I just wish we had a different image of the summer holidays, one which isn’t still based in the 1980s or earlier. Honestly, I’m starting to feel guilty for not stocking up on the Arctic Roll.
For many parents the summer holidays aren’t about day trips and keeping the kids away from the TV and just going stir-crazy on a rainy day. It’s about really struggling to find childcare, or feeling isolated from other adults, or creating some hotch-potch tag-team style of parenting which means you never see your partner from one week to the next. Or it’s about one of you being there and the other one not. Your child might not be in school but you’re still not with your child.
I don’t think it is anti-feminist or anti-equality or anti-anything to feel regret about this. It’s just life. Most mummies aren’t summer holiday mummies, and those who are probably don’t spend every day laughing in the face of mess, in-fighting and whining. But anyhow, I’m probably not missing out on that much. If CBBC aren’t showing endless repeats of The Monkees every morning, it’s not really the summer holidays anyhow.
* I could be a bit more of a summer holiday mum if I didn’t waste annual leave on secret days off, but still, it’d never be enough. But yeah, the fact that I do that does make it all even worse…