It's funny really, because we spend most of our lives castigating ourselves for not seeing the children enough. We feel guilty because we spend too much time at work. We're all too busy, and wish it wasn't the case. We dream of having more time to read them stories, to watch them play around the garden, to help them ride their bike; we fantasise about baking with them, drawing with them on the kitchen table, singing songs together or going for trips to the park on a sunny day. Bring on the next school holidays. Let's re-group and have fun.
Yet when the holidays come and the school bell rings, and we're all packed and ready to make the three hour drive to the cottage we've booked, or to the grandmother we haven't seen since Christmas, or the long-lost friend we haven't seen since can't remember when, something happens. The clouds rumble, the skies darken, and our little perfect picture of frolicking carefree days become smudged with frustration and irritation. Somehow, in the routine term-time regime that is cereal, teeth, dressed and out, we, the doting, loving parent, seem to lose our ability to communicate with our children with kindness and patience. Instead of "Yes, darling, let's do that," or "Shall we do another one?", playgrounds, service stations and soft plays around the country are filled with cries of "Stop it!", "Come here!", "I told you to go before we left!" or "You better wash your hands after that!", "Put that down!", "Hurry up" and "Sharing!". And then comes the dreaded words that no parent should ever catch themselves saying: "Crikey, it's easier to be back at work!" We've all said it. And if we haven't said it, we've definitely thought it. It's easier to be on auto pilot. It's easier to stick to the schedule.
The truth is we all think we have Peter Pan inside of us. But we don't. We all want to think we can get in touch with the inner-child. We want to. But we can't. Our adult lives have thoroughly taken over. Our clean houses, our new carpets and pristine sofas have won. Order and structure restrict us in ways children don't understand. We want the children to explore the garden and make mud pies. But we want them to do it neatly and tidily; we want what them to bake cakes and jam tarts, but we want the mixture to be stirred the correct way; we love the idea of them dressing up and playing make-believe, but we want them to put everything back where they found it; we want to take them on trips to a museum, or north Devon or to France, but we want them to sit quietly, never need the toilet, and never ask if we're nearly there yet.
And so, for many, school holidays become less of a blithe merriment of rolling around on the floor and making tents out of duvet covers, and more of a negotiation in getting to know your own children as well as their class teacher does. Holidays become added chores. They are jerky, not smooth. Frenetic, not peaceful. And that's when thoughts of the office creep in as places of sanctuary and calm. Our desks are quiet. And shipshape. Everything has been put back in the right place. Everything does as it's told.
But we mustn't go there. We need to spend more time with our children. We want to see them grow; we want to see them learn; we want to be the ones who teach them. And so we must continue to pine for our holidays. Because that's our time. That's where we build memories. That's when our children become ours again. And it really hurts when they turn around and say, in the most innocent of cheeriest voices and with the biggest eyes you have ever seen, "I can't wait to go back to school!"