Since the children broke up from school, we’ve done very little. When I say little, I mean not a lot at all. We’ve not been bone idle – quite busy in fact – but since we returned from Cub Camp at the very beginning of the holidays, we have only ventured beyond the house twice. On both occasions our destination has been the same place, Westonbirt Arboretum; essentially a vast expanse filled with trees and not much else. I haven’t written a post for a while because quite frankly, I haven’t had much to write about. We have plodded along and filled our days with games, some crafty stuff, Lego and films. Just to get some balance, there has also been the XBox and I’ve done my usual share of sorting and tidying. We’ve revelled in the lack of routine and distinct lack of rushing.
A lovely friend and her two sons came to visit the other day. She happened to mention that she too hasn’t done much these holidays. She also admitted that this has made her feel slightly embarrased on occasions, guilty even. That perhaps the lack of activity-filled days requires an element of justification. It is almost as though doing nothing in particular is a waste of precious time. A time when we should be seizing opportunities and creating memories for both ourselves and our children. It has been pointed out to me several times of late that we only get 18 Summers with our children, so we’d better make the most of it.
This made me think.
If I am honest, I’m hoping that I’m laying the foundations to see in a lifetime of Summers with my children. However, with the plethora of inspirational quotes doing the rounds on social media to #makememories and canvas reminders to “live, laugh, love,” there seems to be an increasing pressure to do anything that extends beyond simply being. Get out there. Seize the day. Live each day as if it’s your last.
That’s quite a hefty undertaking.
Back at the beginning of 2016, I lost three friends in three months. All in their early forties, all with young children and all unlikely targets of cancer. As a result, I had a short, sharp shift of perspective. The things that we take for granted can be taken from us in a whisper. Things that we might complain and grumble about would be the things that these friends would never have the privilege or the opportunity to do again. Putting the children to bed, reading them a story, stroking their hair, guiding them through difficult times and even disciplining them.
It’s unlikely that my lovely friends would be missing the things that they didn’t have or that they didn’t do. They wouldn’t be wishing for a far-flung adventure, a bigger house or such likes. Beyond wishing for the very essence of time, they’d be missing the small things. The mundane things that pass most of us by without thought. Doing the school run. Making packed lunches. Plaiting hair. Wrapping birthday presents. It woudn’t necessarily be about making memories at all, but more cherishing the present; the everyday here and now. They would be taking advantage of just being with their children rather than piling on pressure to do things with them.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m an onboard supporter of getting out there and trying new things. Life is, after all, for living. One of my favourite things in the world is exploring new places, cultures and cuisines. I encourage my children to be open-minded, brave and bold; to take things in their stride and embrace what life has to offer. I love adventures. There’s nothing more satisfying than standing on top of a hill or mountain, breathing in the fresh air and surveying the vastness and beauty of the planet. Or looking out at the horizon from a quiet beach and marvelling at its seeming endlessness. We’ve taken the children on some epic adventures, but there really is no place like home.
I like to set up new traditions for my children, especially at Christmas and birthdays. Things that will be added to the memory bank of a hopefully happy childhood. I’m not adverse to inspirational quotes. I’ve got Lewis Carroll, Roald Dahl and some unknown authored words of wisdom framed on my walls at home. But my conversation with my friend has made me realise that there is real value in doing nothing (or at least nothing in particular).
We are very fortunate to live where we live. Having 10 acres of land in which the children can roam free makes life (and the school holidays) much, much, easier. I never underestimate this and am truly grateful. I totally get why people need to find entertainment elsewhere and how privileged we are to have all this on our actual doorstep. The glorious sunshine has made it feel like a proper, old-school Summer. Sprinkler on, wearing only pants, sticky ice lollies melting faster than you can lick, barbecue teas of one sort or another for days in a row. All this has made ‘doing nothing’ not only manageable, but fun.
One of the additional benefits of having four children is that each child has more than one permutation of playmate. It’s a winning combination when it comes to easy entertainment (although there is also the downside of mutiple bickering, irritation and general wailing). If the children want to play a board game, they often have the maximum number of players from sunrise to sunset. But more than the value of living this apparently charmed life is the value that comes from the children’s ability to amuse themselves.
My children have wised up to certain things I say. They know better than to ever say they are bored. This will only be met by me grabbing the nearest bin bag, threatening to throw away all the toys and sources of entertainment that should technically give boredom a wide berth. Instead, they tell me that they don’t know what to do and I try and give them some helpful suggestions. Part of the problem is actually too much choice, but essentially the children are happy with the basics. A football or a bike. A magnifying glass or a book. They don’t expect to be taken out, so are consequently quite adept at amusing themselves.
Of course it’s not all Enid Blyton and ‘Swallows And Amazons’ by any means. The boys push their luck when it comes to electronics, but they know they are far more likely to negotiate XBox or iPad time if they spend the large part of the day making their own fun, ideally outdoors. Moreover, the more they ask about tech time, the less likely it is to happen, so they’ve learned to play by my rules without too much protest.
The cost of day trips with a large family usually puts us off anywhere with a sizeable entrance fee. And I’ll be damned if I’m going to pay £2.50 for a Mr Whippy when I can get four cones for a pound in the supermarket. We’ve got annual membership for Westonbirt Arboretum and as it includes free entry for up to 4 children, it’s the best £36 I spend a year. We can take a packed lunch and fill our bottles from water coolers. There’s nothing to entertain the children other than hills to roll down, trees to climb and dens to build. We cover fair old distances every visit and the kids come home happy, tired and grubby. It’s a lovely respite from modern life. The children entertain themselves and it encourages independent thought and imagination. We do go out on occasional celebratory treats, but generally only once a year and usually in September to coincide with #2 and #3’s birthdays. These trips are the source of huge excitement, but their rarity means they are considered a big treat by all. They certainly don’t affect the children’s expectations of a day out and have no impact on their ability to just ‘play’ at home.
Perhaps the evolution of our family has played a part in our decision (conscious or otherwise) to spend time at home. I suffered horrendous sickness with each of my pregnancies and not just in the morning. The vomiting was relentless for the entire duration and made life quite limiting. Plus each child was exclusively breastfed, so I spent a lot of time sitting down, even when I mastered the art of multitasking whilst nursing. By the time I was 6 months pregnant with #4 I was on crutches with a knackered pelvis. Getting from room to room was a challenge, let alone taking three small children out and about. For all the bits in between, the children were used to just getting on with whatever they were doing, satisfied that Mummy was preoccupied with one thing or another. Undivided attention is something that none of our children are used to, so Mummy and Daddy actually doing something with them is also considered a treat. I don’t feel guilty though…we’ve inadvertantly taught them the art of ‘doing nothing’!
So I’ll never apologise or explain to anyone, especially not my children, why we haven’t been up to much in the school holidays. We’ve had a lovely time so far. We’ve recharged our batteries, hung out with each other and with friends, enjoyed the sunshine and spent very little. But as a firm believer in balance and moderation, we’re off camping next week. Then we’re lucky enough to be spending a week in Portugal. We’ve been busy doing nothing, but now it’s time for #makingmemories.