As the rain buckets down for the last week of the summer holidays the ambivalence kicks in. Mine, not theirs. I hate them going back to school, and yet I’ll love a bit of time to get on with things. Then there’s the guilt that accompanies that. Which spirals into more guilt. Did I give them the best summer possible? Could I have done more? Taken them to more places? Constant parental anxiety about not doing the best for them in every moment. How have we got here? What is it about parenting today that causes an undercurrent of guilt no matter what? It’s not just me, thankfully or worryingly. The friends I’ve met over the last couple of weeks are all at it. Trying to give their kids a last hoorah, a blast of something to ease the transition back and lessen the burden of guilt. What is going on?
The kids are mercifully oblivious. It’s raining, again, so two of them set up a camp under an array of umbrellas in the garden. They are having great fun sheltering, peeping out, snacking. They love getting wet too. The rain will not stop them at all. The others retreat to baking. Orange zest muffins yesterday. A coffee and walnut cake today. Later there will be lemon meringue buns. None of this has been at my instigation. I’m in the sidelines wringing my hands wondering if they are happy enough. If they’re having a good enough summer. They’re just getting on with being happy and having a good enough summer. Oh and shipping me off to the shops for an occasional ingredient. A theme that has emerged while writing all the blogs so far is to let the kids show us. Get out of their way and they’ll be ok. But I’m still not listening. Stepping back and letting them be instead of counting the super fun outings that never seem to be enough, in my book, is the only way. Somebody needs to point this out to me.
Of course it never even struck our parents that they may not have given us the best summers. If we were out playing, at home or on holidays, then that was good enough. Even the language we use today is wrong. Giving them summers. We don’t give summers. They are made. By them. And the more free-range the better.
The lemon meringue buns see me drafted in for action. There’s that old meringue bit which includes showing them how to separate the white from the yolk in eggs. Cracking and tipping the goo from one half of the shell to the other until somehow, miraculously, they are divided. It’s great to be showing them a trick or two from my small reserve. Great to think that they can sail into the new academic year safe in the knowledge that when it all gets too much they can, at least, separate eggs and make meringues. Beat the white into stiff peaks. By hand. A test in resilience if ever there was one.
The rain eases off by evening and a plan is hatched for a high-tide night time dip. It’s the least we can do for them as this summer chortles to a close. At 21.47 we pull into the dimly lit cove. The water splashes into corners and crevices we never thought it could reach. They strip and change and we shiver watching them. Then marque 4 walks out into the black and swims without so much as a whimper. The others follow, ducking even their heads down into the freezing darkness. They are utterly nuts, of course, but they are determined to squeeze every last drop out of the holidays. They are scarily cold afterwards. There’s only one thing for it. Back at home again they make hot chocolate with marshmallows and settle down in front of the fire to watch a film. It’s the simple things that they love the most. Night-time swimming and hot chocolate. This they will keep with them.
There’s a trip to the town. One of those that’s put off and put off until there’s no longer the option to deny it. It’s happening. Get with it. Shoes. Runners. Copy books. Pencil cases. All the shops are thronged with calmly resigned parents and kids. It is over. Almost.
‘It wasn’t great though’ one mother says to me in Elvery’s sports shop.
‘With the weather an’ all. It wasn’t great. But sure we did our best, didn’t we?’ she asks me, this stranger, reading my mind.
‘We did’ I say to reassure her, and myself.
That we did.