And so begins my first ever school summer holiday with two babies. School summer holidays shouldn’t make a difference when your eldest child is only two. They do. School summer holidays mean that all the toddler groups shut down. Except for the Children’s Centre, which opens for two sessions a week. Except when it’s closed. Like next week. When Wes is away.
Last year’s ‘summer holiday’ wasn’t too bad. I was 8 months pregnant and, although Wes was away a lot, he was also terrified that I would go into labour without him, so I had a lot of company. Thank goodness for sisters-in-law. And the Olympics. And the Paralympics. We watched a lot of telly last summer. I decided that was fine – I was watching history being made. I learnt a lot of new sports. I was there for all the ‘where were you when…’ moments. And Elvie? She learnt the national anthem, and how to dive headfirst off the sofa a la Tom Daley. A summer well spent.
This year won’t be so straightforward. First off, there’s no Olympics. Secondly, I now have two children, and Joel doesn’t sit still for more than 3 minutes. Even in this heat. I’m facing the prospect of 7 empty weeks. Which is scary. I’m taking the children to my parents for one week, and I’ve scoured every website and local paper for activities in a bid to fill the rest. Teddy Bears Picnic in the park? We’ll be there. Very Hungry Caterpillar painting at the museum? Just try and stop me.
I’m filling the calendar as best I can, but there are still a lot of gaps. I’ve been stressing out. One of the main triggers of my depression last time was not getting out enough. Spending too much time by myself with a small baby. Letting my fears and worry build up where nobody could see them. I’ve been terrified that the potential cabin fever of this summer will make everything worse. That the disruption of my carefully constructed routines and rhythms will also disrupt my mind. That entertaining two inquisitive, forward, spirited little ones non-stop for so long will take more energy and headspace than I have.
When I get stressed, I want to plan for everything and have every moment accounted for. I need to know that we have the right amount of food and baby wipes to get us through the week. I even count bananas to make sure we won’t run out. Because buying another one would be impossible. Obviously. I worry about everything – what if Joel misses his nap and his sleep patterns are ruined forever? How will he cope if we run out of rice cakes? Why didn’t Elvie eat enough at dinner time? What if they’re sick and we get stuck at home for the entire week? On and on and on.
I read an article on Wednesday evening. It goes some way towards explaining why I’m not sobbing in the corner, despite the arrival of the holidays and Wes leaving tomorrow for a week in Birmingham. If you’re offended by bad language look away now, otherwise here’s the link. (There’s an article underneath the picture, and it’s worth a read!) It’s basically revolutionised my tiny tired mind. For those of you who chose not to read it – the gist is this. Calm down. Just calm down. That’s all.
I’ve been practicing. Yesterday my parents had an open house for everyone to meet my sister’s new husband. We went along, and spent 8 glorious hours in their garden. It was a lovely, lovely day. And I didn’t get stressed. The conversation in my brain went something like this…
She’s eating way too many sweets and cakes and lollipops…calm down.
She’s taken all her clothes off…calm down.
He’s been crawling around for 8 hours without a nap…calm down.
He’s eating everyone’s food from the floor…calm down.
She hasn’t had any suncream for at least twenty minutes…calm down.
They’ve hardly eaten any dinner…calm down.
It’s way past their bedtime…calm down.
She’s just emptied her potty into the water jug…ah.
I stressed out about 85% less than normal. And guess what. I had a great day. The children had the best day ever. Sweets and friends and sand and water and bubbles and lemonade and cats and storybooks and sunshine and a late night. Child heaven. And the really funny thing? Everyone commented on how friendly, and well behaved, and generally wonderful they are. Presumably they didn’t see the potty incident.
Wes has a theory that when I’m stressed, the children get stressed. Don’t tell him, but I think he’s right. I need to calm down. That’s easier said than done. I figure small steps are the easiest. Seven whole weeks of emptiness would be too much for me to cope with. Even without the depression. I won’t be giving up all the activities I’ve searched so hard for. But neither will I run around like a crazy woman trying to fill all the gaps. A couple of empty days a week feels almost manageable. They just need a bit of reframing. So that it doesn’t seem like desperate, empty time.
I’m trying to see it as a chance to know my babies better. Elvie has amazed me in the last few days with her sensitivity and her vulnerability. I’m determined not to throw that back in her face. I want to be gentle and have fun. Not stressed out and grumpy. We went to town this morning. On the way home there was a brass band playing in the street. We had a bus to catch and a heavy shopping bag, but we stopped. And stayed for a few songs. Elvie danced, and rolled on the floor. Joel clapped and squealed and tried to crawl into the band. He’s just like his sister.
It was only five minutes. But it was five minutes that we wouldn’t have had if I’d been stressing. If I’d been worrying that the bags were heavy, or that we’d miss the bus. And it was the best five minutes of my day. Five solid minutes of smiles. All three of us.
That’s what I want from this summer. Smiles. To see my children smile, and smile with them. To sit and watch them discover the woodlice in the garden. To ice gingerbread men with them and not fret that they’ve eaten a few too many sprinkles. To play in the park and feed the ducks. To listen to the bands in the street. To have muddy clothes and messed up hair and ice-cream stained fingers. To let them be little children in the summertime. Without an agenda. Without always having to rush to the next group or appointment. The idea of so much free time still scares me, and I’d be lying if I said I don’t have back-up plans. We’ll still be at the Teddy Bears Picnic and the Hungry Caterpillar painting session. But hopefully, we’ll be smiling.