I had an “aha!” moment today regarding my absolute loathing of school holidays.
I thought the issue was this: my children really really hate almost all forms of childcare that are available to us during the school holidays, and yet, alas, I still have to work. This creates, needless to say, tension and guilt.
So we negotiate the minimum amount of childcare I think I can get away with and still meet my deadlines, because they hate it so much — which always leaves me really struggling to fit work in (even though I schedule much less work over the holidays, I still can’t ignore it completely …). And I still feel really guilty because I farmed them out to whatever it is I farmed them out to (which in and of itself is a massive negotiation). I do feel guilty about it altogether: it’s their school holiday and I never had to do anything similar because my mother was a SAHM and so my school holidays were spent mooching at home.
And because I don’t have low-maintenance children (I am convinced they don’t exist, anyway, but please don’t tell otherwise because I’ll cry) I then also struggle to do all the other things in life that need to get done: particularly exercise (which helps me stay on an even keel generally so going without is an added stressor), but also food preparation (I lose the will) and generally keeping the house going. I do, of course, but the mess mounts up on top of the craft cupboard (which winds me up) and although the laundry and the dishwasher still get done it has the sense of spiralling out of control quite quickly. And yes, the children do “help” but honestly that feels like an added chore of mine to ensure the “helping” occurs.
There is another layer here: Frog, in particular, hates his routine being disrupted and is completely out of sorts during the holidays anyway because it’s all wrong. He doesn’t want to do anything, and moans like hell when I round everyone up and take them out; quite often will be spectacularly stroppy during the activity, whatever it is (though also, unexpectedly he can have a whale of a time — I can’t predict) and then moan about the fact that I made them do BORING (insert whatever the activity was). If I don’t round them up and take them out (“PLEASE can we just have a day at home ….”) then within half an hour of the three of them being at home, Mouse is winding everybody up for her own amusement and we have shouting and slamming doors. I have a very low tolerance for shouting and slamming doors, so it is not the happiest of households. And currently only one of my children will even consider watching a film or any TV at all so I don’t even have that a default option.
But my lightbulb moment today had nothing to do with my children: the fundamental reason that I hate school holidays is …. because I hate school holidays. I always have. I hated them as a child (I am more like Frog than I care to admit): my sanity and sense of rightness in the world is heavily bound up in my ability to control my environment; and I do that through routine. Throw my routine out of the window and I am out of sorts. I was out of sorts as a child during the school holidays — a problem I mostly solved by checking out entirely and just reading books — which alas, I cannot do when I am responsible for keeping the bodies and souls together of three small children and keep a house going –oh and do some work — at the same time.
More interestingly, I also hated school holidays when I was a teacher. It was one of the reasons I didn’t like teaching: I couldn’t stand the lurches from “working like a crazy woman” to “nothing to do for six weeks” — and I was SO MUCH HAPPIER when I got a 9-5 job, even though I only had 20 days holiday a year (apologies to any US readers for my use of “only” in that sentence …!).
It was remembering how much I hated school holidays as a teacher that I had my “aha” moment. Yes, having high maintenance children complicates the issue of how we manage the school holidays, but actually having these massive changes of routine have ALWAYS sent me over the edge. The fact that, having been sent over the edge by the change of routine in the first place, I also have to cope with a child who likewise cannot cope with a change of routine makes me feel the whole term-time / holiday-time structure to be the malevolent invention of someone who really hates me. And people like me (like Frog).
We cannot be the only people in the world to really struggle with this, can we?