Master Eleven wants to know if a friend can spend the day at our house tomorrow, “because her mum is working”.
Miss Thirteen plans to go to the skate park with a mate and is sure to ask for a ride. Welcome to school holidays.
My relationship with this Downunder phenomenon is complicated. In theory, I love the notion of spending more time with my children.
In practice, I work at least part of the break and, when not working, I’m plucking popcorn from the floor, begging the kids to walk the dog and fantasising about microchipping my wanna-be free-range kids who use their phones for everything except communicating with me.
In past years, I’ve taken two weeks off to bond with the family, i.e. traded income for insanity. But, recently, I’ve either worked straight through all but the big summer break or chosen one week to luxuriate in screeches of “Hey, that’s MY scooter!” or “She started it!” Like many parents, I’m snared in the school holiday shuffle.
This week started with a 9.30am futsal programme, which begins about a half hour too late to get anywhere on time (thank goodness for carpooling parents).
Futsal ends at 3pm, a bit early to hustle back from town (thank goodness for my husband).
Three sessions for two children cost $105. Time off school is spendy. I try to limit paid programmes to two per week.
The rest of the time, it’s a juggle of work from home (“Stop shouting, I need to make a phone call!”) requiring intense negotiations about how many extra children will occupy the house, how many sleepovers is too many, and how late is too late to stay up watching You Tubers flip on to trampolines and mattresses, create latex face masks and hawk products. When school’s out, I often need to hit the pillow before my kids. “Tuck me in bed,” I’ll say. After hearing someone practising a three-metre dash in the hallway, I pounded downstairs at 11 last night to bellow, “GO TO SLEEP. You guys might not have to get up early tomorrow. I do.”
Those are the cons. The pluses, for anyone driving during this time, include less traffic. I braved the Bayfair roundabout just before 9am on Monday on a hunch I wouldn’t get stuck in a line of cars snaking back towards Te Puke.
My gamble paid off – no queue. We’re also mostly absolved of the usual extracurricular activities. Mum’s taxi gets a break.
We’re not travelling these holidays, instead living vicariously through shared photos of friends visiting exotic places like Hong Kong, Columbia, Queenstown and Karangahake. I wouldn’t mind a trip to Rotorua, if I can squeeze it in.
Not whinging. We travel. Just not right now.
I’m trying to schedule time during this quasi-lull to bond. I suggested dinner out, something we haven’t done as a family since the pre-fidget spinner era.
Hubby thought it was a great idea. Kiddos are wondering if they can just eat takeaways at home. No, darlings. You’ll sit in a restaurant with us, eat chicken fingers or mini pizza and beg for juice. Tolerating forced family fun is a life skill.
Some people have said we should scrap school holidays; we’re not an agrarian society any more; we don’t need children to help with chores.
Instead, we spend $50 per day to send our charges to a programme where they learn about farm animals and food production. School hols are a quandary for parents weighing extra expenses versus lost income and more time with precious progeny.
But fewer school holidays would limit opportunities for unplanned activities that tug at heartstrings without straining purse strings.
The beach walk where Master Eleven performs flips from the dunes, the bicycle ride with Miss Thirteen where we get treats from the dairy, and a favourite serendipitous July moment: my daughter breaks the seal between computer screen and eyeballs to ask if she can help fix a two-year wrong – the mint green colour of our lounge.
“Sure,” I say, imagining she’ll tape one wall and hand me a paint roller before darting out to play. Instead, she methodically tapes baseboards, electrical and light switch covers. Then, wearing fleece onesie pyjamas and a hoodie, she proceeds to roll, and roll and roll – beside, above and below me, for six to eight hours over two days.
I won’t have travel photos to feed the internet these holidays; nor will I have extra cash from working overtime. I will, however, have a newly painted lounge, and memories of how my teenager surprised me – in a good way.
Dawn Picken also writes for the Bay of Plenty Times Weekend and tutors at Toi Ohomai. She is a former TV journalist and marketing director who lives in Papamoa with her husband, two school-aged children and a dog named Ally.