Being Dad

Why this dad is calling time on summer

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Written by Tim Barnes-Clay

Mark Towers considers the sense of shortening days and whether being a parent contributes towards this feeling.

Around this time every year I ponder this question almost daily: is time going quicker or are the days getting shorter? Six-week summer holidays seemed like a long time when I was a kid.  As a parent they seem to be over just as they start. That might sound like a good thing, but it isn’t..

Having the kids at home for six solid weeks might sound like the stuff of nightmares. After all, you have to keep the blighters occupied for all that time. And that costs money, not to mention the stress from planning days out, mediating between battling siblings, your meticulously planned diet going out the window and a little bit of your soul eroding every single day.

But, and here’s the cheesy bit, spending so much time with your kids is priceless. Yes, it might not seem like that when you are stuck in a traffic jam behind a procession of caravans on the way to your holiday destination – but as September rolls around, these moments will seem more precious than gold.

Plan plan plan

For several weeks prior to schools breaking up for the holidays time drags on. Kids are going stir-crazy at school as their minds go in to overdrive with excitement and anticipation for six weeks of unrestricted fun. At least that’s how it seems. But I reckon they’re also a bit less focused as they are tired from the long school term and utterly bored by the post-curriculum activities during class. Perhaps the last few weeks of term should be taught outside!

So, time is dragging for the kids, whereas for us parents these few weeks are just a drag; Overnight our little darlings have become less receptive to instructions and time is hurtling fast towards the summer holiday abyss.

For a successful holiday you need to plan months in advance. You know this and yet there’s a whole bunch of normal stuff to do, like buying food, preparing meals, cleaning, paying bills, going to work etcetera.

Still, your brain is starting to engage. Every time you open your calendar your inner procrastinator surfaces and the internal dialogue whirls. Sometimes one parent takes the lead, and sometimes it’s a combination of both of you, working as a hive-mind problem solving the summer holiday dilemma.

Hoping for a coup

Six weeks to fill. You’re not going to waste it all sat on the sofa like last year. Nope. I’ve got a garden meadow to mow, rooms to decorate and DIY to do. That decking and barbecue fire pit aren’t going to build themselves. I’ve got a bunch of chores to do around the house too. We can’t do it with the kids around. Hmm… Think think think. Ah yes, book a holiday away somewhere…. Anywhere! We deserve one. Better take the kids too I suppose. Great. One week down, five to go. Stick them on some holiday sports and activities camps.

Yeah, they’ll make some new friends, become more social and learn new skills. Five weeks worth? Nah, that’ll cost a packet. Ten days tops. School uniform shopping – that’s another day right there. Pack them off to relatives? Might be lucky to offload for a few days. Ok, we’re getting somewhere. Perhaps, we can arrange some play dates. You never know, we might be able to even leave them in the care of their friends’ parents for the day. That would be a coup.

The parental hive mind thinks you’re making some good plans for the kids. Perhaps you even tell the kids early doors, thinking they might be excited about your plans. Hey, if they’re really excited you might even consider putting them on that pottery course or bell-ringing camp that you think they might like.

Teenage grunts

In a child’s mind they may well see things very differently.  Little kids would be happy with a paddling pool, a ball and someone (you) to observe their antics for the whole six weeks. Tweens might also be happy with this, but won’t say so. Some tweenies may also be closer to the teenage mode. For example, do they own a phone?

Your teen is probably envisaging long lie-ins followed by a solid 12 hours of checking Instagram and playing X-Box. To pacify you they may say they’ll meet up with their mates a couple of times to go for a milkshake and grunt about the latest Fortnite dance, but you both know they can’t be bothered to make the effort.

Thinking about planning is one thing, but when July comes around and you haven’t even booked the time off work let along schedule any organised fun then panic starts to set in. You turn to your partner and plaintively enquire if they have booked the activities as agreed. Amazingly they did book some, but not all.

And booking the holiday was my job?

Frantically you look at some websites. A few quick searches later and you realise why travel websites also double as year planners – if you want to know when the school holidays start just see when the prices quadruple!

So, the holidays begin and your plans have collapsed quicker than England’s top-order batsmen. That’s okay, you reassure yourself. We’ll plan day-by-day, and all will be right in the world. The middle-order is strong and the tail can wag, can’t it?

When I was a kid…

Plan each day as it comes. Plan each day as it comes. Plan each day as it comes. No matter how many times you say it, it doesn’t sound any smarter.

I don’t know about you, but with the exception of the few days the kids need to get up early for sports camps, my alarm clock is switched off for the duration of the holiday. A sense of not knowing the time or day has always felt right during the holidays. Losing track of time is relaxing.

Hey, I’m so chilled I haven’t got the foggiest if it’s Monday or Wednesday, time for brunch or dinner!

Perhaps, just perhaps, this is contributory to the sense of days getting shorter as having no structure results in wasted time lounging around.

As a kid I was outside doing “stuff” for the all during the holidays, so I could only judge the time of day by when I was hungry or when it was getting dark. And in the summer, days are long anyway, which added to the feeling that summer holidays were awesomely long. Contrarily, adulthood limits your outdoorsy capacity by reducing the time you can spend outside and making you the administrator of open-air activities. So, when you spend a day out with the kids (which will be many days, even if you’ve managed to palm them off to paid and unpaid custodians for chunks of the holidays) you can’t really enjoy it. Not completely at any rate.

Constant edge

As administrator of days out it’s your job to make sure everyone is up and ready to go on time, snacks and lunches are made, the car is packed, the route is planned, your purse has change for the arcades and/or ice-creams, and that’s all before you’ve left home. If your brood contains more than one child then be prepared for the car journey from hell. I recommend a decent pair of industrial ear-defenders. Oh, and don’t forget a parent’s main weapon to cajole acceptable behaviour: unenforceable threats and overgenerous bribes.

Wherever you choose for your family day out you’ll be constantly on edge, wanting to ensure the little darlings don’t cause a public embarrassment. It’s great training for future parole officers. A couple of days out like this and you’ll be wishing you were back at work!

As the holiday wears on, there’s a growing sense of time running out. It only takes a few days before we start to lament.

Only five weeks left, we’ve already had a sixth of the holidays, it’ll soon be time to prepare for school/work….

This is bewailed with growing despair as each day passes us by. The things we hoped (but didn’t actually plan) to do not getting done only make this feeling worse.

The barbecue pit won’t get built this year. Does the shed really need painting? The spare room will have to stay full of crap for now. Wake up early on a Sunday to do a car boot sale? Nah. I’m on me holi-bobs.

Until the sun dips

On or around the 1st September, as you sit there in your pyjamas, staring at your bowl of cereal and supping your first cup of coffee at 11.30am, you realise it’s nearly over for another year. The kids will be back at school soon and you’ll actually miss the little buggers.

Night will start to close in, there will be less time to do stuff outside and the feeling of the days passing quicker will grow and grow.  How many days until the spend-fest that is the “Jolly C-word Season” soon looms large?

Still, as autumn progresses it’s not too late to grab hold of the sands of summer time and shake every last grain out. Yes, the kids might be at school and the days might be getting shorter, but there’s still time to make the most of it. Meticulous planning isn’t required. It just needs “you” and this simple instruction: go outside, and do something, anything until the sun dips down and you can hardly see your nose on your face. Play a game with the kids, be silly, be a big kid. Just do something.

You see, time doesn’t change. It might feel likes it is going quicker as the days and years pass us by, but in reality it is what we do in that time that makes it last longer.  

Mark Towers, is a parent of two reasonably well-behaved boys. Although he claims parenting is his main occupation, Mark is also an author and the founder and editor of NorfolkPlaces.