Long, long ago, on a campsite far, far away, I met a holiday friend called Claire. She had long brown hair and was from Ireland or England – I wasn’t old enough to distinguish accents. I had spent two days sitting on the steps of our mobile home looking across at her, and she’d spent two days looking back at me. Both of us too shy to talk, but not old enough to be self-conscious about staring. Eventually we did start playing, and she was my best holiday friend ever.
There were other holiday friends over the years, familiar and exotic names long forgotten, and then there were some years that yielded no new friendships at all. I remember times when my sisters and I watched from the sidelines as kids who seemed to ooze confidence wandered up and chatted to one another with no hesitation. In my memory, these were mostly English campsites and English kids, and I eventually decided that they were just more confident than we four Irish girls. Or maybe we were just more shy than most, full stop. Also, we had each other, so holiday friends were a want more than a need.
Last month in Italy, I watched as my seven-year-old spent two days sitting on the steps of our mobile home looking across at the girl from across the way, who spent the same two days looking right back. Both too shy to talk, but not at all worried about staring. Eventually, gently prompted by the two watching mothers, and a more confident big sister, they started playing. And thus the holiday was made – a trio of holiday buddies, for five lifetime-long campsite days.
Our friend across the way came with three brothers, who were already friends with three boys next door, and two more across the way, and three more up the road. Between them, they formed a gang – not in a Bloods and Crips kind of way – but a gang who played Donkey, and football, and Tip the Can, and Cops and Robbers for hours and days on end. Everyone was included, regardless of age or gender.
And great kindness was shown, even to the one child who kept kicking up dust for fun or moving the pieces on the draught board (yes, my four-year-old). People moved closer when throwing him the ball to make sure he could catch it, and he was praised for everything he did. My constant pleas to “Stop giving stones to the boys/ stop taking the ball/ stop digging the ground in the middle of the game” were met with smiles and shrugs and “He’s grand, we don’t mind.”
We grownups watched, chatting occasionally, but mostly enjoying that the kids were having so much unsupervised fun.
On our friend’s last day – I’ll call her Saoirse – we bumped into her down at the pool. My girls and Saoirse whooped and ran to the slides together – the day was made. I watched Saoirse’s mother with her youngest child, a little in the distance. Too shy to go over, and self-conscious enough, finally, to know not to stare – or at least to do so undetected. Wading across a pool seemed a stretch too far, so I stayed on the sidelines, just as I did all those years ago.
Then, some necessary parental supervision in the wave pool literally threw us together, and we got chatting. And chatting. And chatting. And within twenty minutes, I knew everything, and she knew everything. And I knew we were best holiday friends. Just for twenty minutes, and on the last day, but sometimes that’s all you need.
On letting children play freely, this is an article I wrote for the Examiner on teaching your kids about safety without scaring them, and giving them the freedom to explore – with very wise words from author Stella O’Malley and Psychotherapist Joanna Fortune: Giving children the opportunity to explore is an important first step in their independence
And if you’ve ever felt tired at the end of a long day and wondered if bedtime stories are really necessary, here’s a feature I wrote for the Independent all about reading to kids and what it brings to them: Word Up: You can never start them too young when it comes to reading
And finally, if you’re in a voting mood, I’m a finalist for the Boots maternity & infant awards and I’d love your vote! The easiest way to do it is to click the badge below and vote via Facebook. Thank you!