I like things to have a theme; I like to be able to look back and easily sum things up in three words or a couple of sentences. Like the golden autumn when everything was shiny and sparkling and brilliant. Followed by literal and metaphorical November rain. Or the summer holiday with inauspicious beginnings that turned out to be the best one ever.
But when I look back on this summer, I can’t put my finger on what kind of summer it was. There’s no theme jumping out. It was a fine summer. Fine. The weather was mixed, and dictated that some days were spent entirely at home, stepping over one another and feeling all the cabin fever, but mostly we took a chance and went out, packing rain jackets and crossing fingers.
We did everything I could possibly think of – we went to all the parks, we climbed hills, we visited a Georgian House, we went on a boat to Dalkey Island, we went to Sandymount Strand and Sandycove beach.
Some of those days were wonderful, and some made me wonder why we bothered at all. Most were a mix – good bits and bad bits, with photos to prove the good bits happened (and somewhat blurring away the bad bits).
We went out because getting out of the house seems like the right thing to do, but also because it forced me to put aside work and focus on the kids.
Because that was the other thing about this summer – the work and home lines were more blurred than ever. I was busier than I expected to be (a good thing!) but this had its downsides – like doing a phone interview with a psychologist while my four-year-old stood on front of me going “Blah, blah, blah” really loudly until I had to end the call (luckily the lovely person at the end of the phone has three kids of her own and completely understood – she was so nice about it all it made me cry.)
So while having summer at home with the kids and working around them sounds idyllic, it was far from it – there were many times when I felt I was failing on all fronts. At home, the kids never really had my full attention, so going out most afternoons was the trick to fix it.
But by the beginning of this week, although I didn’t wish for school runs and uniforms, I had utterly run out of ideas of places to go, and I was tired of packing picnics into backpacks and kids into cars. But the forecast for Wednesday was good, and after a day of rain, it seemed clear we had to go out. The kids were playing – they’d made a car out of a cardboard box, and were still in their pyjamas when I asked them to choose between Cabinteely Park, the People’s Park or Sandymount Strand.
“Do we have to mum? Can’t we just stay here? We were going to go out on our bikes and make a video of it.”
And suddenly I got it – I could see why the summer was just “fine” – I could see what we were missing. My own memories of childhood summers are not only of beach trips and forest picnics – the clearest memory of all is just being at home. Cycling around the green with my friend Sarah. Playing chasing. Annoying the boys. Being annoyed by the boys. Spotting squished “bloodsuckers” on our legs after we’d been sitting on walls. Holding jumble sales. Turning wardrobe shelves into doll houses. Making perfume out of dandelions. Camping in the garden. Rollerskating. Singing alone to Whitney Houston’s I Wanna Dance With Somebody. Making up dance routines to The Jets’ Crush on You. Reading in the garden. Playing, running, climbing – just being at home.
And this year, because we’d rushed to parks and beaches every time the sun came out, we’d missed that bit. Our home days were punctuated by rain and grey and indoor games – we didn’t have lazy days in the garden or playing on the green.
And sure, staying home would mean blurred lines and laptop distraction for me, but if the kids were happy cycling their bikes, then what harm. So belatedly, but not quite too late, I figured out the answer.
“Of course we can stay at home,” I said. And we did. And we did it the next day too. They continued building their cardboard car, they made videos, they coloured, they cycled their bikes, they called to their friends, they had lunch in the garden and ice-creams from the freezer.
And you can guess the rest – they truly were some of our favourite days this summer.
Perhaps we need distance to see a theme – like the way we clearly remember what people wore in the 70s and the 80s, but noughties are not yet so obvious. Maybe that’s why only now at the end of the summer, and in writing this post, I can see that it was fine, but that it was my practice run as a work at home parent. And maybe we need practice runs and learning curves to get things right. Next year we’ll still have days out and parks and picnics but we’ll have home days too, especially when the sun is out, so they can do everything I did as a kid.
Oh, and the other thing I’ve learned is that I need the odd summer camp too. Yes to creating memories and yes to childhood nostalgia, but I’m not a complete martyr – next year there will be camps.