Each year, there is a day which simply cannot be beaten. A day when you wake up, and feel as though the world is quite literally your oyster. The sun is shining (sometimes), the birds (usually seagulls) are singing, and the promise of weeks of blissful relaxation, of days spent lounging by a pool drinking radioactively-hued cocktails with garish paper umbrellas, hangs heavy in the air.
This day, like my birthday, falls in July, but it isn’t my birthday. Once you get to my age, you start wishing you were going backwards, looking up the price of Botox and seriously considering whether chemical peels are more likely to land you in Vogue or the burns unit.
It isn’t Christmas. Though not without its own merits, Christmas is too full of obligations; of family visits and baking and cooking and rushing to Tesco to panic buy food for that one full day the shops are closed.
I’m talking, of course, about the first day of the summer holidays. The day that feels like all the birthdays and Christmases you’ve ever had rolled into one. One of the life’s great moments, happening every year, right on cue. Like finishing your university Finals and bumping into the late, great Queen Mother all on the same day. Like doing a bungee jump and landing at the bottom of a valley, still alive. Like having a baby, but without the icky bits like childbirth. In the words of long-forgotten early 2000s manufactured band Hearsay, It is a great day, pure and simple.
So I wanted to celebrate the greatness of the summer holidays, before it’s over and forgotten again, until next year, in a flurry of Back to School signs emblazoned with smiling schoolchildren in grey pinafores brandishing the latest collection of George at Asda pencil cases; signs which are always, every year, visible far too soon and never, ever welcomed. At least not by me.
And yet it feels as though some people see the summer holidays as a difficult time. As though it’s an inconvenient chore to be spending time enjoying life with your own children; enjoying the sunshine, having barbecues, building dens, watching Chuggington two hundred times a day. And that might be your experience. You might be a full time working parent to eight school age children who find themselves suddenly at a loose end for six weeks just as your own work is at its busiest. I don’t know. I don’t speak for everyone, but I do speak for myself, and for me, the school holidays is a precious time to not be busy. Time to actually spend with my son and not feel as though he’s being raised by his grandmother. Time to enjoy the simple pleasures like going to the park, having a playdate, watching those two hundred episodes of Chuggington. And I love it. I’ll take the endless Chuggington over a day at work any day. I’ll take the sunshine and the smell of freshly mown grass when it rains. I’ll take the smell of woodsmoke from summer bonfires and I’ll take the six thousand kids splashing about in the lido. I’ll take the traffic jams and the holiday price hikes, and the tantrum because I’m not paying for yet another go on the carousel. I’ll take the sunhat that gets flung to the ground every five seconds and the rapidly emptying bottles of sunscreen, and I’ll take the weekend queue to get into the zoo. Because you know what? I’m not at work, and soon I have to go back, and this time is finite and precious.
Few people could claim that being a parent is always easy, but for me the times when it is hard rarely seem to fall in the summer holidays. I am lucky to have a child, I am lucky to be able to spend time with him. I am quite literally, although it pains me to say it and goes against everything I hold dear about hating on all those Insta-perfect tropes of parenthood, with angelic looking children cavorting in fields of lavender in a well behaved manner dressed in an impeccable summer dress with no mud, poo or food stains on it, HASHTAG BLESSED.
School holidays, I salute you. Long may we cavort together in fields of lavender. I’ll bring the dress, and you can bring the hand-made daisy chain. We’ll walk together in sun-dappled woodland and watch the stars unfold across the evening sky. We’ll go on cruise ships, and caravan holidays, and be snooty about the evening entertainment. We’ll go to tacky seaside resorts, and be blown away by hurricane force winds and sit, underwhelmed, in tea rooms in our cagoules, watching that peculiarly British summer drizzle quietly drench a faded town.
We’ll drive back through endless traffic, looking for sneaky shortcuts that lead only to dead ends, and have an argument in the service station whilst eating a dinner of pure fat and sugar; and waste our money on bits of plastic tat that glow in the dark for a couple of days, then lie, abandoned, underneath a caravan or in the boot of a car. We’ll go swimming, and then spend twenty minutes trying to inflate a pair of armbands while the toddler tries to escape from the changing rooms and run screaming around the pool; then we’ll pray that long-overdue toddler poo doesn’t make a sudden appearance just as we hit the water.
We’ll sit on that packed train and ponder the journeys of summertimes past. Of childhood excitement and ice cream brazenly stolen by seagulls. And then we’ll look into the eyes of our own children, and re-live it once again.
Summer holidays, I salute you. You make the rest of the year worthwhile. All the sweat and toil of exams and lessons and reports and deadlines. The nights spent working by the light of the laptop’s glare. The long, cold days and January blues. The 6am get-ups and leaving a sleeping child to the grandmother who sees him more than you do.
So I will take any bad stuff you have to throw at me. I will take all of it, and cherish it all. The good and the bad and the nothing at all. Until next year summer holidays. Don’t ever change.
From all the teacher parents out there.