As a teacher, I am often asked, especially at this time of year, how I keep myself occupied during the long summer holiday that I get. I generally detect a note of jealousy in the voice of the poser of the question who is one of those for whom July and August are work months. (I am not going to launch into a rant complaining about all the extra unpaid hours I put in during the school year which justify the long break. I’ll leave that to another blog.) My answer lately is that I find enough stuff to keep busy although I must state that my major achievement this vacation so far, apart from giving a presentation on War Poetry at an English Teachers’ conference, ploughing my way through Tony Judt’s massive tome, “Postwar” and scuba diving in Eilat, has been getting Leyton Orient promoted to the Premiership in the Manager mode of FIFA 2010 (don’t ask – it would take too long to explain.)
Up to a few years ago, however, the answer to this question was far simpler. I would just reply, “Looking after my kids.” Ten days after high schools break up for the summer hols, primary schools and kindergartens cease functioning. I would have a week and a half break before the Fruit of my Loins would become my main concern. Day camp didn’t really solve the problem. It was only for two weeks and entailed my getting up early to get the kids ready and ferrying them there. Then I would get a few hours at home in which I could get things done till I had to make the return trip. If I was lucky then several parents in the area would get together and car pool so I would not have to go every day.
When camp was over, I would have to find ways of amusing them that, preferably, didn’t cost too much money. The local swimming pool has always been our favourite haunt. Looking back on those years, I can’t remember complaining. I think that I actually enjoyed being with the kids. It was tough on the wife on the occasions when I was called to do military reserve duty during the summer, but in general I was around for them.
Although for a number of years now my kids have not needed constant supervision, it has only been this summer when I have become aware of the quiet and the emptiness that has engulfed our flat. With daughter no. 1 in the army for most of the week and son no. 1 finishing off his year’s voluntary service before he gets drafted in November, only the twins are at home. However, due to their Scouting commitments they have been away for around three weeks this vacation. And when they have been at home, their friends have demanded more of their attention than I have (thankfully). I get to play the music I want and I don’t have to fight anyone off the computer (hence Leyton Orient’s surprise promotion to English football’s top tier.)
I suppose I have turned a major corner of parenthood; when your children cease to be accessories and become actual people in their own right. One thing that I have managed to do this summer is to get all of the videos that we made of the kids growing up converted to DVDs. For the first time in years, I got around to watching some of them.
It would be trite to say that I was amazed at how much the kids had changed (it would be more amazing if no change had taken place over the past 13-14 years,); what struck me most was how much I had had changed (and I was as bald then as I am now.) On the few occasions that I actually appeared on a video as I was, more often than not, the cameraman, the unmistakable smug expression of a new parent was apparent on my face.
Okay, it’s unavoidable and, I suppose, well-deserved, but it still annoys the hell out of me when I see it on the faces of 20-something year olds today pushing their new-born around today in a buggy that cost the same as a second-hand car almost willing you to come and look at their progeny and compliment them on their good work. I mean, what does having a baby really prove, apart from the fact that your gonads work?
The smug smile should come after surviving the first 15-17 years of parenthood, yet the expression on the face of parents of stroppy adolescents is far from complacent.
At first, I must admit, I felt almost naked having to go places on my own after all the years that I had got used to having kids in tow wherever I went. They drew the fire away from me. If I met anyone, the questions would inevitably be about the sprogs. I never had to say anything concerning myself. But perhaps I ought to look at the positive side of it all. Now I have my life back and I should make a start on all the things that I’ve wanted to do for a long time. I’ll take up the saxophone, learn German, make a start on a doctorate, go on a scuba diving course – but in the meantime, I shall concentrate my efforts on another fruitless attempt at signing Wayne Rooney for Leyton Orient.