First day of the summer holidays – bliss! Everything in place - a week camping in Lake Garda for the whole family, another in Wells Next the Sea with Alfie and Bonnie (‘Sounds damp and dreary, Mummy’ Thanks Bon) while the girls were at Camp, ripping another new tent and losing the poles...Courses in dance, athletics, football, art; strict ban – maturely accepted - on Nintendo/PSP/Computer games before 3pm allowing time to get bored and rediscover imaginative play. Right. By the end of the holidays they’d choose monopoly - or building dens! – over shooting squeaky blobs on a screen, and I’d be on the brink of liking work again.
‘Come on everyone, time to go to the dentist!’ I called, bright and breezy. Keep things pacy, that’s the trick! ‘Every day can’t be fun, fun, fun’ (‘why not?’) ‘but we can make it a nice walk and talk together!’
Two minutes up the road, Josie was yelping at the nail sticking out of her 20th pair of useless vegetarian shoes: ‘Buy leather next time!’ I comforted; the little ones wrestled me to the ground, fighting to get the most arm round me, and Maddy scolded them every time I did, reversing any effect: 'You're not our Mum, Maddy'. ‘HELP!!’ Bonnie screamed, ‘Alfie said I was THE WORST THING in his LIFE!!’. Alfie launched himself at her throat, catching me in the cross-fire. The bickering and fighting (’She looked at me’’I was talking first’) was rubbing away like sandpaper at my strategically high mood, which was supposed to spread to them. 'OOOOWWW MY FEET!!!' Josie continued, bottom of the list for attention at present, but whining anyway.
‘I DON’T KNOW WHY I BOTHERED TO HAVE FOUR CHILDREN WHEN NONE OF YOU EVER PLAY WITH EACH OTHER NICELY EVER, EVER, EVER!!!!’
Congratulating myself on excellent crisis-management, I checked to see if anyone we knew was on the street. I counted to ten. Bonnie began again: ‘The dentist! You could at least think of one interesting thing for us to do – I’m sure you could manage that!’ I tried switching-off, imagining blue seas and tropical beaches, then I thought about people with real problems, like terminal illness, to put things in perspective, but my heart was still pounding and out it came:
‘I REALLY CAN’T FACE GOING ON HOLIDAY WITH YOU LOT IF YOU’RE GOING TO BEHAVE LIKE THIS!”. There, that’s better.
So far so unravelled, things were going to get even better, as I’d volunteered to be the night-guard at Josie’s camping-expedition-cum-squalor-fest with her friends that night. I was up for a fair whack of thankless rubbish clearance, but hadn’t counted on Josie’s social cudos being so tainted by proximity to me that she could only address me in secret out of the corner of her mouth. For the rest of the Golden Girls, speech was out of the question. I was invisible to the beautiful ones, and hid like a leper behind the tinted windows of my car, letting them get on with it, which they did by cackling through the night at in-jokes and rolling around in make-up and mayonnaise, emerging the next morning a little tousled, but still wearing the beauty of extreme youth. For my part, I had the longest sit down I’d had for fifteen years, and discovered how very much I loved my children when Alan was looking after them. Josie crept over to kiss me goodnight in my tent. All was well with the world.