It is summer 2016. My children are older now – 15, 12 and 10 – and I find it so difficult to remember my life before they changed it forever. The early, slow, can’t-tell-day-from-night phase has gone for good and the last few years have whipped by in a blur. My children are changing almost on a daily basis before my very eyes, metamorphosing into the adults they will soon be, so I wanted to use the Summer of Love project to document what I love about them today, this week, this summer, before it whizzes past me and I can no longer pin it down.
Some of the things I love now are:
Their senses of humour
However difficult a day I may have, there is not one that goes past without at least one of my children making me laugh at some point. I genuinely enjoy their company more and more as they mature into their personalities. My youngest child still has quite slapstick tendencies and I now suspect this may always be the case. Living with him is like living with Cato from The Pink Panther: his favourite current trick is to try to steal up behind me, noiselessly, as I, Inspector Clouseau-like, haplessly chop vegetables/brush my teeth/check my email, and leap onto my back shouting triumphantly ‘bet you didn’t know I was here!’ He still finds it hilarious to stick two oranges up his t-shirt and pretend he has breasts and is still to be found rolling around on the floor in abject mirth watching You’ve Been Framed. My daughter is altogether more sophisticated in her humour. She can speak volumes with a carefully raised eyebrow and a scathing look and is turning into a good mimic. My eldest likes a visual gag, passing his phone to me ten or twenty times a day to chortle at something or other and share the joke, often loftily hiding the screen from his siblings, declaring it ‘unsuitable’ for them or telling them they wouldn’t get it because it’s about Brexit, or Donald Trump.
Their developing engagement with the world
No one could have missed the dramatic political developments of Summer 2016 and my children are certainly all aware of Brexit, terrorism and the US election. Although it has been chiefly my oldest child who has been gripped by the unfolding events and had articulate, passionate conversations around the debate (whilst bemoaning that he and his friends were not eligible to vote in the Referendum), all of them have an awareness of the events of the world around them and ask pertinent questions. There are many stories I wish I could shield them from, like the Nice attacks, particularly when their questions reveal anxieties and inaccuracies but this is now impossible, not least because the news is beamed directly to their mobile phones.
Hormones are raging for two out of the three of them (not to mention me). This can sometimes lead to sulks, slammed doors, arguments and tears (including mine). However, I am really heartened and impressed by the way they are learning to deal with this and to understand my point of view. Recently, several weeks of nagging to try to get my son to tidy his bedroom resulted in a sarcastic outburst in which I was accused of being unreasonable (of course) and of having OCD. Later that evening, I received a text from him, showing a grinning selfie with a thumbs up from inside an immaculate bedroom. My daughter’s moods are becoming more erratic but a couple of weeks ago, after a prolonged bout of snippiness, she silently presented me with a beautiful drawing of an elephant (known to be my favourite animal) by way of a peace-offering.
They are lengthening, stretching and growing. They are lithe and lean, freckled, muscled, beautiful creatures with glossy hair and shiny eyes. I sometimes cannot stop myself from staring and marvelling at how bonny and strong they are. They all still do a lot of sport but, whilst the football, cricket and gymnastics plus the rigours of secondary school are enough to wear out the older two, who have become rather floppy, enervated and adolescent in their down time, no amount of exercise seems to exhaust my youngest child. He is, dog-like, irrepressible, continually moving and continually fiddling with anything in his vicinity. This year, I have finally had the brainwave of taping up the remote controls, to try to stop him absent-mindedly pulling their backs off so that the batteries spill down the sides of the chairs.
All of them are very engaged by music this summer, in different ways. My eldest is taking music GCSE, which he is finding more absorbing than I could have hoped. He is also developing an eclectic retro style, teaching himself Beatles and David Bowie numbers alongside his Moonlight Sonata and New Worlds Symphony and putting Nirvana and Etta James on his holiday playlist. To my great joy, he has asked me to sing along when he tries to work out his Lennon and McCartney chords on the piano (cue sarcastic comments from the others about how we should enter Britain’s Got Talent. Not.) My daughter has taken to lying on her bed, trainee teenager like, listening to the latest chart music. My youngest likes nothing better than when we are driving around the area after school, dropping and collecting from various activities, and he can enforce Capital radio in the car, to which he joyously sings along at the top of his voice. They are all learning instruments but pop music is gaining precedence.
This summer, I am also remembering with love my grandmother, who died ten years ago this month at the grand old age of 96 and my mother, who died two years ago this month. My grandmother was a tiny, charismatic Scottish woman who, despite being an extrovert through and through, was the one person who made me feel comfortable about being an introvert when I was growing up. ‘You have a stillness’, she told me, ‘that reminds me of my mother and it is a nice quality. You just be you.’ As I am writing this at the start of the long summer holidays, I will probably fail time and time again, but my heartfelt aim is to make my children feel that just being them, whatever that is, is good enough for me.