Tag Archives: holiday

Fifteen

One evening in early May, fifteen years ago, I greeted my husband with alarm when he came home from work. I was newly on maternity leave, nervously awaiting the birth of my first child and had spent the day in conscientious preparation (washing baby clothes in non-biological powder, packing a hospital bag), eating and dozing off in front of the television. I had awoken in a daze to find myself watching a travel programme where a harried, old-looking couple were trying to find a suitable holiday for themselves and their morose teenage sons.

I had not found out the sex of my baby but I knew, deep down, that I was having a boy and I suddenly started to panic about how I was going to manage with a teenage son.  What on earth had possessed me to think this mothering business was the right thing to do? Why had it not occurred to me until now – when there was clearly no going back – that a little baby boy would grow up into a giant, sullen creature with whom one would have to find a suitable holiday to go on? The only thing that calmed me down that evening, as I paced around a flat punctuated by lots of little babygrows drying here and there on radiators, was the rationalisation that, by the time one had a teenage son, one would (hopefully) have got to know him and so the whole going-on-holiday-thing might be less of a challenge.

Fast forward fifteen years and I like to think I understand my teenage boy and what makes him tick, for now at least.

It seems rather abrupt, however, that he has suddenly attained an age that can be counted up in fives, leading me to reminisce about him being a baby, about him being five, and ten and anticipating the speed at which twenty will come hurtling towards me. Time with him feels like it is accelerating and is being used up at a terrific rate. Unlike the baby-time – those hours that could feel like days, or the sleepless nights that could feel like weeks. It is poignant and a bit sobering to realise that there is really not very much time left with him at home to have those family holidays in that sent me into such a flat spin back in 2001. I have now started to worry instead about how to fit it all in, about how to make it count, about how to not forget the hours, the days and the terms which are slipping away in a blur of football fixtures, cricket matches, margherita pizzas and mock GCSEs.

The time I do spend with my boy now is precious. In years gone by, he could often be an even-tempered, personable, intelligent and funny companion: at fifteen, he is all of these things consistently.   Most of the time, he has a new maturity of attitude and is equable and affable (sibling relations sometimes being honourable exceptions).

He has a new, deepened interest in music and has eclectic tastes – equally interested in attending a classical concert with his parents and grandfather to listen to Elgar and Vaughan Williams; in listening to and researching the music of the Beatles; in understanding the reason why 80s classics are 80s classics and even in attempting his own compositions on the piano or guitar. We spent an enjoyable hour or two recently listening to a downloaded ‘Best of British’ album where I challenged him to guess the performer and the decade of each track and a long car journey at Easter was punctuated by having to score and rank Beatles tracks out of ten. I can share favourite old songs with a truly appreciative audience, telling him about dancing him to sleep with Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘The Only Living Boy in New York’ when he was a baby, or explaining why John Lennon’s ‘Watching the Wheels’ struck such a chord with me when I stopped going out to work for a while.

He is endlessly acquisitive, searching facts and opinions on a diverse range of topics and – gradually – learning the difference between facts and opinions. He is articulate and well-informed on lots of current affairs, with a particular interest in the U.S. election, as well as an absolutely encyclopaedic knowledge of worldwide football statistics, honed by the considerable amount of his time which he devotes to football you-tubers. He is determined to get to the bottom of whatever he comes across, such as questioning me endlessly about the Cold War (as well as the rights and wrongs of 80s fashion) whilst watching Deutschland ’83 with me.

He is a child of his times in his communication strategies. He is a humourous texter (sometimes sending them to me in French or German, just because he can) and will sometimes talk to me via text from a different room in the house. This is not quite what I usually have in mind when I want to talk to him, but can sometimes elicit more information from him than a conventional conversation. He emails me his Christmas and birthday lists, but it is always politely done, with an acknowledgement that he does not expect everything on the list and with helpful links to the actual things he wants.   What he wants, aged 15, is trendy clothes (with a particular propensity for near-identical, ruinously expensive long sleeved grey tops), sheet music and lots of chocolate.

He is badly organised, messy, charming, impractical, beautiful, sensitive, bright and bonny.

He is physically stronger, bigger, hungrier, leaner and male-r than ever before, but I think he still has quite a way to grow.

If I could go back to the first week of May 2001, I would tell myself not to worry. Your boy is amazing and you will look forward to a holiday with him the summer he is fifteen.

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Bold fearful boy

FullSizeRenderObserving no.1 son grow up has, on many occasions, felt like undergoing a psycho-therapeutic exploration of my childhood. So many of his motivations and anxieties trigger memories of my own youth and the predicaments that my thoughtful but naïve younger being would self-inflict. And seeing my older son heading up cul-de-sacs of his own making would make me wish I could convey what I have learnt: making mistakes is uncomfortable but worth getting used to; doing something is almost always better than doing nothing (exceptions: sinking sand); you only look embarrassing if you are looking embarrassed.

I have never been unaware of the possibility that I am merely projecting my personality and motivations onto my older son. Approach a problem with a particular frame and you’ll see what you want to see. I believe, though, that I have indisputable evidence that this is not a solipsistic delusion. The most persuasive argument I can present is: no.2 son.

Four and three-quarters years younger than his older brother, the third and last of Mother in the Middle and my progeny, he clearly has different influences to the first born: the example of two older siblings, relatively relaxed and experienced parents, a busy household, a school and social life where for many he is so-and-so’s little bro’.

Yet, allowing for these environmental factors, there is an innate distinctiveness. When friends ask how the family is, I relate Mother in the Middle’s non-stop life and then for the children I will summarise the latest achievements of no.1 son and the 1&onlyD, then pause. “No.2 son, he’s just a [insert age] BOY.” That sounds belittling, but I know when I’m saying it, I’m shaking my head with wonder, trying but failing to encapsulate the essence of energetic, affectionate, noisy, charming infancy that he represents. Where his older brother and sister have been precocious, pushing some of the boundaries of their age, no.2 son exists comfortably within the developmental median for his calendar age. He’s a pup in no hurry to be a dog.

Mother in the Middle booked our summer holiday before last Christmas. The kids had months to speculate and build expectations of their two week stay in France in August: the pool, the tennis court, canal, river, pizzeria, beaches and French folk. One day, earlier in the summer, rain falling outside, the 1&onlyD was longing for this trip. It would be so good just to sit in the sun and read, we agreed. No.2 son heard us, expressed shock: “No. There’s a pool and a river, we’re going to be swimming, not reading.” We had, but really didn’t need, fair warning.

The first morning of the holiday, I woke early. I carried a chair, a book and a cup of tea out into the sunny garden. Minutes later, no.2 son was at my shoulder, asking for breakfast. Not many minutes after that, he was back, in swimming shorts.

Can we go to the pool?

No. It’s too early.

Will you play football?

Not yet. And can you speak quietly, there are lots of people sleeping around here

Ok. [withdraws, singing heartily]

Throughout the two weeks, no.2 son’s appetite for activity was continuous, and probably entirely consistent with that of a nine year old. In child- and adulthood, I have had a threshold where the desire for activity is submerged by a preference for comfort. Sure, I’ll play in the pool. But once I’ve dried off, getting wet and cold again has insufficient appeal. A kickabout in the garden is fun, but tea time means full-time, not half-time. No.1 son shows similar reservations and qualified commitment.

I admire and envy my younger son’s relentless pursuit of physical fulfilment. Another plunge into the pool, yet more charging after a ball in the garden, gymnastics with his sister if that’s the only action on offer. This physical boldness equips him well for sport: tackle after tackle on the football field; every time he gets the ball, a dribble past opponents or attempted defence-splitting pass; in goal, he bursts out towards attackers, diving at their feet; on the cricket field always closing in on the batsman, defying the coach’s instruction to take 10 steps backwards; sliding, sprawling to stop the ball hit in his vicinity.

Standing on the touchline, I see him play without fear. It is exhilarating, the most predictably exciting part of my week. And it’s disorientating, that a child with my genetic inheritance runs unencumbered by fear, the very impulse that has inhibited my every sporting fixture or active adventure.

He’s not tireless or immune to pain, but neither are reasons to stop. Activity is an end in itself. Comfort, reflection, quiet time are reluctantly accepted and usually attempted swinging from a chair, singing or chatting in a funny voice. A family friend once asked Mother In the Middle what it must be like for no.2 son to live in such a quiet family. It’s a good question.

Where might this boldness end? In A&E, Mother in the Middle worries, particularly when we’re on holiday. Our time in France, though, showed that it has its natural limits.

Sitting together on the flight, I tried to distract no.2 son’s anxiety of flying by reading and offering sweets. Twenty minutes after take-off, his hand still gripping my arm, Bilbo Baggins’ adventures were lost in the drone of the plane’s engines and no.2 son’s anxious inattention. A lady in the row behind tapped me on the arm. “My daughter wondered if your son would be happier with this,” handing me an iPad, headphones and a Pixar movie, which he used for the rest of the flight.

Shopping in France, there was a bouleversement in the supermarket. A known shop-lifter was being escorted out, against her will, noisily. No.2 son grabbed my arm and tried to drag me away from the till which the assistant was keeping shut while the incident was dealt with. “It’s a riot. I want to go. Take me out,” he implored.

Then there was the thunderstorm. Like flying (and dogs) it’s not an unusual fear for a nine year old. But, given his bullish, bold presence through so much of life, it’s a reaction that surprises me.

There’s one rather bland conclusion to this reflection about my younger son: that we are all complex beings with apparent contradictions at our heart.

Writing it down has helped me reach a slightly more sophisticated insight. It suits my shorthand image of my family that no.1 son is ever so similar to me and his younger brother a different animal all together. As a shorthand it holds a lot of truth. But as an appreciation of my children it short changes them and risks me under-appreciating where my older son is different to me (his ease in the company of adults, is a strong example) and the many aspects of my younger son where I can’t just sit back and say, “Wow, I could never have done that.” Difficult as it is to do, I would be better off keeping the comparisons to myself out of it.

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Activity holiday

Big swing - being hauled upwards

Big swing – being hauled upwards

A dozen people pulled a rope, hoisting higher Mrs TL and me, clinging to a wooden plank. The ascent ended and we dangled while ropes were secured, slack taken in. It was quiet and precarious. I made limp efforts to reassure my wife. A count of three was shouted up to me. I reached above and behind and flicked a cord from a knot. Before I could face forward, we hurtled downwards. Then an upswing, which peaked before we described the same arc, but backwards. Then back and forwards for 60 seconds. The quiet as we dangled was chased away by my wife’s scream so gutteral that no.2 son will be impersonating it many years from now.

That was my experience of the Big Swing. The most startling experience – and probably the only one I wouldn’t want to repeat – of our Easter activity holiday. My description omits the harnesses, helmets, the testing and retesting of the buckles and the 16 other mums, dads and kids who had already ridden the Big Swing that afternoon. But, you know, our ride was scarey!

We spent five days of our Easter holiday at Boreatton Park in Shropshire, one of the bases of PGL Holidays. The holiday had been a bit of an impulse buy; one that Mrs TL felt less and less comfortable about as it approached. The Big Swing was early proof (day 2 – the first full day of activities) that her anxiety was well-placed.

The holiday centred on three and a half days of organised physical activities. The range of pursuit, the competence and friendliness of the instructors, the quality of the facilities and the potential to alarm the wary holiday maker were top-notch. Good basic cabin accommodation and hearty food with plenty of options kept you in good nick; evening games and time in the bar were there, too.

What did you do at Easter? Us? Oh, we kayaked, shot rifles, swung, fired archeryarrows, built shelters, climbed, fenced, canoed, zipped along wires and abseiled. Left to our own devices, at home or perhaps in the countryside, we may have managed a few walks and some roller-blading. But under the eager guidance of PGL’s youthful multi-pierced ear instructors we did loads. And (you will understand the significance of this if you have children) we didn’t have the stress of making decisions and negotiating between preferences and vetoes. We did what we were told when we were told. There was barely a complaint.

The younger children – the 1&onlyD and no.2 son – approached every activity with gusto and commitment. The 1&onlyD excelled at the kayak game. Both water sessions ended with a game to get everyone wet. The challenge was to move from sitting, to lying, to standing and ultimately, as only the gymnastically balanced 1&onlyD could manage, walk to the front of the kayak.

Each activity was done jointly with between one and four other families. In our survivor session in the woods, the family from Formby built a shelter in 10 mins  from tarpaulin that looked like a stealth bomber. Ours looked like a tarpaulin dropped on a bush. When we worked jointly, our comrades built a shelter that made use of tarpaulin, trees, branches, logs and counter-balancing forces that left me content to collect ‘camouflage’ materials if I could be allowed to be associated with it.

Sporty no.1 son is no adventurer. He opted out of the Big Swing – a courageous act in its own way, when everyone else is doing it. The next day, on his second attempt at the climbing wall, he reached half-way and wallasked to come down. The instructors, in a way that we as parents couldn’t have done without nagging, coaxed and convinced him to carry on. He made his way to the top. In the same way he was helped to complete two abseils down a 12 metre high tower.

Our stay culminated with the high ropes challenge. 10 metres up, you complete a circuit involving walking along wires, a beam, clinging to ropes and swinging on a barrel. No.2 son started, then refused. But he climbed back up to complete the course. Mrs TL confronted her fears with heights. I was happiest when at the end of my circuit. Finally, no.1 son, despite being very scared, took on the high ropes and managed to get around.

Again, I’ve not mentioned the harness, the safety buckles and the metal high ropesrunners you are tied to as you tackle the circuit. The 1&onlyD was one of the children happy to swing in their harness, comfortable with its security, while most of us clung to the ropes, fearful of a fall that would be checked within inches.

And that’s the delicious balance of the heights and climbing activities: they are made to look frightening, but they are so well constructed and managed that any real risk is removed. The draw is the danger, yet the instructors spend their time reassuring us of their absolute safety. The thrill is psychological and no less fulfilling for that.

It was a memorable holiday, taken as a family and spent together as a family. Each of us having little triumphs that we shared. The weather was bright throughout, although I doubt that affected the cheerfulness of the instructors who walked us around the 250 acres chanting songs.

fencingFresh air, physical activity, psychological challenges, new experiences and over 100 hours without watching, or even asking about, television. We reached home mid-evening on Good Friday. Within minutes the television and Playstation were on and I was being asked, “Dad, can you play football outside.”

 

Disclaimer: I have received no payment or benefit for this article and all opinions expressed are my own.

 

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Menorca Holiday Games

307The games started almost as soon as we hit Menorcan soil. Carousel surfing, demonstrated here by the 1&onlyD and no.2 son, is dangerous and should not be practised. It tends only to be sanctioned at the end of a long day’s travelling when the adults in the party haven’t the energy to create distractions or impose authority.

The resort pool was a hoot. The inflatables were the vehicle for getting all three playing together.

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Next to the resort was a water park. No.2 son led the charge down the slides and flumes, but his sister and brother followed. By the final day, no.1 son had risen to the challenge and was the sole family member to do the ‘plug-hole’ – a slide into a giant basin around which one spun until dropping out of the hole at the bottom.

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We played some tennis. The limp state of the net is a good metaphor for the quality of our play in the heat of the early afternoon. 312

To the boys’ delight, the court became a football pitch, where they took part in several resort tournaments. One involved mixed age teams – what could go wrong with that?

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On day 1 at the water park, watching no.2 son tear away and up steps to a slide, Mrs TL said “I just know we’re going to end up in hospital this holiday.” What prescience. But it turned out to be the 1&onlyD. Sitting on a bar beside the table tennis (see left of image below), she was failed by her gymnastically trained balance and slipped off and around the bar, bumping the back of her head. 323

She seemed fine through the evening, but shortly after going to bed felt ill. I called a doctor, who examined her and very calmly explained she was calling an ambulance to take her across the island to hospital for an emergency brain scan. Mrs TL accompanied her on a blue-light midnight flit. The scan was all clear and they were discharged the next morning.

They arrived just too late to see no.1 son win the resort table-tennis tournament. Here he is in action in the final, out-foxing some poor old fellow in a hat, good for nothing more active than finger exercise at a keyboard.

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Yorkshire holiday games

For our holiday with extended family in Yorkshire, the sun shone and the lawn in our walled garden stretched out left, right and away from us, with one corner sacrificed to a tennis court.

And so the games began. Cricket: single wicket; limited overs; last-man standing; and throw-downs for no.1 son, showing un-vacation-like determination to hone his batting technique and run-scoring potential against nine imaginary fielders I had to place and move to counter his shots. Badminton: competitive, but usually co-operative – counting successful rallies. Football: sweaty matches played by five cousins – five ages, five sizes – three-and-in, piggy-in-the-middle; with tumbles, trips, laughs and panting.

holiday 1

A bright morning of mini-Olympics post-modern pentathlon: running, satsuma ‘n spoon races, long-jump, high jump and limbo.

holiday 2

On the court: tennis with racket and ball; with foot and football; catching competitions and games imported by no.1 son from school for a crowded court of 10 or more players with racket wielding attackers on one side and bare-handed defenders on the other; and a smooth surface for roller-blades and scooters.

holiday 3

A playground by the local swimming pool. In the contemporary fashion, its equipment adapted from the design of medieval siege warfare devices.

holiday 4

At the end of the week, our trip westwards across the Dales, included a stop for a pony ride.

holiday 5

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