Tuesday 12 December 2017

Bring on shorter summer holidays

Bring on shorter summer holidays says frazzled mum-of-two Suzanne Harrington

Suzanne Harrington

My therapist is on holiday. I imagine she's having a very nice time, wherever she is, enjoying the relaxing break which I have partially funded by moaning at her every week.

I'm quite keen for her to come back, because when she does, I will have saved up a whole August's worth of it. And in her absence, I will moan at you instead. You might even relate to some of it.

If the gearbox of your car has just died, your boiler is making funny noises, your garden is waist-high in weeds and dog poo, and your children are -- again -- screaming death threats at each other over who ate the last Fruit Corner, there may be a glimmer of recognition.

If you are primate hairy, drooping from eyelids to arse and haven't had a chance to paint your toenails since June, we may have something in common.

Then again, you might be one of those annoying families who sail through the summer holidays in smug harmony, relishing each other's company and twirling through the endless weeks when school is shut like an advert in outdoorsy magazines for handmade garden furniture and bespoke hampers.

If you are, I just need you to know that I resent you from the very depths of my pores.

What began as Summer Holiday Overload has now, still three weeks away from the start of term, developed into full-blown Late Summer Psychosis.

Although common, it is a condition which particularly afflicts single parents; you don't need to phone a psychologist to figure out why.

"God almighty," snarls a friend, the single parent of a 13-year-old boy. "If school doesn't reopen soon, I'm going to beat him to death with his Xbox."

I used to feel slightly pitying in a superior sort of way when I heard people saying that kind of stuff. Poor them, I'd think to myself. It must be awful having children like that.

And then, just before the summer holidays began, my adorable daughter was abducted by the hormone aliens and replaced by a replicant programmed with only one sentence: "Do I have to?"

To which I am increasingly replying, at increasing volume, with terrible swear words that you should never use in front of children.

As a pre-teen, this replicant daughter hasn't started swearing back and throwing things -- she has not yet fully mutated into Princess Bitchface -- but she has become adept at door slamming, eye rolling and flouncing. Or maybe I am being unfair.

Perhaps I am like those evil adult characters in Jacqueline Wilson novels, whom the children unite against as the common enemy.

Perhaps it is dastardly the way I ask her to tidy her room and pick her stuff up off the floor, or unglue herself from the sofa to take the dogs, whining and desperate, out for a walk.

"Do I have to?" she says. And then you know that the Late Summer Psychosis has fully manifested when you hear yourself screaming, louder than the blaring telly which she has been slumped in front of all morning -- as you run around in circles like something headless with a rocket up its arse -- that ACTUALLY if she hadn't NOTICED we are NOT a two-parent family where one parent rakes in the cash as the other stays at home BAKING EFFING CUPCAKES, but we are instead a three-person TEAM which means all three of us have to PITCH IN to keep the show on the road.

"Whatevs," she shrugs, channel flicking. Oh boy. My screaming can now be heard all the way down the road.

She lowers the remote and looks up, staring with mild curiosity as steam gushes from my ears. "Do you need to go to a meeting," she murmurs, referring to those meetings of recovering alcoholics which I regularly attend so that I am not tempted to drain the bathroom of hand sanitiser, or run upstairs and drink my perfume.

Let me tell you this. Being asked by your 10-year-old if you need to go to a meeting is even more infuriating than being asked by a man if you are premenstrual. Especially when she's right.

And it's not as if I can rely on the eight-year-old for loyalty. Today, having twice driven miles across town in a car that can only do first or fifth, and paid through the nose for him to have some football training with the local team, he pretends not to know who I am when I arrive to collect him at the end.

If you are channelling Cesc Fabregas, having a mum is social death.

I don't know whether to laugh or reverse over the ungrateful little sod, as he continues to blank me. On the way home, the rottweiler, too old to be carsick, is sick all over the backseat.

There was something on the radio at the start of the summer holidays about a pilot scheme somewhere in England (my brain is too short-circuited to retain any hard facts) where schools would close for August only, based on the theory that children forget everything they have learned during the summer term because the break between July and September is too long.

At the time, just one short month ago, I remember snorting in disgust at the soullessness of such an idea, and thinking how appalling it would be if this were to happen, because it would rob children of their lazy summer childhood days and turn them into performance-pressured automatons.

As I said, that was a month ago. I've since changed my mind. Completely. The whole of August for school holidays? Madness! Make it a long weekend and be done with it.

As an eight-armed cash machine, conflict negotiator, dog whisperer, taxi and domestic drudge, I'm a parent, a job in itself. As a keyboard basher, income generator, bill-payer and administrator, I'm a self-employed freelance, another job in itself. That's two jobs -- one paid and one unpaid.

The paid one is more precarious than a proper job, but at least I don't have to interact with anyone when I'm at work.

Or at least I wouldn't, if it weren't for a houseful of squabbling late-summer kids -- including several I am not even related to -- screaming up the stairs at me when I'm trying to do this.

When I hear people slagging off single parents as feckless, I want to decapitate them and shove their heads down the stump.

See? This is what single-parent burn out does to otherwise reasonable people.

While generally quite fond of my kids, being the mummy, the worker and the household manager (which, as well as the kids and the dogs, also includes a vicious cat and a summer student from Siberia who is starting to look increasingly mystified about the supposed comfort and ease of life in the West) means that, by late summer, it's all starting to feel like Day 97 in the 'Big Brother' house.

Years ago on a train in India, a Hindu told me the difference between India and the West is that Westerners look to those above them and seethe with aspirational envy, while Indians look at those lower down and remain in gratitude.

My default strategy, therefore, in times of challenge, is "Oh well, at least I'm not doing a night shift stacking shelves somewhere".

But actually, right now, that sounds like heaven. No responsibility, nobody in my face, peaceful repetition.

Crikey. I'd better be careful what I wish for, other than school reopening and my therapist coming back.

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