A weekend away

I am currently enjoying the cosy warmth of a small, woodland lodge with my elder two children. Outside our window is a lake where a number of ducks appear to be revelling in the rain. They are the only ones doing so. Since we set off from our home yesterday morning the weather has been utterly foul.

Thankfully we are on a site where there is plenty to do whatever the weather. Our current inactivity is the result of a need to prepare for exams rather than a lack of attractive alternatives. As I write this my children are discussing ‘A’ level physics, not a conversation I am capable of usefully contributing to. My husband and younger son have escaped to the swimming complex for the afternoon.

As well as the lake and the ducks I can admire our very wet bicycles, securely locked up outside our lodge. Early last week my husband suggested that, given the unfriendly weather forecast for the time we were planning on being away, we should leave our bicycles at home. The children were having none of it. Since they were toddlers we have been coming to Center Parcs for regular, family holidays and we have always travelled around the site on our bicycles. It is a part of the holiday that they enjoy.

Thus, yesterday morning, my husband was up bright and early attaching racks and bicycles to the roof of our car. He then faced the challenge of driving a much heightened vehicle through the increasingly wet and windy conditions to get us to our destination. On arrival we where greeted by a thunderstorm and hailstones the size of golf balls. I kid you not. I have never seen anything like it.

We beat a hasty retreat to the swimming complex and had a most enjoyable few hours making good use of the various flumes and pools. Well, the rest of the family did this. I sat and read my book with a warming cup of coffee. Much as I like to swim I am not a leisure pool person. I prefer to swim up and down, counting length after length, before relaxing in a hot jacuzzi. Such things are not possible here where the pools are filled with families having fun with floats and other water toys.

I was, however, happy with my book and my coffee; watching the rain through the glass domed roof; handing out snacks as hungry family members randomly appeared in need of nourishment. It was dark by the time we were ready to make our way to the accommodation.

While I unpacked our belongings and prepared our lodge for a few days stay my husband unloaded the sodden bikes, slipping down a hidden gully as he wrestled them off the high roof of our MPV. Of the two pairs of trousers that he brought for the weekend, one pair is now impressively coated in mud. The air was less impressively filled with his exclamations at this turn of events. I hope that no young children were within earshot at the time.

The bikes are now likely to remain locked outside our lodge until it is time to load them onto the roof of the car again at the end of our short stay. The rain is not forecast to stop. I think perhaps we should have left them at home as was suggested.

One of the down sides of bad weather on a site like this is that it drives everyone inside. The sports hall was packed this morning when we walked down to book some activities; perhaps it is as well that there is school work to complete this afternoon. Tomorrow we will enjoy an afternoon of table tennis, badminton and squash, but there are only so many of these sports that we wish to play in the short space of time available.

It is interesting to note how the demands of the family change over time. When they were little we would book the children into craft workshops. As they got older they tried the challenge activities available such as archery, climbing and abseiling. These days they are more interested in racquet sports or, if the weather would only allow, walks and cycle rides. They are just as capable as they ever were of growing bored.

Personally I do not consider boredom to be a bad thing. If entertainment is constantly provided by others then one never learns how to explore alternatives for oneself. My children are certainly old enough to be working out what they enjoy. I have so many things that I wish to do that free time is never wasted.

For me then a good holiday is one where we can spend time doing things together, where we can enjoy the camaraderie as much as the activity; and some time when we can simply relax and enjoy whatever we choose to do as individuals. It will be unfortunate if the weather restricts our options too much. It is also rather a shame that the WiFi connections available are so limited; I think that is proving to be frustrating for us all.

When they were younger I would severely restrict my children’s screen time, but these days I am much more lax. They have been offered the option to try a huge variety of sports and activities over the years. If what they now choose to do when on holiday requires electronic equipment then I feel I must, to a certain degree, accept that decision. I can hardly complain when I too choose to log on. Holidays are a time to indulge in the things which we enjoy, and I am as much an internet addict as anyone.

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My weekend

I believe that I may be unusual amongst my friends in liking Mondays. Don’t get me wrong, I very much enjoy the weekends. There is just something about a new week beginning that makes me feel positive.

With September drawing to a close I realised last week that I had been procrastinating about many of the tasks that I had decided needed to be done. Over the weekend I took myself in hand and set in motion a number of things that need to happen before these can be completed. I am now likely to be kept busier than usual for a few weeks to come.

It was a fairly typical weekend in many ways. I picked up the children after school on Friday and took my younger son swimming. For a lot of the time we had the pool to ourselves, which was lovely. None of us had particular plans for the evening so we watched a daft but light hearted and funny film (Johnny English Reborn). I like it when we all sit down as a family to watch a film, not least because we can then discuss it together afterwards. On this occasion, however, my daughter could not be persuaded to join us. As she is currently swamped with school work and trying to sort out work experience placements I think she just needed some time to herself.

I didn’t sleep well so, rather than disturb my husband with my tossing and turning, got up stupidly early on Saturday morning. As is usual, my day was spent cleaning, tidying and sorting the laundry. The boys had a hockey match and my daughter went to the gym in the afternoon so I made the most of a quiet house to enjoy a couple of hours writing. This put me in an excellent mood for the evening. We had a late dinner and I then went to bed. I find that I now need at least a couple of early nights each week or I start to feel very run down.

On Sunday morning I took my daughter shopping as we are planning on redoing her bedroom. She is still sleeping on the bed we got her when she was eighteen months old. The mattress is no longer supportive and a couple of slats on the base are broken. We cobbled together a fix for these but a replacement is overdue. I had been putting this off as I had expected her to move out in a couple of years when she hopes to go up to university. However, she is going to try to get on a course that will take six years of study so will be returning home regularly for some time to come. I think we can justify spending some money to get her room as she would like it.

Most of Sunday afternoon seemed to vanish as I searched the internet for the bits and pieces we couldn’t find in the shops we visited earlier. Most of the things are now ordered so it was a successful enough day. I did manage to fit in a bit of gardening before I had to prepare food for the evening meal. I did not manage to tackle my pile of ironing so that is a job for today.

Sunday evening we had pancakes for tea which was a lot of fun; my kids love pancakes. I make up bowls of fillings and they sit round the island in our kitchen chatting and eating as my husband cooks and tosses the batter. My daughter is trying to persuade her brothers to join her in taking part in NaNoWriMo this year; I may even give it a go myself.

When all had eaten their fill I sat down with a glass of wine and some music to catch up with the on line news. The children had dispersed to their rooms and my husband was engrossed in his book; he is reading his way through George R.R. Martin’s series, A Song of Ice and Fire.

Our weekends are now so different to the way they used to be when the children were younger. There seemed to be years when we spent day after day driving the children to: football or hockey matches; taekwondo or judo training; swimming or music lessons; drama; dance; and, of course, the ubiquitous birthday parties. These days life is calmer and we have more time to ourselves. We also spend more time together as a family rather than rushing off in different directions to take part in the next activity.

Even so, when Monday morning comes I am happy to be able to spend some quiet time on my own. Perhaps this is why we need to have our children when we are younger and still have the energy for all the running around that is required. Either that or I have just grown used to being able to take life at an easier pace. I guess we adapt as we need to.

This week my daughter and I need to empty her bedroom in readiness for it’s remodelling. With the work still ongoing in our book room downstairs it feels like a lot of change. There are items of furniture, books and pictures being stored all over the house as we wait for jobs to be finished or items to be delivered. Having set everything in motion I now need to keep on top of the necessary preparation.

For myself though, I want to sit peacefully and write. I can only indulge myself so often; there are too many other demands on my time. I am enjoying a feeling of satisfaction that I have made progress with the tasks I had been procrastinating about, but the busyness that this has generated does not suit me. I like my thinking time and my quiet creativity. Having found this good place to be it can take a force of will to leave it.

If I can make a good start to the week then the rest will generally fall into place. The days seem so short though; I guess I must be enjoying myself.

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Active kids

Newspapers often carry articles discussing ‘studies’ into methods of parenting. These are generally written in a critical style and will, over time, offer contradictory advice. This weekend there were reports of a government advisor who believes that children whose parents enrol them in too many organised activities lose the ability to think for themselves and are therefore unable to cope with living independently when they are older. I sometimes wonder if these advisors have children themselves. I can see that, taken to extremes, any method of parenting could be detrimental. However, most parents listen to what their kids want and offer gentle encouragement or admonishment. If a child is active, whether through organisations or free play, it is likely to be because this is what the child wants.

Over the years my three children have tried so many different sports and activities that it can be hard to remember all the things that they have done. They have attended regular training sessions for ballet, gymnastics, swimming, football, horse riding, hockey, cricket, golf, taekwondo, judo and archery, They have joined rainbows, brownies, guides, beavers, cubs, scouts and explorers. They have attended weekend drama schools, taken piano lessons and joined badminton and ping pong clubs. There have been activity camps with climbing, kayaking, raft building and caving. They have even chosen to go on week long residentials where they could race karts and quad bikes. Some of the regular activities were enjoyed for a year or two before the time was needed to fit in the next interest, others they still attend regularly.

There have been periods when they were younger when it did feel as if we had no time to sit down and just relax. The logistics of getting each child from school to activity after activity meant packed teas eaten in the car and homework being done as they waited for a sibling to complete a lesson. I did not, however, insist on them doing any of these things apart from the swimming lessons (they had to keep these up until they could swim a good distance with a strong stroke). All activities were started because they heard about how amazing it was from a friend. They would try a couple of classes and, if they wanted to continue, would be enrolled for a term. Once paid for I insisted that classes were attended regularly, but when the bill for the next term came in they were always given the choice of continuing or leaving. Over the years we have accumulated a lot of uniforms, kit and sports equipment that is no longer used.

Alongside these organised activities we did a lot of walking and cycling as a family. We also went swimming together each weekend for many years. Our village abuts the estate of a large house with grounds open to the paying public and a large, exciting adventure playground. We would buy season tickets for this each year and the children would regularly meet up with friends to play. They were always free to go out around the village but more often chose to have friends back to our garden which we had turned into a mini playground for them. Quiet moments were rare.

Far from taking away their independence the experiences they have gained from taking part  in so much has given them the confidence to face new situations and challenges. They know that they can have a reasonable attempt at most sports and are used to going to new places and working with people they do not know. It has not always been logistically possible (or necessary!) to drive them everywhere so they have got used to travelling under their own steam and, as they have got older, have learnt to use public transport. My eldest child is now capable of organising herself.

I do not hover over my children constantly but I do like to know where they are and what they are doing. I also like to support them in their interests and encourage active participation in support of clubs they belong to. I take an interest in their lives and feel they will be happier if they leave their laptops regularly and participate in something more active and sociable. They are of an age where this cannot be forced and they value free time so it is particularly pleasing that they still choose to take part in a good number of activities.

To suggest that parents should organise less for their children and allow them to play free or get bored ignores the alternatives available to the modern child. When the majority of houses contain multiple computers and televisions a child is as likely to switch on and tune out rather than run around outside. There are also fewer and fewer parents who are happy to have their child run free. I have lost count of the number of parents who have voiced concern to me over the years that I have expected my eight or nine year old to walk the few hundred metres home from school or the village hall unattended (even in the dark!), or who has complained that my child was being noisy, boisterous or engaging in rough play whilst out with friends. When my son fell out of a tree he learnt a valuable lesson. Yes, he could have broken his neck, but that could happen on the stairs at home.

My hackles will always be raised when unasked for criticism and advise are offered. If parents are to do their job then they must be allowed to make decisions based on how their kids are and how best to encourage them to be good citizens. There will always be extremes – parents who ignore their children almost entirely and those who make every decision for them – but most parents that I know encourage but do not force. I think that my kids are amazing. I hope that most parents think that of their kids. They are also individuals and will react in different ways to the same treatment, just as adults will. If the government is trying to parent the nation then I would advise them to learn a few lessons in parenting themselves.

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