Every summer my lovely parents pack up their caravan and come and stay five minutes down the road from us for two whole weeks. We are in the middle of that fortnight now and it is just brilliant. This is about the fifth or sixth year they have come to stay at the start of the school holidays and the kids and I love it. Not only does it kick-start our summer with fun days out but it is a rare chance to spend lots and lots of quality time with them.
Mum and Dad only live just over an hour away but it isn’t popping in distance and visits to and fro are always a day trip or overnight at most, fitted around work and school, so we try to cram as much as possible in during that short time. And somehow it is just never enough time together. These annual two weeks are just fantastic grandparent bonding time for the kids as they get to see them every single day. And I even get some time with them without my kids spoiling our fun, which is very precious.
It great for me to have backup over these weeks. My husband and I chose to move here, not close to either set of grandparents, so we made our own bed and knew what we were getting into, but I can’t help looking at my friends who live round the corner from their extended family and feeling a bit jealous. I’ve never had anyone I can drop one of the kids round to while I pop to the shop or who can come over and help out when I’m feeling ill.
I’m not going all woe-is-me over it. Like I said, it was our decision and I wouldn’t change it as I love living here, although there were times when I had very little babies when I’d have given my right arm for that sort of local backup. But for these two weeks of the year, I really enjoy being one of those lucky parents with grandparents round the corner. Popping out with one kid and leaving the others behind, the odd day of free childcare, a trip to the cinema with the older two, leaving the pesky toddler at home. Heavenly.
But the main attraction of these two weeks is just all those lovely day trips. And there are simply no day trips with the kids that I enjoy more than those with my parents. I always have to steel myself for trips with three on my own. It can be a pretty exhausting experience and such days out are rarely very enjoyable for me as I spend my entire time being run ragged, juggling three sets of demands and trying not to lose anyone. With three grown ups vs three kids, plus someone to giggle with when it is all going wrong, things improve dramatically.
We went to the aquarium on Friday, a particularly challenging place with a toddler who likes to run off, and not one I’d tackle single handed at this stage. We once lost H there, running around in the dark, for a very alarming five minutes. And that was when we only had one to look after.
It was raining heavily all day so the aquarium was pretty packed but it was toddler heaven. T ran from one tank to the next, wide eyed with wonder, manically doing his fish mouth. Poor old Grandad traipsed around after him, while Marjie and I looked after the other two, admiring the rays and stroking star fish. It was, relatively speaking, pretty relaxing and enjoyable.
By the time we got out of the aquarium, the rain had seriously ramped it up and it was pelting down. We attempted to start the ten minute walk back to the car but we were all soaked to the skin after just crossing the road. M walked through a massive puddle, H started crying about his soaked canvas shoes and socks, T refused to keep the rain cover on his pushchair and screamed continuously. It wasn’t going well and the wind was whipping the rain directly into our faces the whole time. There was no way we’d make it back to the car one piece in that storm so we darted into a fish and chip shop, all kids crying and dripping wet.
If I’d been handling this solo, I would probably have wanted to cry myself at this point. Yes, we were out of the rain, but everyone was literally soaked to the skin and miserable, plus we now had the trauma of trying to get through a mealtime in a restaurant with three small kids, the youngest of which hates being stuck in his highchair and throws everything he can get his grubby mitts on onto the ground.
But I wasn’t alone. Hooray! I had my brilliant Mum and Dad there to help calm down the criers, entertain the throwers and scrape the ice cream off the floor when it droped off the cone (cutting the dirty bit off and sticking it back together – there was too much of it anyway). And they made all the difference. They turned a potentially very stressful, soggy afternoon into something fun and funny.
Well, I say they turned it into something fun but I guess they didn’t really. It was what it was. They didn’t stop the storm or make my kids behave any better. They helped look after the kids, yes, but what they did that made the biggest difference was to smile with me in the face of adversity. They jollied things along, even when things were far from jolly. They looked after me, like they have always done.
I think that is why day trips with my parents win hands down. Days out with friends or my husband are great too, but I still feel that I have to carry the ball, that I have to have a steely focus and concentrate on getting us all through it in one piece. I’m always in charge. I feel that if I drop out, even for a moment, we are all doomed.
With Mum and Dad, I know they are looking after me as much as they are helping me to look after the kids.* Because that is what parents do. And I love them for it. And indeed for everything.
* There are a few others, in addition to my parents, who I feel like this about, who I know would pick up the ball (plus me and all my kids), put it under their arm and carry us all along, as well as their own kid(s) in some cases. They know who they are and it seemed wrong not to mention them here. And for them too, I am eternally grateful.