When the kids take charge, Mummy gets to complain
holiday noun 1. (often plural) a period in which a break is taken from work or studies for rest, travel or recreation.
“See,” I said to my daughter, stabbing a finger at the dictionary, as we sat in our rented beach house after she’d woken me at 5.47am with “an itchy bite”. (Thanks, whoever left the yellowing Pocket Oxford next to the Scrabble.) “Darling, a holiday is a rest and that means not waking so early.”
Ten years I’ve been doing this ‘holiday with kids’ schtick, which isn’t actually a holiday but simply a relocation of our domestic chaos. Minus entertainment (Wii, Foxtel, Textas) and essentials (highchair, the forgotten teddy).
This summer, after three early wake-ups, a dozen sibling spats and an ignorance as to the workings of a dishwasher – “Yes, you do have to stack the plates, same as home” – I announced it was topsy-turvy day. Not to be confused with Enid Blyton’s Faraway Tree, where the kids walk around on their hands, our topsy-turvy would involve the children becoming the parents and vice versa.
I settled down with a book, a bag of lollies and a determination to spend the entire day whingeing. Mostly about teeth brushing because, according to my kids, it’s really tiresome taking “two whole minutes” out of the 1440 in your day to be, you know, clean.
My children love stories where the kids are in charge, such as Pippi Longstocking and Harry Potter. I like to think they enjoy the notion of independence, rather than the demise of the parents due to being lost at sea or Lord Voldemort, but I can’t be sure.
Anyway, the eight-year-old, who we shall call Maggie – as in Thatcher – took to it like a pollie to spin. She confiscated all tech devices and switched off the TV just as Clarke was about to make his 300th run. We’d be having fish and chips for dinner, she announced, and ice-creams before lunch. Did I mention her favourite present ever is a clipboard?
Her big sister wasn’t so keen. Being 11, you get to surf, read, eat a whole mango and stay up until 9pm. You’re devilishly good at Monopoly, because you’re not also thinking about if it might rain (washing’s out), what’s in the fridge (dinner) or how many people have had sex in the holiday house bed. (Is it just me? Who wonders, I mean, not had sex.)
So, they became the parents and, blimey, those awful Dursleys didn’t have a patch on this pair. “We’re going fishing,” they ordered. But when the line became tangled, they had to unravel it, leaving Mum, Dad, Nanna and Poppa to catch the fish. Two flathead and a small snapper. It’s a blast, this kid caper.
On the way home in the car (driven by the talls, not the smalls), the grown-ups hit their stride: “Are we there yet?”, “I need the toilet”, “I’m starving” – because any self-respecting kid knows you’re never peckish or merely hungry. Amusement turned to irritation. Hanging up towels sucks, as does sweeping up sand. Fish and chips are fab – until you’re responsible for the sauce-smeared plates.
What did we learn? Me, I couldn’t switch off my instructive self. I often boss when there’s no need; when the consequence of not doing something is a lesson in itself (wet swimmers on the floor). My husband let go of responsibility alarmingly easily. The remote control? Not so much. As for the kids, who knows? But there have been a lot more thank yous – from them and us.
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