We’re now nearly two weeks into the school summer holidays and I’m already losing track of what day it is
School summer holidays always assume a comforting, steady rhythm. I’ve never filled the days with endless activities, for us the school holidays have always about being lazy, not getting up on time, and just enjoying pressure-free time together. In the past we’d go on holiday for a couple of weeks – we frequently went to Center Parcs, but almost every year we’d spend some time at E’s parents’ cottage in North Norfolk. The cottage is tiny, but the six of us always managed to cram in somehow – Oldest Daughter would usually bag the little single bedroom, the other three kids and I would sleep in the big double room and E (the one who stayed up latest and snored the loudest) would crash out on the sofa downstairs). We’d always do the same things when we were there – potter around towns like Sheringham, Hunstanton, and Wells-Next-The-Sea, walk from Blakeney to Morston and back, stroll along the beach at Brancaster picking up shells, find a good pub at one of the villages along the coast for lunch, visit some of the lovely stately homes (we loved cycling around Holkham Hall) and just generally chill out. As the years went on E and I would focus less on finding pubs with kids’ play areas and more on finding pubs with free Wi-Fi, but generally very little changed. There was a comfort and a peace in doing the same things year after year.
Of course, now I know why E was so concerned with finding good Wi-Fi and I also know what he’s doing in all those holiday shots where he’s so busy with his phone that he only just looks up in time for the picture to be taken. He had a whole other life that he was conducting, and those endless texts he was sending weren’t about work like he’d told me they were. It’s funny looking back, because I was spending those weeks in Norfolk relishing the time we spent as a family, whilst he was spending them texting O, or P (or whoever he was seeing at the time) and finding fault with me to justify whichever affair he was currently having. I was using my phone to record family memories whilst he used his to escape from those memories.
Obviously last year was our first school summer holiday without E but, partly because we went to Singapore and mostly because it was only six months since E had left, and I was still immersed in a whirlpool of emotions, it sort of passed in a blur. This year is the first year I’ve been able to sit back and take stock a bit and I suppose that’s why the contrast between this summer and previous ones has hit me so hard.
Unfortunately, this year I can’t afford a holiday at all. I don’t really mind – after all we have six weeks of ‘doing nothing’ together which is utterly brilliant – but part of me wants to walk along Brancaster beach again so much I could cry. I also can’t help but notice how much the kids have been changed by what’s happened. Two years ago, I had four happy, healthy, secure kids who lived with and loved both parents. Whilst I had my concerns re E, the kids were blissfully unaware, and they felt their secure family unit was unbreakable. Two years on and they’re all older and wiser and they’ve lost that particular innocence that comes from being part of a happy undivided family. Of course, things are secure and happy for them now, but they have a sort of weary wiseness that they didn’t have before. Obviously, some of this is purely and simply because three of them are teenagers, but I suspect it’s also partly to do with what’s happened.
I know a lot would probably have changed over the last two years anyway, but I’m confident that my daughters wouldn’t be struggling with their mental health to the extent that they are now, if everything that happened with E hadn’t happened. Youngest Daughter is due to have a psychiatric evaluation in August, to assess what help she needs going forward and Oldest Daughter is also suffering from depression and anxiety because she has so much to deal with because of what’s happened. I don’t blame E for this (although, I do think his timing was bloody awful – in the 18 months since he left they’ve had A Levels and GCSEs, both really high-pressure exams, and both occasions where they needed extra support and security, not to have their lives plunged into uncertainty and hurt), I also know, logically, it’s not my fault either, but I can’t help but feel that I’ve failed a little bit as their Mum when I see how hard they’re finding things. E hasn’t been here, but I have, and I do feel like it’s down to me if they’re having problems.
Having said that, whilst there are important differences, most things remain the same. Two weeks into the holidays and Youngest Son is beginning to smell vaguely like an unemptied packed lunch box, Oldest Son has assumed Vampiric Hours and I only tend to see him as I’m getting up and he’s going to bed (although I hear him prowling the hall at 3am), Youngest Daughter has worn everything in her wardrobe and left it to rot on her bedroom floor and Oldest Daughter is already planning her coursework and timetables for October, looking into the possibility of an MA, fretting over her future career and trying to work out when she can fit travelling the world into her schedule.
The house is also beginning to look vaguely traumatised. Unlike when they were younger, the kids (except Youngest Son) tend to be awake long after I’ve gone to bed. I can leave a perfectly tidy kitchen at midnight and wake-up to a hell hole of empty Nutella jars, dishes stacked pell-mell on the counter above the dishwasher (because, obviously, looking to see if there’s space in the dishwasher would be too much trouble), counters strewn with breadcrumbs (from a loaf which is now going stale because the packet was left open) and muddy footprints (from Oldest Son’s midnight swims in the pool we put up every summer). I deal with this in my usual calm and adult fashion – by wandering round the kitchen muttering ‘little fuckers’ and sending passive-aggressive (ok, just aggressive) messages to our family WhatsApp chat re how they need to clean-the-fuck-up after themselves.
The summer holidays also include Oldest Son’s birthday. Of all the children, he’s the one who has had the fewest birthdays at home. Of the fourteen he’s had so far, he’s celebrated no less than three birthdays in Singapore (including his 7th – when, because we’d arrived just the day before, we were all horribly jet-lagged and could just about make it to Toys R Us to get him some Lego), and at least half a dozen in Norfolk (including his first birthday, when we went to Hunstanton to escape the builders who were extending our house). Because it’s in the summer holidays, most of his friends tend to he away on his birthday, meaning that it’s always difficult to arrange a party. According to him (he has the memory of an elephant) I still owe him a tenth and a twelfth birthday party. This year, he’s going to spend some of the day with his Dad (his birthday falls on a Saturday, which is the day E usually sees him) and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel a tiny bit resentful about this. The children’s birthdays are still very difficult for me, because they have such strong reminders of the happiest times in my life with E. With each and every one of them I remember the moment they were born and those precious first few weeks of life and sharing them all with E. Obviously, now I know that by the time I had Oldest Son he was already starting to flirt with other women and by the time I had Youngest Son he was not far away from his first full blown affair. For me these days, the children’s birthdays are an emotional mix of my happiest memories and my most bitterly sad ones, but at least, until now, I’ve spent their birthdays with them. I must admit, I think I’m going to struggle with being on my own that day
Still, two weeks into the holidays and with four blissfully empty weeks stretching ahead of me, I’m enjoying the madness of being at home with my children – even if my bedroom is currently full of kittens (which means I can’t open a window) and my house is beginning to look slightly ashamed of itself. No matter how down I get (and I do get very down sometimes) there are so many lovely and funny moments that happen every day – things like Oldest Son responding to Youngest Daughter crying about her Dad by supplying her with a (literal) pile of kittens, Youngest Daughter, educating me in ‘youth speak’, just so she could laugh at my attempts at it and Oldest Daughter and Oldest Son sharing and laughing at various memes – that I am very grateful for the life I have. The other evening, as I watched Youngest Son gallop up the stairs doing his Brachiosaurus impression (complete with Jurassic World theme tune), I realised that, lovely as a holiday would be, wonderful as it might be for E’ affairs to never have happened and for everything to be ‘ok’ again, that there was still nowhere on earth I’d rather be than here, now, with my gorgeous children.