Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Happy Families? How do you do summer?

So I was talking to a friend (well, emailing) and she was feeling guilty.
‘The holidays are nearly over and I don’t feel I’ve done anything with the children.  I mean, what will they remember when they’re older?  Sitting in front of the TV all summer?’
I reassured her. I made the right noises. About how I feel we are under too much pressure to provide these perfect experiences for our children. About how I don’t feel a bit of boredom hurts a child.  But even so, I know what she means. 

This summer it’s been okay – I haven’t had the annual attack of the guilts.  James and I went to Morocco (however unsuccessful it was on the activity front, we got to hang out a lot together and that was plain lovely) and, right now, he’s in Berlin with Adrian.  In between he’s been working – seriously hard – at the local shop-cum-café and volunteering at the local retirement home.  He’s done a bit of cricket, seen a few mates, and, yes (we’re now coming to the dregs of it) spent many an hour shooting things (goals and zombies) on Xbox and stayed up hideously late to watch Family Guy.  But hey…

And it did make me think, again, how little we do as a family.  It’s always been like that and I’ve always felt bad about it.  Because some families just seem to manage it – they’re always popping off to the beach, or heading out for picnics or barbecues or camping or kayaking or biking or whatever.  And we…don’t.  

James' toes for a change.  :)
The problem is that we just don’t like doing the same thing.  Or at least, not in the same way.  Adrian isn’t exactly allergic to the beach but he’s never really enjoyed it.  When James was small he would occasionally make an effort and would sit, on a rock, in jeans, combat boots, bomber jacket, reading a book on the War, looking pained.   On the other hand, he loves seriously long hikes.  I see walking as a kind of contemplation; he sees it as an endurance challenge.  He loves pubs – he’s sociable, loves chatting to people, any people, about anything.  And he absolutely adores cooking, eating, drinking.  His eyes come alive if he hears the words ‘street food’ and if anyone says  ‘pulled pork’, he starts to salivate.  Whereas I can’t be doing with small talk, get bored rigid in pubs and would happily live on oats and grapefruit.   

But it’s not really that, is it?  I wonder if we learn this togetherness or solitude from our own childhoods.  When I think back, I can’t remember our family doing anything together really.  We didn’t have a car so there was no opportunity for day trips or picnics or trips to the sea.  Once a year we went on holiday to the beach but it never seemed a particularly joyous occasion.  Dad would sit in the pub or go for long walks while the rest of us would sit in the beach hut listening to the rain.  My memories of childhood are predominantly solitary.  It never bothered me, not one bit.  Maybe some of us are wired for family communality; some not so much.

But anyhow, what do you do?  Compromise?  Take it in turns to do whatever turns you on?  Or just accept that you’ve got different tastes and split up for activities?  Usually we opt for the latter but this summer we’ve notched up two exceptions.  We made it to the beach one day (well, for a few hours) and Adrian even admitted he quite enjoyed it.  It wasn’t the long lazy day of flopping in and out of the water for which I'd hoped.  In my head, I see a campfire and clinking glasses and laughter as the sun goes down.  I hear a guitar playing maybe, quietly against the bass beat of the soft waves.  There’s no angst, no watching the clock, no anxiety about what other people are or aren’t doing.  What a dreamer, huh?  But hey, let's not grumble. It was nice. 

And likewise, the other day when Adrian said he was going for a walk, I said I’d go with him.  ‘Really?’ he said.  ‘Are you sure?’  And we walked up into the woods and did a long circuit, crouching like commandos through the undergrowth, clambering up rocks, sliding down steep hillsides.  ‘Don’t you want to go to your tree and meditate or something?’ he said but I shook my head.  But it was nice he thought of it.  And we came back down into town and I said, ‘Do you want a drink?’ and we sat outside the pub and he had a few pints while I had a couple of decaf coffees and that was fine too. 

Maybe we just have to make a bit more effort.  Maybe we have to put aside our own selfish desires sometimes and fit in with what other people want?  Maybe we have to meet halfway. 

I don’t know.  How do you do it?  


Ashen said...

Lovely post. My parent's BUSINESS was my hated sibling. But on weekends my dad took us on explorations, to the Alps, to Italy, never on the same roads, instilling a travel-bug in me, first the outer, then the inner.

Rachel Selby said...

Some of my guilt problem is having an only child on a flat. We were three siblings with a garden. We made tents out of the deckchairs and blankets, picked berries, played board games together, we rode our bikes up and down the street with all the other kids and played ball games in their gardens, we had a badminton set and a toy cricket set, and yes there was a fair bit of telly too. None of this needed any supervision or input from our mothers other than some lunch. I did some stuff with my daughter over the summer. Not as much as we could have done and, yes I feel a bit guilty. Luckily she's a girl who likes pottering around at home with her colouring books, stickers, playmobil and dvds.

Anne Wareham said...

O, yes, we had family holidays but felt miserable being cooped up with each other. At home my parents mercifully let us alone. I enjoy alone now.
So OH goes off on walking trips and when we go on holiday together he goes off walking a lot while I read. Happy times.
But you've guessed it - we are voluntarily childfree, so these choices are negotiated and resolved between grown ups...

Exmoorjane said...

@Ashen - ah but aaahh...how wonderful. When my mother remarried after my father's death and my adopted father had a car, the first thing I begged him to do was 'get us lost'. :) I still yearn to be lost...physically (the mental part is well documented). :)

@Rachel - Ah there - you compare your parenting to your own childhood and find it lacking. But surely it's just different? Your daughter sounds blissfully happy to me. Some children are self-sufficient (I was like that); some aren't (my son isn't, not really).

@Anne - I enjoy alone too. Possibly too much. Sounds like a good compromise. But are there things you like doing together?

Elizabeth Musgrave said...

Interesting stuff. We did a lot of stuff as a family on holiday and I mostly liked it a lot. Finding myself a single parent, I continued to take my children camping and walking although I often felt lonely sitting outside my tent while my children played and ran and everyone else was coupled at the hip and seemed most comfortable with others who were the same. My husband doesn't like beaches (I love them) and does like the sort of serious walking which children hate. Perhaps he should get together with Adrian? Now we do mostly shared things, having painfully worked out what it is we both like to do and embraced those things, and every year we each take a week or two to do what we like. I visit gardens or do a yoga retreat. Ian walks up mountains.