Thank God its the Holidays

Hilary Wilce

Monday: We are two hours and 27 minutes into the holidays when the B-word strikes. The Middle Child is already on holiday, going as she does to a pricey private school (motto: pay more, get less) whose terms are over in the blink of an eye. She has got up late, read a book, coloured in a page in her Moslem Tile pattern book and now she is - oh, dread word - bored.

It couldn't be worse. The weeks stretch, empty, ahead. We are victims of the housing market, an unsold house like a millstone round our neck, so luxuries like holidays are out for this summer. We are perching uncomfortably in a rented house, living out of boxes. And, to add insult to injury - or, possibly, injury to injury - the Middle Child has a broken arm and can't even go to the swimming pool.

Tuesday: I take her and her friend to a nearby country park. There are hot houses with banana trees and exotic pitcher plants that smell like rotting meat. We stroke the Sensitive Plant and make its leaves shrivel, and then walk through the farm and contemplate buying a Vietnamese pot-bellied piglet for Pounds 25. Maybe the summer won't be so bad after all. There's plenty to do; you just have to find it.

When we leave we get 10 miles down the road before remembering we have left the Oldest Child's borrowed Aerobie in the picnic area.

We rush back and the girls plead to be allowed in to go and find their "like, frisbee thing with a hole in it". "My," says the woman behind the desk, peering sternly down at them over her glasses. "What happened? Were you hungry? Did you eat the middle?" Wednesday: It's the F-word today. It's not fair. Christy is going to Canada, and Jean to Corfu, and Sophie to South Africa and where is she going? Horrible old nowhere! No, worse. Horrible old Waitrose, and the horrible old school run to pick up her horrible older brother and sister! I stare at her in dismay, sharing her frustration.

As a writer, I've had some success with my short stories this year and there is interest in a novel I'm supposed to be writing. The longing to get to my desk and get on with it is like a physical pain, but what chance will there be before September?

Thursday: We spend a gentle afternoon with friends picking raspberries. Children always need time to wind down into the holidays and I see it beginning to happen with my B-ing and F-ing daughter. She hums as she picks her way along the scented rows. At night we go to the Oldest Child's school concert and the talent is breath-taking.

Small, mousey girls scurry, round-shouldered, to the piano then play like maestros. The choir could make you weep.

The Middle Child's face starts to flower with wonder and I can see her remembering that, when the plaster comes off her arm, she'll be able to play her flute again.

Friday: The Oldest Child breaks up at midday, the house fills up with boys and the Middle Child forgets what boredom is. I'm finally free to get to my desk but, once there, can only stare blankly at the leisure centre's Summer Fun brochure, and all the trampolining and mountain-biking classes I've failed to remember to book in time.

Next to it is today's newspaper, announcing that the housing market may not recover for years.

I shift my gaze, dismayed, to the piles of boxes. Anxiety is death to good parenting; it makes you short-tempered, disorganised and too weary to make plans.

And suddenly I'm flooded with sympathy for all families struggling to get by, for whom the summer holidays loom up, not as a time of sun 'n' fun, but as a gauntlet of bored children and precarious child care.

Yet from outside comes a sudden burst of hilarity. The children are sprawled on the lawn, catching raspberries in their mouths.

They are fit and brown, healthy and happy as puppies, and really what more can you ask for?

Watching them, the daft faces they pull, I start to smile and the dark cloud lifts. After all, school's out, the sun's shining. For better or worse - the holidays are here.

Hilary Wilce lives in Hampshire

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