Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Cramming it in

I know I have said before that I like to keep things simple - well above all this applies to the way we entertain our children.

On the way to pick five year old up from school my three year old (didn't post anything about her birthday but yes she's three now) was collecting sticks along the way. "This one's for you mummy, this one's for my sister", etc. I think it's a wonderful knack that young children have to be able to entertain themselves with the simplest of things. But it seems we in our busy 21st century lives are intent on training our children out of this knack. Instead of encouraging them to find things to do we usher them from one external entertainment to another.

For example: I have just had one of five year old's friends round for tea who was picked up not long before my kids' bathtime and rushed off to Rainbows. This is one of three organised activities she does in a week, the others being swimming and ballet. I have mixed feelings about all this rushing around, most of it by car obviously. For this year at the very least I haven't signed five year old up to any clubs or classes. Part of me feels that I am letting her down by not taking her to ballet, swimming, music lessons or gym, but another part of me feels that there is no need for a child of that age to have so much going on in their life. And given that she now spends five days a week in the school environment then I also feel that she needs some time to simply be. I am not criticising other parents by writing this, there's a very strong chance that in ten years time I'll be hearing the regular refrain: "and you never even let me go to ballet when I was in Primary school!!".

Clearly mine is a very middle class dilemma, if I were living on the breadline struggling to make my rent payments I wouldn't even be giving this a thought.

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Weekend in the sun

I had been feeling an urge to see the sea so I decided to take the plunge (no, not actually IN the sea, I'm talking about the East coast of Britain here) and book somewhere to stay with the girls for the first weekend of the Easter holidays. Last summer we took quite a few trips together, mostly to see friends, but it has been a while since we travelled anywhere together and although the thought made me a little nervous, I really wanted to do it.

Well, I am so glad we did. I found a converted farm property at Boggle Hole, which is close to Robin Hood's Bay, that had availability (www.southhousefarm.co.uk). My Mum said she'd like to join us for most of the stay, and my sister said she'd come up for a day too. Whilst getting ready for even a three day trip was something like preparing to climb Mount Everest (or so I imagine, clearly this is not something I have ever done) once we were on the road I felt a sense of achievement and excitement at the thought of taking a nearly three year old and a five year old to the seaside. Children this age love the sea - or at least I have never met one that doesn't.

Admittedly there were a few moments on the journey when I began to think that I had, in fact, momentarily lost the last remaining dregs of my sanity. Particularly as the girls have rather different music taste and were expressing this in a very vocal manner. This particular argument was definitely fuelled by my rash decision earlier in the week to buy some cheesy music for five year old to sing along to in the form of Abba Gold. Why oh why I did that I will never really understand. Yes she loves it, but only if you play Dancing Queen followed by Mamma Mia followed by Dancing Queen followed by... you get the picture. And it seems I had forgotten just how bad that music really is (apologies to Abba fans if you're reading, it's just not my thing). Two year old on the other hand wanted a lullaby that's on a CD produced by two members of Tindersticks and sung by Robert Forster - I'd like to say her taste is already more sophisticated but I fear that smacks of favouritism and I don't mean it that way. Anyway I seem to have been sidetracked by my meanderings about our journey when I really wanted to write about our lovely weekend.

We arrived at the house: "Mummy, it's a topsy-turvy house! The bedrooms are downstairs and the kitchen is upstairs." I then had about 15 minutes of sheer panic as I misplaced my car keys and therefore couldn't get anything out of the boot (they were on the dashboard by the way): "Mummy when can we go to the beach? Mummy, can we go to the beach yet? Mummy, why can't we go to the beach yet?" Aaaarrrggghhh. But once I'd found them and grabbed a towel and changes of clothes - oh yes, and buckets and spades, and wellies of course (I'll remind you this is the East coast of Britain), we set off down the hill.

Part of the beauty of Boggle Hole is that it is completely devoid of external attractions. By that I mean it simply is a sheltered pebbly bay at the bottom of a road. No crazy golf, no slot machines, no fairground rides and - dare I say it - not even any ice cream for sale. The girls loved it. We paddled and froze our feet. We collected shells, pebbles and seaweed. We searched for crabs. We smiled. In such a setting there is no need to try and entertain children in the way that we seem to do constantly in our society, they can simply be, exploring and discovering for themselves.

Later my Mum arrived, which brought more excitement, and the next day was spent with her and my sister's family. We even had sun. Perfect.

Two days later I was driving home - girls asleep, one clutching a peanut butter sandwich, the other a bucket of 'treasures' - and I was moved to streams of tears. Don't think by this that I felt bad, my sadness was a complicated one but it has its root in a deep sense of how fortunate I am right now. I was internally thanking my Dad, who died in 2002, for teaching me about the pleasure that the simplest things can bring. I will always be happiest in the open air, in simple and uncluttered surroundings, and whilst at that point the memory of Dad brought tears and a sense of loss for those few moments, I know that something of him stays with me. And I also know that there is something of him in my two wonderfully funny, charismatic and adventurous little girls.