Parenting Talking Point

On the End of School Days at the Start of The Holidays

Family Adventure Project Team Family Portrait, Ijmuiden Beach Summer 2016
Written by Kirstie Pelling

On the End of School Days at the Start of The Holidays

Watching your kids finish school is an emotional time. As the kids grow in their independence, I find I’m becoming dependent on old holiday photos to remember their fleeting childhood. Two in particular show the dramatic passing of time and made me think how far we have come as a family, how things have changed and how my job as a parent is changing too… 

I am hurdling over milestones

Right now the family milestones are coming at me like Olympic hurdles. My big boy has finished his GCSE’s and is heading towards sixth form with an Arkwright Engineering Scholarship in the bag. The middle one has been accepted onto a contemporary dance programme in Manchester which he will follow next year at the same time as GCSE’s. My baby girl is about to leave primary school and her long legs will equip her to fly from us in time.

Lausanne Olympic Museum

The achievements may not be Olympic but they are personal and coming thick and fast

Ghosts of their school days

Last night, helping make non alcoholic cocktails for the leavers’ party, I stood in the school hall that all three of my kids have worked and played in over the last decade. I watched as Hannah’s Year Six class danced to Grease Lightning under disco lights in exactly the same way I did at their age, although back then Grease was a new thing and Olivia Newton John had only just spent the summer with John Travolta.  And leaning against the doorway letting the music wash over me, I saw the ghosts of my three children. In this opaque vision, they were sitting lined up for their show assemblies in new jumpers, polished shoes and fresh haircuts, with Mrs Wren keeping a firm eye on them, like a stand in mother.

Family laughter on the Rhine

The years disappear in a blur

The years disappear as the ghosts appear

How quickly those years disappeared. At once I felt a rush of sadness as I realised I will never again be in this hall again with the kids. They will never again be those shiny new children experiencing the world for the first time. And I will never again be a mother dropping her kids off at school. Those milestones have passed with many others, although the ghosts may return.

Freezing them in an image

You can’t capture ghosts. But you can capture how your kids have changed. We did a few months ago when we landed with the ferry at Amsterdam’s Ijmuiden port. We headed down to the beach where we had taken a family photograph back in 2009. With the help of a mobile with the original photograph loaded on, we positioned ourselves as much as we could in the exact same positions. And we took the photograph again. Here’s the new photograph next to the old. We are a little different aren’t we? We have travelled on this route a lot over the years. We used it as a hop when Matthew did his first bicycle tour of Holland. We popped over on the ferry for the start of our bicycle tour of The Balkans. And we sailed from Newcastle and then ventured off from here eight years ago, on an epic ride from Amsterdam to Venice along the Rhine.

Two Moments in Time. The Family Adventure Project Team in 2009 and 2016

Two Moments in Time. The Family Adventure Project Team in 2009 and 2016

How we have changed

You notice things when you are comparing two similar pictures taken years apart that you don’t notice when you press the shutter. Here’s my observations:

  • Mothers are are not built to carry 10 year olds.
  • Stuart and I hardly changed; I got a little bit fatter and he lost a little hair while the kids changed completely. From the shape of their faces to the size of their heads, they developed much faster than we did.
  • Knowing their characters now, I see the beginning of their adult personalities were present back then in the way they stood and interacted with us. Matthew’s intensity, Cameron’s life force, Hannah’s steadiness.
  • I am grateful we have no need to drag dollies and teddies around any more. They really were a pain.
  • The kids are giants in the second image. Eight years can make all the difference in adolescents.
  • Our tastes in fashion didn’t get any better, we just learned to share our clothes.
Arriving in Cologne on Rhine Cycle Path

Like flags in the wind, memories pass

Capturing their spirit

My memories of those two days are as opaque as the ghosts of show assembly. I vaguely remember the dolly but not what she was called or why we bought her. I don’t remember their voices or how we arranged the photographs. Who directed them? Who took them? I can’t see behind the children, or touch their skin. I can’t feel the sand between my toes or the salt on the wind. I can’t remember the weather or what was in the news, or what moods they were in or what we’d eaten for breakfast.

But I can hold onto these pictures and see their progress and their physical changes. I can directly compare now and then. I can look at a freeze frame of their spirit. I can appreciate having them for a while longer in my life. It is easier than trying to catch the tail of a ghost in a school hall.

We will be back on the beach at Ijmuiden this August and I’d like to take another image to see how they have changed in the space of this year. The year where milestones fell and scattered themselves in our path and we had to clamber over them.

Dolly. Once she was a constant travelling companion

Dolly. Once she was a constant travelling companion. But what was her name?

Why don’t you repeat a line up?

If you find yourself in the same place on a trip, try repeating a family photographic line up. Arrange yourselves in the same place as before and smile. When you look back and compare the images, you may feel light pain, like stepping on broken razor clams on the beach. But you’ll be glad you held them close, took family holidays together and enjoyed them the age they were at that moment in time. In years to come, like me you might be grateful you pressed the shutter.

Family Adventure Project Team Family Portrait, Ijmuiden Beach Summer 2009

Family Adventure Project Portrait at Ijmuiden Beach Summer 2009

Over to you

Are you facing the end of school days? How are you coping? Do leave a comment and let me know.

About the author

Kirstie Pelling

Kirstie is the Editor of The Family Adventure Project. A professional writer and poet, she's the creative and journalistic force behind many of the stories and features published here. She's a co-founder and co-director of The Family Adventure Project and also works as the #poetinmotion producing and performing poetry for print, video and live performance.


  • We’ve only just started on school days but already the first year has whizzed past and I can’t believe how much she has changed. I love the idea of recreating photos though, and a good excuse to relive some travels.

  • Oh Kirstie, you’ve made me sob into my hanky. But what a beautiful idea. I have a couple of thoughts about where our own little family needs to return, to take similar repeat photos. Thanks for sparking the idea….x

  • Love this post! My daughter has just finished Year 6 and the wounds are still far from healing! My eldest has just done his GCSEs and I suspect my middle one is one year down from your middle one, so I can really relate. We recaptured a classic photo from Padstow a couple of years ago of my two boys sat on a wall in matching clothes eating cakes from a bag. They had grown rather a lot in the space of eight years!
    Good luck to your kids for the next stage of their journeys.

  • Hi Kirstie

    I have just come across this a year later! Charlotte our eldest is about to sit her final A’Level and school is finished for her this Tuesday. Then hopefully onto Uni in September. Like others posting, I can relate to this subject. Where has the time gone!? Our youngest is only a year behind so there will be quite a few changes for us soon.

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