Just one week back from the intoxicating freedom of our summer of adventure and I’m starting to feel trapped by the everyday routines of family life. Is it wrong to feel like this? Others don’t seem to complain but then they’ve probably been at home most of the summer. I feel a bit like I’m in prison. And the kids are my jailors…
What shall we do this sunny Saturday?
It’s a sunny Saturday day in Cumbria. You probably have to live here to understand the local climate and know how rarely those words are uttered in the same sentence. So understandably I want to get out of the house. It happens quicker than I thought when Cameron rushes into the kitchen with a timetable in his hand; his Saturday morning brass lesson started ten miles away nearly 15 minutes ago. Bacon butties are abandoned and once I’ve delivered my son and a tenor horn, the rest of my morning is spent ferrying the others around their various activities. I’m in Morecambe. At the seaside. In the sunshine. In the car. While all around me others are enjoying a holiday on the beach.
“Hey shall we do something fun this afternoon? Get some fresh air?” I blurt out, before kicking myself. Fresh air is good for you. There’s no way that’s going to entice them out of the house. I should have bribed them with ice cream. I try again when we get home.
“Shall we go out for ice cream today?”
Stuart is up for it, but the suggestion is met with a round of shrugs from the kids. I know those disinterested shrugs. The power has shifted in our family. Shrugs rule. Meanwhile Matthew is busy texting a friend and announces he’ll be out for the rest of the day and can he have a packed lunch and money for chips?
“I don’t want to go out today. I need down time,” says Cameron.
Stuart shakes his head in despair. He doesn’t understand down time. Doesn’t know what it’s for. As the kids are too young to leave on their own, one of us must stay in with them. So he takes his frustration out by clearing out the attic. But I can’t stay in. Not on a day like this. I wander around the house in a mood and then take Hannah swimming, getting annoyed with her because she won’t leave the side of the pool without the arms bands that we threw away ages ago when she learnt to swim.
Still Sunday’s for family time, isn’t it?
Sunday used to be a family day, a chance to get out and do something together. At least before the kids got so involved with mini-rugby. I even encouraged it, thought it would channel their aggression. But six years later and now it’s not just the kids who are committed. Somehow ‘Dad Helper’ Stuart has got roped in. I don’t know if he loves or hates his Sunday mornings standing on the pitch shouting rules he isn’t quite sure of at kids who can’t hear him because they are busy battering the life out of each other, but it’s what we do. And I can’t see a way out of it. So Hannah and I hang around waiting for it all to end.
“Shall we go out for an ice cream this afternoon?” I ask as the boys pull off sweaty rugby shirts.
“Where?” one of them asks suspiciously.
“The Lakes? It’s a lovely day. We could get some fresh air….” Damn.
“We’ve had some fresh air. I just want to go home.”
“Me too. I need some down time.”
We get home and Stuart retreats to the attic. The others scatter. I wander around the house in a mood. I don’t feel like going swimming today.
It feels like the house has becomes a jail and the kids and their routines our jailors. And as Stuart and I sit down trying to plot an escape the reality dawns on us; we’ve got a long sentence ahead of us – years of non-committal shrugging from one or another of them, of demands for down-time and respite after the whirl of the school timetable, after-school sports, clubs, parties and play dates. Is this our new world order? Is weekend ‘down time’ going to extinguish our adventures together?
It’s so different to how we are when we travel. Throughout the last seven weeks in Iceland and The Faroes, we have been permanently in the ‘fresh air,’ making decisions together, operating as a team. A tight unit, the five of us sharing a tent, crashing out at the same time and grumpily rising together. Now the only way we will be together is if we all agree to join Stuart in the attic. I want to scream. I can’t see a way out. I feel like jumping online and booking a cheap package holiday, just to get us all out of here, back together again, one family, one unit. But that’s just a sticking plaster. And besides Stuart wouldn’t come.
What’s the solution? To ‘pre-schedule’ weekend family outings a week in advance, getting everyone’s permission to do something together? Or to give up any hope of doing things as a family and all have our own ‘down time’ all weekend? Could someone advise? And while you’re there can you explain the concept of down time to Stuart? Please comment below!