I Love My Kids But Thank God The School Holidays Are Over
On the last day of school holidays, morning sun smashes through my window.
I think it must be about 6am, maybe 6.30am. I look at my phone. It’s not. It’s 9.48am. Half the day has gone, and with it, so have my best intentions.
I’m desperately craving my usual routine; the quiet morning hours I commit to writing and exercise, two non-negotiables needed to maintain sanity. But those hours have passed; lost to forty-something-thousand-degrees outside already, lost to the sound of dishes clanging into the sink, Netflix, the grind of the coffee machine.
Granted, I could have set an alarm, but my body is clawing for any scrap of sleep it can grab at this point. I’m not sure exactly when my two youngest fell asleep last night; I gave up checking the clock once 11pm rolled around. All I know is I’m tired of summer holidays. Of long days and late nights. Of bedtime boundaries being pushed. Of staying up too late to get some time to myself, only for my body clock to have now become so out of sorts it’s forgotten how to fall asleep at all.
The problem is, I’m a creature of routine. I make no apologies for this. I like routine. I thrive on routine. The world would be a better place if everybody embraced routine. This is a hill I’m willing to die upon. When my routine is undisturbed I work better, eat better, sleep better, feel better, and am just generally less of a pain in the arse to live with.
Nothing f*cks with my routine more than school holidays.
Every summer I try and be cool about having no routine. Welcome the chaos, I tell myself, embrace the unplanned! Unscheduled activities aren’t just for Sundays! But as it turns out, I can only deal with such lack of structure for so long before I begin to deconstruct.
It doesn’t take long before I’m out of sorts. Unanchored. Irritable. My sleep patterns deteriorate. I start to mainline caffeine. My tolerance for people shifts from bearable to get-the-hell-out-of-my-way-or-I-will-kill-you. I lose motivation. I panic that the entire world is falling apart around me and I have no control over anything anymore. I begin to hide in my bathroom where there may or may not be a bottle of gin stashed.
Invariably it reaches a point sometime around mid-January where I can’t take it anymore and get out the whiteboard markers to draw up a family routine we can all get on board with. It has never once been followed.
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I force myself out of bed, greeted by a sink full of dishes, which baffles me as I’m not sure I’ve seen my children eat anything other than food out of a packet for the last six weeks. They don’t look up when I walk in, glued to Brooklyn Nine-Nine episodes they’ve watched for the thirteen-thousandth time already, which I suppose explains why they haven’t noticed the mountain of socks in front of them waiting to be folded -- also quite baffling given they’ve spent all summer with only dirty bare feet on the couch.
I wash dishes, fold socks. Pick up enough crap lying around we could open our own Salvo’s store. Make coffee. Deal with sibling bickering. Tip out cold coffee. Pay some bills. Get bombarded with a list of things I have remember to do today: buy a birthday present, drive one here at this time, another here at that time, pick both up again, ring the hairdresser, sew a button on a shirt, check uniforms, sort out piano and dance lessons, etc etc.
For some reason, my youngest decides she has to make fondant for a cake; again, baffling, given there seems to be no actual cake in sight. Before long there’s icing sugar everywhere, more dishes in the sink, children under my feet, one has an emotional crisis over being asked to hang washing on the line, I have an emotional crisis over being asked what there is to eat for the umpteenth time, the cat throws up on the floor.
In this moment, I realise something.
This isn’t about a lack of routine. It’s about a lack of balance.
It’s about the fact that it’s been six weeks since I’ve had a day off parenting. Since I’ve had any time, or space, for myself. Since I’ve implemented any of the self-care practices I have learned are vital to my physical and mental health. I’m tired, I’m burnt out, and in desperate need of a break.
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But isn’t this what we, as parents, do? For six weeks, we revolve our entire life around our children; not just in meeting their needs, but in holding tight to the importance we place on making sure they’re entertained and amused and their summer is filled with experiences and memories they’ll never forget. And in order to do that, we just kind of put our own lives on hold for six weeks; not just our own lives, but our own needs too. We forget balance. We forget to honour what we need. We forget how much our needs matter, too, and find ourselves overwhelmed and exhausted and unable to be the parent -- and person -- we want to be.
As I reflect on the last six weeks, it becomes clear I don’t mind so much the lack of routine. Sure, it makes me a little crazy at times, but having four children never came with the expectation of life not being crazy at times. I love having my children home. I love the extra time I have with them when school terms often become so busy I feel I rarely see them some weeks.
But I realise now if we lose the balance -- if we consistently focus on meeting their needs at the sacrifice of our own -- we’ll never truly appreciate the days we are gifted to spend with them. We’ll struggle to enjoy these days we can never get back and instead, wish them away. Sometimes we realise these things too late; as holidays come to an end I wonder how many things I could’ve done better; how much better I’d have been if I’d prioritised my own needs more.
There’s comfort in knowing the lessons we learn today carry into our tomorrow.
Not all of us need routine to thrive. But we all need to find balance. Which is why, when my children go back to school this week, I’ll be taking a few much-needed days off.
Routine can wait a little longer. I’ve got a life to re-balance first.