I am enlightened, you are laid back, she is a lazy cow
So August is here, which means that we are about half way through the summer holidays. It’s around this time that two things happen. The first is, I start thinking about what is still to do before the autumn term
rushes creeps up on us. I really ought to get round to organising those haircuts for the boys, for example. I should have checked their school uniforms and shoes by now to see if there is anything at all that will still fit next term and, if not, I should get on with dragging the children into town to find new stuff, along with the forty squillion other mums who’ve left it to the fag-end of the holidays.
I have made a start, in fact. We’ve been to the dentist for our quarterly telling-off, and we stopped at a garden centre on the way back to buy a cheap pair of wellies for my elder son, boots being an essential item of kit to a child in rural Scotland. We found a pair that (a) he liked, (b) fitted him and (c) were good value. Glory! Only, the bill for them and a few other bits and pieces (oh, you should see the red geranium I fell for, it’s on the kitchen windowsill making me happy as we speak) seemed to be awfully steep, and when I checked it back at home I realised that the wellies had been on the wrong shelf and were three times as much as I’d thought. So there’s a good beginning.
The second thing that happens at about this stage of the holidays is that I am suddenly seized by parenting anxiety. This is not the same as parental anxiety, the fear that my children might be doing something dangerous to themselves or each other. It’s the gnawing worry that I don’t do enough with my children. After our lovely week abroad and a week’s fishing, we have nothing else organised for the rest of the holidays. Not even a trip to the hairdresser, so far. What worries me is, are my children missing out by being left to their own devices most of the day? Is every other mother busy organising playdates (noisome word) and extra French tutoring, and spending hours of each day cutting cookie shapes with her children or painting pictures or devising treasure hunts or singing round the piano…? And if she’s not – if, like me, she loves them dearly but wishes they had an ‘off’ button for a couple of hours each day while she catches up with the ironing/paperwork/blogging/ sleeping – then is she nothing but a lazy cow? Is she – am I – a Neglectful Mother?
Mothering is one of those occupations to which you can apply irregular declensions. (Remember declining verbs in language class, anyone?) The woman we don’t know, the one who slobs about in a tracksuit while her children grow boss-eyed and obese in front of the computer game: she is lazy. My friend, the one who chats to me for hours over coffee while her unheeded children trash the playroom and torment the cat, she is laid back. I, however, I am strong in the knowledge that children need nothing but their imagination to fill their days. I give them this space. I am enlightened.
I wish I could believe it. I suspect that we are mostly as good or bad as each other. Some children are so micro-managed that they probably don’t know what to do with themselves if left to their own devices. Some are left to their own devices almost to Lord of the Flies level, and become positively feral. (I’ve had a few of them in my house.) Most kids in our society, however, probably muddle along just fine with a mixture of benign neglect and the occasional burst of parental activity and (most important of all) regular hugs.
Mine are, I think, exceptionally lucky in that they live in such a rich natural environment. Every time we go outside on our daily walk or bike ride, we find something to discuss. A hedgehog bumbling along through the long grass, perhaps. Two squirrels having an argument on a yew tree, leaping and chittering. A giant puffball gleaming under a sycamore. A roe deer startling us as it bursts out of the bracken across our path. After experiences like that, I’m not going to sweat if the boys want to spend an hour after lunch watching children’s TV or surfing the net for videos of steam engines. And once they get bored and start squabbling over whose bit of Lego is which, I can just boot them outside again. Of course, I could use that moment to make cookie dough with them or practice their scales on the piano. But like I said, I am an enlightened mother. Aren’t I?
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