Tag Archives: holidays

Back to school blues

It’s that back-to-school time of year again.  As I write this, huddled up in a cardigan and looking out at the rain, I can’t help but think how strange my sun-tanned hands look and how far away all that Fiesta-ing suddenly seems.  Was it only a week ago that I was cavorting round in shorts and a vest top, drinking tequila shots in the Placa at midnight?  Good Lord!

Yes, after six glorious (if not somewhat excessive) weeks in Mallorca, we’re back in England and I’ve had the task of re-acquainting my children with such forgotten concepts as wearing clothing and shoes, going to bed on time and brushing their hair and teeth.

As usual, we holidayed up to the wire, disorientating the little blighters with extreme culture-shock so that before they knew it, they were trussed up in school uniform and bundled through their classroom doors.

In my usual spin-to-the-positive way, I convinced myself that this would be a great idea, brushing over the inevitable dose of easyFlu and easyNits that such a strategy involves.   But a twelve hour pool-side to registration turn-around is the norm for my kids.  They can handle it.  Who needs those dreary last-days-of-the-summer-holidays slow build up to the inevitable going back to school moment?  Not us Reeses.  We’re hard core.

But this time I was forgetting that the Little One was starting nursery.

Big mistake.

OMG! What a trauma.  Emlyn and I have been through the emotional wrangle every morning since we’ve been back.  For both of us, it’s been like splitting up with our first girlfriend/boyfriend ten times over by nine a.m.  We meet, war torn and exhausted for our morning coffee, the weight of guilt at ‘breaking’ our darling three-year-old weighing heavily upon us.

The poor Little One.  She seemed so positive about the whole starting nursery thing on holiday, playing ‘school’ every day, ransacking the kitchen drawers to put all the plastic cups and cutlery into her backpack for an imaginary party with her new school mates.  In her head, I now see that nursery was going to be one long party. Her party.  With her in charge, of course.

Watching reality slap her round the head has not been pleasant.  For starters, she hadn’t at any point grasped the concept that we’d be leaving her there, or that she might have to do as she was told.  So what followed was awful to behold.  That big, big shuddering intake of breath, the wide-eyed shock of betrayal followed by those fat, fat tears and the heart-breaking wail, ‘Don’t leave me.’

I’ve been through this with the others, of course, but somehow with the Little One, my third and final baby, it’s been harder than ever.

A friend reminded me how the Big One was when she started school.  She was fine on the first day, but when I took her back on the second, she said, ‘Oh no, Mummy.  I’ve done school.’  Talk about a short, sharp life lesson there.

The school have been brilliant, I must add and today, so far, so good.  I think that’s because I resorted to some of my most brilliant parenting this morning, fully committing to bringing a BIG packet of blue crisps AND a cola Chupa Chup to pick up.  That won’t ruin her lunch, or her teeth at all, right?

But…hang on.  I’ve just found out that Emlyn managed to get her settled in this morning by promising that ALL of her new friends in the nursery can come to her house for a party.

Hmmm…. I’m staring to think that the Little One has had this all worked out, all along. She’s not ‘broken’ at all.  We are.

NOW what do I do?

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Falling for the big kitten eyes…

I’ve got a cat.   I’m in shock.  

You see, I’m not a cat person.  I’ve never lived with a cat, or owned a cat, and I’ve hardly ever picked up a cat.  But cats like me.  Oh yes, they purr and wind around my feet and snuggle up to me whenever they get the chance and claw anything I’m wearing. But I’ve never really got the point of cats. I guess it’s because I’m lucky enough to have a cuddly husband on my sofa and he’s already bald and unlikely to shed much more hair.

Besides, I haven’t got a great track record with the feline amongst us.  I once was cat-sitting our neighbours beloved old mog, when it carked it on me.  I couldn’t find the damn thing.  The poor neighbours were distraught when they came back from their hols to find old Pinkie rigid under the roses in the garden.  Although they never said anything, I had a ‘cat killer’ reputation for years afterwards and nobody ever asked me to pet-sit again in our street.

Then there was the incident with the esteemed author (and very good friend), who invited me and Emlyn for dinner to her fifth floor flat and introduced me to her pair of very noble-looking rare-breed Siamese cats.  She’d spent her whole book advance on these things and had just had them delivered from Harrods.  We’re talking posh pussies here.  Anyway, after we’d oo-ed and ah-ed for a while, I sat up on the kitchen counter and opened the kitchen window for a sneaky cigarette (oh, those were the days!) and the cat shot past me out onto the window-ledge.  I had to crawl out into the night, high above the North Circular to retrieve the damn thing, whilst my friend literally had kittens.  We weren’t invited again for some time.

So when it comes to cats (and dogs and hamsters and guinea pigs and even goldfish for that matter)  I’ve done the brick wall thing about having a pet, despite the kids begging and begging.  How can we have a pet when we come here to Mallorca for our holidays? I always argue. It’s just not fair on the animal.  It’s a holiday home or a pet.  A simple choice. 

And so far I’ve won. 

But they’re clever these kids.  Wily.  Canny.  They find ways of blindsiding me, just when I think I’ve got all the angles covered.  (They definitely get that off their father.)

So this latest edition to the Rees household occurred in seconds, before I’d even had a chance to order my argument and now I’m going to have to live with the consequences.

It all happened because the Middle One has been begging to go horse riding more or less consistently for about two years, so when she was invited to go to the riding school down the road in Llosetta the other day, it seemed churlish to refuse.  The “I’m too busy to get in the car and take you miles away to the countryside to an expensive riding school” argument didn’t wash, when it was dirt cheap and we were getting a lift.

Anyway, it’s a beautiful place with a backdrop of the Tramuntana mountains and it’s just what you’d expect a Mallorcan riding school to be like – lots of lovely looking Spanish horses (and men) and dogs curled up in the shade of the trees, a loud TV in the bar and cold beers on tap for the Mummy’s.  My kind of place.

Before long the Middle One was up on a pony who wanted to be near his mate and as I stood on the wooden bars of the riding circle, it was like watching the wacky races.  I never thought watching one’s kid on a pony could be so entertaining.

But meanwhile The Little One was back in front of the TV in the bar and had sneakily begun operation ‘covert kitten’, taking a shine to one of the tiny cats that were mewing around the bead curtain.  A litter had been dumped at the stables and needed homes.  And when the Middle One came back and joined in the cat love-in I knew that the writing was on the wall. 

Before I knew it, we were on our way home with the kitten. 

Emlyn, who was still painting the pool, rolled his eyes, when the kids explained that the cat would be living outside and would kill the rats in the palm trees.

He did lots of tutting at me, but I couldn’t really explain myself. Other than that when confronted with two sets of human kitten eyes and one set of very, very cute real kitten eyes imploring me to say ‘Yes’, I just didn’t have the heart to say ‘No.’

So ‘Misty’ a.k.a ‘Raffa’ (after Nadal) is staying for the time being and I’m trying not to get attached. 

Of course, I’m still going to have to train the thing to be a country cat and to fend for itself when I’m not here, buy a feeder, find a vet, get the injections and all that malarkey, but I’m already worrying.   Yesterday, he/she? (we can’t tell) disappeared when the tanker man came to fill up the pool.  I was convinced it had run away and had been squished.

But sure enough last night she was back for her dinner and was purring and winding around my legs and batting my flip-flops.

There’s a weird thing that happens when you get a new addition to your family.  You sit on strange places on your kitchen floor at odd hours of the night and all of a sudden your perspective changes.  You see life from a different angle, because he/she/it is so cute.  As in shamelessly, gorgeously cute in a way that makes you forget everything else.

The kids are all so smitten that I have to admit that I’m secretly basking in the attention I’m getting as a result.  They can’t believe that their mother was SO nice, that I actually let them keep a kitten.  It looks like I did a little bit of blind-siding of my own.  It’s made me realize that perhaps I should say ‘Yes’ to them more often.

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Carry-on Camping

It seems to me that packing is the curse of the modern woman.  At this time of year, it’s all we talk about.  Packing to go on our holidays, or away for the weekend. We’re always packing. Lots of women I know even pack all their husbands’ stuff when they go away on work trips!  They’re like the serious elite packers.  I’m pretty in awe of those girls.

But why do WE do all the packing?  We’re modern and liberated and equal, until it comes to suitcases, when we revert to age-old stereotypes.

How have the men got away with it for so long?  They always criticize our packing, but never do it themselves.  Or, for that matter, even contemplate the unpacking.

Personally, I hate packing.  It stresses me out. And even though Emlyn has, on occasion, sweetly offered to do all the packing himself, that’s not a solution either.  It would be MORE stressful trying to delegate the task to him than doing it myself.

I’ve tried various techniques, but the best one for me is not to think about it until the last possible minute and then to go for it.  Ruthlessly.  I refuse to pay the extortionate fees for taking bags in the hold on airplanes and so now my packing is like a logistical brain twister as I try and fit everything into five tiny hand luggage bags.

But there are some packing scenarios that require much more thought.  And this biggest packing task of all is the one for the camping trip.  That separates the girls from the women alright.

When we were kids, we always went camping for our summer holidays.  I remember leaving our house and returning to it at least five times, as we’d always have forgotten something essential (even the dog once), as my parents got more and more irate.  But I also remember sun-filled days in the Gower, and falling asleep to the sound of the adults laughing late into the night.

For a long time, I have eschewed the camping trip as far too much hassle, preferring instead to throw myself at the mercy of easyJet to take me and my offspring abroad for some sunshine. It wasn’t the camping I feared, but the packing for the camping which put me right off.

But recent times have made me reconsider this foreign holiday stance and I’ve reconnected with my inner camper.

In the old days it was a field and a tent and you made your own entertainment, but nowadays one goes to a music festival to get the real camping experience.

Look around and you’ll find out that everyone is doing it.  Loads of people I know have signed up to Bestival years on the trot, but I’m relatively new to this malarkey.

Anyway, last weekend we trotted off to a field up the far reaches of the M11 to a child-friendly festival. It was so epically fab that I can’t help feeling that I’ve peaked a little too soon for the summer.   Three nights of next to no sleep, serious partying and full on fun have wiped me out.  And the kids too.

But despite a young girl at the sausage sandwich tent, who I overheard whispering to her companion, ‘Man, I’d never come to a festival when I’m like, forty!’,  I can see why going to a festival with your kids is so popular.  It’s like family therapy.  The kids have fun and the adults have fun at the same time.  Rules are relaxed.  Bedtimes are thrown out of the window, along with teeth cleaning and washing. It reconnects you all in a shared experience which brings out the best in you all.  And the kids get to see their Dads’ dancing at an age where they have time to get over the shock.

But of course it starts with the packing row.  Everyone has a camping packing row.  It comes with the turf.   Because the camping pack-up always requires two people.  You to gather all the stuff, him to pack it in the car.  It goes something like this…

Him:  ‘What on earth are you doing???  The car is FULL.  What is all this STUFF???  There’s no room.  We’re ready to go.’
You: ‘We’re not even remotely ready.  There’s still all the kitchen stuff to put in as well.’
Him: ‘What kitchen stuff?’
You:  ‘Du-uh! Cutlery, plates, bowl, cereal, tea bags.  You know, all the stuff.  And all the bedding too.’
Him:  ‘Bedding!  Bedding!  Jesus Christ, woman!  Who do you think I am?  Houdini?  There’s NO ROOM.  You could have told me before.’
You:  ‘If you paid even the slightest bit of attention, then you’d know we’re only a quarter of the way there on packing.’
Him:  ‘What! What!  Oh my God!  What is that HUGE bag?’
You: ‘Clothes!’
Him: ‘Clothes???  What clothes do you need?  It’s camping for God’s sake, not a fashion show.’
You:  ‘Believe me.  This is the bare minimum.  Pyjamas for all three kids, spare knickers, socks, jeans, jumpers, swimming stuff, shorts, t-shirts, hot weather gear, wet weather gear.  For your information, I’m only taking one change of clothes.’
Him:  ‘Ahhhhhh!  You’re deliberately sabotaging the packing.  Now I’m going to have to reconfigure the boot.  And you know damn well that if we don’t leave in half an hour we’ll get snarled up on the M25.’

Sound familiar?

But I think camping is worth it, in the end.  Even just for the weekend.  By the time we got there, hot and bothered with the kids sweating under piles of pillows and towels, the packing row had receded and excitement had taken over.  Out came the tent and the table and chairs and we set up our home from home.

Soon my Blackberry had run out of juice and the outside world seemed like a far off country.  The kids had shot off, already forming gangs, whilst we sat back in the camping chairs with a beer and our gang of mates to do some serious people-watching.  We effortlessly took it in turns to watch the kids whilst we went off to explore the music tents and came back to the late night campfire to giggle – especially at the saucy silhouettes of some amorous campers in their tents.

Fortunately we were mostly blessed with the weather, until the last day when we had to pack up in the torrential rain, so the house is now full of soggy tent and bags of muddy clothes.

My beloved spouse had to reluctantly admit that we did, in fact, use every single item we took with us.  But he still didn’t help un-pack. Except for the car, of course. Just the same as my Dad always did. And his Dad before him. Because – just like the loft, according to the comedian Michael McIntyre – that’s a male preserve, where the real hard work’s done.  As if.

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