Friday, 20 June 2014

Holidaying across the generations

In my last post 'Here comes Summer...' I wrote about my attempts to get organised for the long summer break that lies ahead.

This time round, I'm homing in on the actual 'holiday' part of our six weeks off. It's going to be a holiday with a difference because it's not just us.  Having dipped our toe in the water with an extended family 'mini break' earlier this year, my mum has agreed to join us for our time away.

Since this situation is new to us - and since summer holidays are sacred for all of us - we've thought this through pretty carefully.  And I've listened intently to the advice of others who've already trodden this path.

Here's how we're hoping to achieve a successful summer together:

Start small - We're not all going to Hawaii for three weeks.  Instead we're driving a few hours down the road to the East Neuk of Fife.  And we're staying for a week.  Even if we did have the budget for a long-haul trip of a lifetime, I think our first shot at holidaying together should be reasonably short in duration with manageable travel times.

Happy husbands - She's my mum but she's Mr Average's mum-in-law.  And we all know that there's a difference.  I've checked, double-checked and checked again that he's happy with this arrangement. We also have a safety net in the form of a second week off afterwards for just the four of us. Because it's his holiday too and I know he really needs it. 

Consider costs - If he (or she) who pays the piper calls the tune, others may be resentful at having their holiday plans dictated to them.  Instead, divvy up the costs in a way that seems fair and no-one will feel beholden to anyone else.

Sensible space - The budget may not have stretched to Hawaii but we've made sure that it's stretched to renting a decent-sized property. This means that we won't all be living on top of one another.  I have high hopes that, even with children in tow, the adults will be able to recharge our batteries a little thanks to the comfortable space that we've organised.

Time apart - I'm lucky. My mum is one independent lady.  She excels at sussing out bus timetables, local markets and golf courses.  Because although she loves us all, she may not want to spend an entire day rock-pooling with the grandkids. And we get that, we really do.  (Between you and me, I think Mr Average may be slightly jealous.  Particularly when it comes to the golf courses.)

Not-so-great expectations - The children will whine. And be bad-mannered. My mum will be shocked. I will be stressed. It will all go horribly wrong.  STOP!!!! We've already had this conversation. The children will whine and be bad-mannered. My mum knows this.  She'll understand. And she won't blame me.  (I hope!)

Exit route - This is going to sound utterly pessimistic. I try to think of it as pragmatic instead. If the worst really does come to the worst - if it pours down rain every day and everyone argues constantly - we're relatively close to home.  We accept defeat, pack up and head north.  I desperately hope that this doesn't happen.  But I think there's a comfort in knowing that we have an exit route if need be.

Now we couldn't do that if we'd gone to Hawaii....

How do you handle holidaying across the generations? Any tips or hints? Leave a comment and let me know.

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Friday, 13 June 2014

Here comes Summer....But are you ready for it?

Here in my little corner of north-east Scotland, we're hurtling towards the school holidays at a breathtaking rate.

Some of my friends regard the school holidays with delight, others with despair.  I think I'm somewhere in the middle.  One thing I have learned over the years, however, is that pretending they're not just around the corner, or deciding to 'wing it', does not make for a stress-free six weeks.

And so we (groan) come to one of my familiar topics: Planning.  Notebooks at the ready people, I feel some lists coming on....

The escape from it all

I tend to start with the nice bit.  Block off that precious two weeks when the whole family is going to be together - hopefully somewhere different from home.  (Not that I don't love my home but a change of scene works wonders for all of us.) This year we're holidaying in the East Neuk of bonny Scotland and hoping fervently for the same sunshine that blessed us last year in Arran.

The tag team

The next thing I do is work out how Mr Average and myself can juggle the childcare during the remaining weeks of the holidays.  As he often works weekends with days off during the week - and I'm self-employed - there's a certain flexibility to our schedules that means we can cover most, but not all, of the childcare between us.  Which brings me to....

The supporting cast

It might be grandparents. It might be friends with whom you can exchange favours. Or it might be a formal childcare scheme.  Regardless, with just a few weeks to go until school's out for summer, these are the people you need to speak to now.  For my little family, it'll be a combination of all three.  (Our local out of school club summer holiday programme is sitting reproachfully on the top of my filing *system* as I type. I really, really need to fill that in. Today if possible.)

The fill-in fun

I'm a great believer that children need some free time to amuse themselves, however there is a balance to be struck. Summer holidays present a great opportunity for them to try new activities, catch up with friends and relatives and visit local places of interest (I love being a tourist in my own area!).

Here's what I'll be doing to prepare for some of the days that I'm in charge of the little 'uns but we're not officially 'away':

Grab a guide - My nearest city - Aberdeen - produces a wonderful guide to events for children and young people over the Summer. It includes sporting and creative ideas galore, including many free workshops and play sessions at art galleries and parks. Publications such as Raring2Go! magazine are usually stuffed with ideas and I try to follow useful Facebook pages too. (Local peeps should try Aberdeen for Kids and Aberdeen Inspired.  I've mentioned the Aberdeen for Kids page before but it's worth another shout-out here.)

Swap schedules - Now's the time for swapping mobile numbers with the parents of your kids' best friends - and for checking who's free for catch-ups when.  Of course you might not remember everyone's exact schedule but plant the seed now and others will feel comfortable contacting you when they're at a loose end too.

Whatever the weather - Here's where my control freak tendencies come into play.  Given our location, I usually draft up two lists (there's that word again) of potential activities - a wet weather list and a dry weather list. I like to think that I'll remember all those brilliant places that people have recommended to me.  In reality, if it's not written down, I probably won't.

Ask them - As in the kids.  It sounds risky but go ahead and ask them what they'd really like to do during the school holidays. You might just find they surprise you.  We spent a happy (if messy) half hour with an A3 sheet of paper and some coloured pens having a wee brainstorm about all the things the kids want to try - or repeat - but don't have much time for during the school term.  My eldest used the aforementioned Aberdeen guide for inspiration.  They both understand that we can't do everything but I have a clearer idea of their interests instead of choosing what I *think* they'd like to do.

And guess what? Turns out that mum doesn't always know best (shhhhh)...

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Friday, 6 June 2014

Something to believe in

In my last post 'Health, happiness and a remarkable teenager', I wrote about the importance of taking on board the incredibly wise and brave words of 19-year-old Steven Sutton who recently lost his battle with bowel cancer.

The sentiments discussed in this post have remained at the forefront of my mind over the past week.  In just over two weeks I will participate in my local Race for Life event for the third consecutive year. My daughter will run with me for the second year in a row.

Two years ago I ran with the fresh image of my father in a high dependency ward, having just had surgery to remove a cancerous growth. Last year I ran with hope for him - albeit a hope so fragile that I was scared to examine it too closely.  This year that glimmer of hope is in tatters. My very dear dad is no longer with us. But I continue to hope for all the others who are fighting this terrible disease.

My reasons for participating in Race for Life are therefore pretty obvious.  And I believe that most of us who have a cause that we are passionate about, and raise funds for, have a painful and personal story that accompanies it.

The verses below explain more than anything else why I'm committed to my cause.  Written in one of the many long dark sleepless nights following my father's death, they capture how I felt about my family's experience of suffering, illness and loss. I'm not sharing them to make other people sad.  And I'm not sharing them as a precursor to a fundraising plea.  I'm sharing them to urge you to all continue to fight for your cause.

It's easy to feel helpless in the face of some of the terrible diseases and conditions that our loved ones encounter.  But I firmly believe that our individual efforts really can make a huge collective difference.

As I line up to run on Sunday, 22 June I may no longer have the glimmer of hope for my own beloved parent. I do still have hope, though. In the supportive company of thousands of other women, many of whom will be fighting their own personal battles, it's impossible to feel anything less.

On a carefree Scottish summer day you tiptoed through our door
Back then we had no inkling of the pain that lay in store

You crept into our family and slowly took a hold
The horror of your presence would gradually unfold

When we knew that you’d arrived, a plan was put in place
It seemed that we would have to stare our worst fears in the face

The surgeons tried their very best to stop your grim assault
Despite their finest efforts, there was to be no halt

Then there followed treatment with more suffering on the side
Over time we realised that there was nowhere to hide

And as our options dwindled, your cruel strength grew and grew
As you callously invaded the loved one who we knew

He put up fierce resistance and fought on with all his might
But you were quite determined that you would win this fight

And so your ghastly presence was felt more and more each day
While we all looked on helplessly as you stole him away

Your mission is accomplished and our beloved one is gone
But our quest to find a cure for others goes on and on and on.

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Prose for Thought