Sunday, December 21, 2014

Notes from a holiday

My son lost his Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Leonardo in the sea this week while he was playing with it where the waves break. He was very upset. Back at home that Leonardo is often at the bottom of his toy chest or lying behind his bedroom door sometimes for a week at a time, and he won't even notice. But when we come on holiday, the children are only allowed to bring one or two toys because of space, and therefore these items become extremely valued and special. I appreciate there is a lesson in all of this. I spent 20 minutes wading in as far as I could with waves crashing against me, trying to spot Leonardo - hoping he might float to the surface or be washed up on the shore. I watched children searching for shells, hoping one of them might find Leonardo and hold him up before I'd trot over and say "Actually thank you very much, that belongs to my son!" But eventually I had to admit that he was well and truly gone. I walked back to where the children were sitting and admitted as much, but attempted to add an upbeat spin to it: "Just think what adventures Leonardo might have ahead of him? Who knows where he might wash up right? Perhaps India?" The children weren't buying it and showed me a small pile of sea sand with an ice-cream stick stuck in the middle of it. "This is a funeral mound for Leonardo," my daughter announced. My son nodded solemnly.

I think my children are a lot more at ease with the harsh realities of life than I am.

Growing up, holidays were few and far between. My father was self employed and either couldn't afford to take the time off, or we couldn't afford a hotel. Holiday rentals were mostly rejected by my mother, who unusually for someone in 70s/80s middle class South Africa eschewed the then affordable domestic help. In turning down our suggestions of a holiday flat, she'd protest: "Why would I want to go on a holiday and still have to cook and clean? That's not a holiday. I might as well stay at home where I do that anyway, and not spend the extra money!"

On the few 
occasions we did get her to relent to holiday rentals, my mother would pack her bleach, assorted cleaning materials, sponges and clothes, and we were not allowed to even sit on the edge of a bed without my mother sanitizing the entire place first. That evenings meal of takeaway fish and chips on paper plates (she would not have had a chance to clean all the pots and pans, plates, glasses and cutlery in the kitchen before we were allowed to use them) would inevitably be accompanied by my mother's blow by blow account of how black the toilet bowl had been, or how many times she had had to empty the inferior vacuum cleaner before deeming the carpet acceptable for our bare feet. "How some people live in such filth is beyond me," she'd lament with a look of disgust on her face.  "They have no shame. Can you imagine putting up your house for rent in such a state?" We'd eat our fish and chips quietly and dream of a holiday in a hotel that lived up to my mothers hygienic standards so she could stop cleaning, relax, and do fun things with us. My father's expression said pretty much the same thing.

Holidays with my parents were also incredibly boring. My mother and father would find a spot by the pool or on a grassy patch as one approached the beach ('that blerry sand gets in everywhere'), and would bake themselves like steaks - alternating sides. They had no desire to sight-see, spend any money (my father), or take walks on the beach. My father hated spending money. There is a photo of us children, I think I am six years old, pictured with my father on the beach. We are all eating ice creams. We all look incredibly happy, except my father, who manages to look cross while eating an Eskimo Pie. I remember ahead of that picture being taken that my father was in a bad mood because he had to fork out for the ice creams.

Now that I am an adult myself I appreciate that my parents didn't have much money (a relative term I suppose, especially in South Africa at the time), and that from months, and sometimes years of no holiday, my parents were quite simply exhausted. Their idea of a holiday was quite literally resting, sleeping and doing nothing. Although I also remember evenings playing cards with my father who was an accomplished rummy player and had taught my siblings and I how to play from a very young age. Or visits to the Shark Board to see that day's autopsy and being fascinated by what was found in a shark's stomach, and always a little disappointed that it wasn't a human limb. The occasional treat eating in a nice steak restaurant, or the occasion  I'd suggested to my father he might want to rent a canoe and take me out on the small lake because I found the idea romantic. We got stuck in the first mud filled nook and I had to listen to my father berate me for my fancy bloody ideas as he tried in vain to row us out to open water. I laughed and laughed, much the same way my daughter often laughs at my frustration.

I think what my parents failed to appreciate is just how much we children longed for their attention, their time, and to be doing things with them. Even little things. Our weekends were never spent going to zoos or museums or at play dates the way my children's are, apart from family gatherings on occasion. My parents spent the weekends working around the house. If you weren't working at your job during the week, then on weekends you had to cut the grass, clean the house, do the ironing, fix the light switch, etc etc etc. So on holidays we were desperate to do things with them, and they, understandably wanted to do nothing at all. 

I try and remember this now that I am grown and have my own children. Like my parents, by the time the holiday comes all I want to do is read on my Kindle, drink a glass of wine, and sleep on my lounger. I have no real desire to do anything more strenuous than that, especially the first few days of the holiday which are usually a kind of recuperative period from some or other cold I am recovering from.Or a kind of sleep catch-up time. And like we did with my parents, my own children beg us to swim or play with them, and we inwardly moan but get up and do it, and find it's rather fun actually. My husband is far better at engaging with the children in a physical way than I am and is always up for taking them on walks, for ice creams, or to the water park. I am the parent that enjoys sitting with them on my lap talking and listening to their little stories and plans. Although swimming with them is also one of my pleasures.

Unlike my parents, I avoid the sun at all costs. I spend my days lying in the shade and venture out only wearing a high factor face cream and sun hat. As children we would often burn and our skin would peel. This was considered the sign of a good tan and a holiday well spent. These days it's considered a good way to get skin cancer. But I doubt we knew much about things like that in those days and sometimes I long for the ignorant bliss of childhood as opposed to the neurotic times we live in these days where pretty much everything gives you cancer, or so we are told.

I wish my father was still alive. I am so sad that he doesn't know my lovely husband or my children or me as an adult for that matter. I'd love to take him to some of the places I've been so very fortunate to visit, and say, "It's OK Dad, don't worry about the money, just relax and enjoy yourself. Or likewise take my mother to a nice hotel that she'd declare perfect lovely and sanitary. And then of course I'd guilt my parents into swimming with the children or taking them to the beach so that I could lie on my lounger and sleep.



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