As always, I have been very quiet here on the blog over the summer holidays. I also took a decision this summer to take a break from Facebook and Instagram in an effort to ensure that I was fully present with my children, and not hiding behind a screen when the going got tough (or boring or whingey or tantrummy). Which, of course it still did at times. But one thing I sort of knew was true, but have really had hammered home to me is that what the children want is my attention. Lots of it. Lots and lots of it. All of it, in fact. All the time. And when they feel they aren’t getting enough of it, that is when things start to go a bit wrong. Sometimes there is just nothing I can do about the fact that my attention needs to be elsewhere. I have to cook a meal, or do my online Tesco order so I have ingredients to cook the next meal (and provide the eleventy billionth snack), or I have to give one child my undivided attention because, for instance, they have just been stung by a wasp, so the other one has to suck it up. The lack of attention that is. Not the wasp. That would be very bad parenting.
Other times, frankly, I want my attention to be elsewhere; to read a book or read a message from a friend or phone my mum for a chat. And it is obviously good for both children to be able to amuse themselves or each other for periods of time. But I don’t find any of those other activities as compulsive as the rabbit hole of social media, and I am always fully conscious that I am doing them. I don’t disappear into the kitchen to make a pasta sauce, and then unconsciously stay in there to make some veggie chilli, a fish pie and a pot of chicken soup. Kind of wish that did happen actually.
When I respond to a message from a friend it tends to be just that message, I don’t also start messaging everyone in my contacts list without really noticing I’m doing it. Thank goodness.
But I do think that I will just check Facebook quickly, and then realise half an hour has passed of blankly scrolling, almost oblivious to the clamour around me. I do look at my messy house, strewn with lidless felt-tips, dress-up costumes, face down books and empty yoghurt pots, sigh, and think I’ll just take a little peek at the delicious house-porn on Instagram to cheer myself up. Of course it doesn’t cheer me up, and a little peek can quickly become a pretty long time spent ogling other people’s perfect lives whilst failing to live my imperfect own.
Don’t get me wrong, I still love social media, and think it can be a real force for good. When I see posts from other stressed out parents and know I’m not alone, or laugh out loud at a witty meme, or make some cash and reduce my landfill contribution by selling some outgrown clothes, or feel genuinely inspired by someone’s lovely home or stylish outfit, or cool idea for preschooler activity or tip for living a little bit greener then that is making my life better. I love the connections it makes for me, and as I relaunch my writing career I know that social media will be a very necessary tool.
But the result of this summer cold turkey is that I am no longer going to use social media when I’m with my children. When they’re in school I will be concentrating on using it purposefully for work. After they’ve gone to bed, I might well mix that G&T and have a well-earned scroll through an inspirational fashion or food or interiors account. But after school and weekend days my phone and laptop are going to be Facebook and Insta free zones while I try and give the children, or at least the spaghetti sauce, the attention they need and deserve.
While I haven’t been able to share photos on social media (and have consequently taken a lot less!) we have had a wonderful summer of adventures at home and abroad. We kicked the summer holidays off with a sleepover for my 10yo’s best friends and a couple of playdates. Then I had a child-free weekend in Cumbria for my cousin’s wedding. I had a great time catching up with my family, and the traditional Cumbrian pouring rain in no way detracted from the beauty of the setting or the obvious happiness of the couple.
After that we spent two weeks in Italy. A few days in Venice, then a home exchange in Gallipoli, winding up with two days in Matera. There was sun, sand, antipasti, Aperol, a LOT of gelato and a little bit of culture.
We went pretty much straight from Italy to Manchester for a weekend with my brother and SIL, and from there to Liverpool for some time with my parents. It was lovely for the girls to spend some time with their aunt, uncle and grandparents, and super relaxing for me. Or, at least, it would have been had I not discovered that I and both children had managed to pick up nits. When I look back at this summer I might think of prosecco in Italia piazzas or swimming in a turquoise sea, or it might just evoke an itchy head, the smell of tea tree conditioner and the memory of many hours spent plying a Nitty Gritty comb.
We brought the summer to a delightful close with a weekend at Wowo campsite in Sussex with two of my closest friends and their families. Now, I am a wuss who just Does Not Do Camping, so we actually stayed at an AirBnB half a mile away, but we spent the days at the campsite letting all the children (ages 10, 8, 6, 5, 4 and 2) run wild together. They were permanently plastered in mud and soaked to the skin, but very happy, and I got to do the very best bit of camping which is sitting round a campfire drinking wine with my friends and listening to the children laughing. Before going back to a hot shower and a warm and comfortable double bed.
Eldest is back to school now, and youngest starts this week. The weather is distinctly autumnal, and change is in the air for me as I start a new phase of my life without a preschooler at home with me. Watch this space!