Teenagers and holidays

My most vivid memories of summer holidays as a teenager are of sunburn, heat and blackberry jam tarts. Of endless days spent at the family beach house, lolling in armchairs or flopping down on towels, cut off from my friends and having to rely on my siblings for entertainment. Teenagers are still good at lolling and flopping I’ve noticed, but are incapable of being out of contact with their friends for more than five minutes.

Modern technology allows them constant access to each other’s activities, emotions and inner thoughts, on a second-by-second basis. Sooo bored one minute, boredom forgotten the next as the inevitable invitation comes through on the ether for a shopping/beach/movie date. The constant activity doubles in volume once teenagers are able to drive themselves everywhere. No longer restricted to their local area or public transport options, the world becomes their oyster. Overnight stays at holiday locations, parties in the outer suburbs: nothing is too far away and all at a minute’s notice.

This can play havoc with Quality Family Time. Just when the mother hen has her little chicks gathered round her for a meal or a family movie, one of them jumps up as though they’ve been peppered with shotgun pellets and reaches in to a pocket for that tiny rectangular lifeline known as the mobile phone. Not having worked out how to put my own phone on to ‘vibrate’ mode, I find myself thinking of those calls as high-pitched dog whistles only heard by the canine ear: there’s a mystical quality, an intuition, a message-from-on-high aspect to these silent calls to action.

There is nothing high-minded or mystical about my reaction to such interruptions to scheduled ‘family time’. I take it rather ungraciously, if the truth be known. I usually sulk for a while, I wash the dishes very loudly or alternatively, I refuse to sit down to watch the movie with whatever family members remain until someone else has washed the dishes. Not that it makes a blind bit of difference. Deep down I know that quality family time can only really be had when everyone genuinely wants to participate: not out of duty, or fear that Mum will otherwise ‘crack it’. The very fact that such activities need to be timetabled creates a feeling of contrivance, a lack of the spontaneity that is often at the heart of our happiest memories.

And so it was with fairly low expectations that I embarked on the family summer holiday just a few weeks ago. As always, an assortment of hungry teenaged friends came along for the ride. My oldest boy was offered work until Christmas and he seized the opportunity. 

This meant that there wasn’t a full complement of children to begin with (my children, as opposed to other people’s). I spent much of the first week keeping up the food supply to six hungry teenagers and snatching quiet moments for myself in between shopping, cooking and surfing sessions (theirs, not mine.) I kept waiting for that relaxed holiday feeling to hit me, but found myself agitated and vaguely resentful. It was my holiday too, wasn’t it? Sadly, with a houseful, dear to me as they were, the answer was no.

By the second last day of the holiday, all the visitors had left and my son Will had arrived. By now I had resigned myself to the fact that this year’s holiday was not going to be my most memorable. I’m a grownup – these things happen. 

Will invited me to go on a drive to the next town, a treat that I had so far managed to avoid. Curious to know what was so magical about his latest means of transport, I climbed up into the front seat and strapped myself in. And what a fun ride it was! People either smiled or gave us a wave as we passed by. It truly was a magical van. (I later realised it was a reaction to the ‘espaliered’ tinsel Christmas tree Will had strapped to the front bumper bar, complete with baubles swinging gaily in the wind.) A car park was waiting for us at the busy shopping centre, and life was suddenly good again.

Once home, the boys persuaded my daughter that today was the day she would learn how to surf. We all trecked down the path to the beach with the mini-Malibu surfboard and a song in our hearts. Well, I did anyway. I think it was something by the Beach Boys. Once we arrived at the beach, we found ourselves a spot right in front of a clear stretch of sea with small, perfect waves. I produced a camera (something I haven’t done for a long time) and talked the children into posing in their wetsuits for the inevitable ‘Gidget’ photos, cunningly positioned so that they appeared to be ‘hanging ten’ with the waves as a backdrop. I couldn’t believe what an embarrassing mother I was being: more to the point, I couldn’t believe how good-naturedly my children were responding.

Proudly watching the surfing lesson from my position on the sand, I took a moment to look across the sea towards the horizon and take stock. I knew this day would make up part of my collage of memories of family holidays, and that I was happy. Often, those moments of happiness pass us by without acknowledgment. 

We rarely register them at the time, but look back on them and surprise ourselves by thinking “I was happy then.” Our teenagers can be frustrating, lazy, hyper-communicators at times. But on this day, at this particular time, mine were having a ball with a board, some waves and each other. And I was lucky enough to be a part of it.

by Elizabeth Quinn

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