About six weeks before we go on holiday, my husband starts counting down. If he could recall his 7 x table, he’d probably tell me how many sleeps it was. I’m ashamed to say, however, that his enthusiasm is generally met with a grunted, ‘Nooaw, don’t tell me that,’ unless I can catch it in time, remind myself not to be quite so bah humbug and mutter, ‘yes, it’s great, isn’t it?’
Until a chance chat with a friend recently, my lack of frenzied excitement for holiday remained my guilty secret. My friend, it happily appears, has the same view of Christmas. Is it really worth it? she asks herself, as she takes the forgotten Christmas Cake out of the oven after the date’s changed one cold December night or secretly repairs her daughter’s hand-made Christmas cards where glitter festooned fairies have become rather sparkle-less as all were too busy to remind her to smear glue before the glitter. And then there are the adults’ cards - although I think I am on my own when it comes to sealing the last envelope on the eve of Christmas Eve. But, my friend adds, once, and only once the event is in full flow, she has to begrudgingly admit that it is, indeed, worth the sleep deprivation.
My friend’s Christmas is my Holiday Preparation where I am on my own - literally, at 2am, the first suitcase teetering on the tiny metal clip above the cheap-flight-must-have-handy-weighing-scale, my quivering bicep curl bringing the scale to nose height to reveal another case a nudge heavier than 15 kilos. Then I play the in-out game again, the game which quite amused me the first time, the, ‘pick the item least needed and looking most like it weighs ¾ of a kilo’ game. Without wishing to spoil the fun, a couple of bottles of toiletries generally do it – who needs their hair de-frizzing on holiday anyway?
So I decided that this irksome, lonesome business of packing had to be done together. Many hands make light work, I told my non-plussed children and husband, the latter telling me not worry about him, he only needed a couple of pairs of pants.
Still, my dutiful children set about tackling their lists. Under stopwatch management they raced each other to grab their clothing and belongings, pausing only to ask me to iron faster, they’d lose if they couldn’t get their jeans into their pile quicker than their sister could.
When I was called to inspect, I was flabbergasted – not by the speed with which they’d accomplished the task or that each had managed everything on the list (give them a competitive angle, dangle the promise of a larger sweet for the winner and they’ll rise to any challenge) but by the difference in the size of the piles they’d created.
Both had exactly the same lists. But my youngest, seemingly the most extrovert but actually, the most cautious, had twice the pile her laid-back sister had. In front of me lay two piles of personality; my daughters there in the form of light hand-luggage and excess baggage smiling up at me, eldest with her, ‘that will do, can I go back on the trampoline now?’ attitude and youngest just wanting to be absolutely sure, so let’s pack a couple of alternatives.
I had to smile, for I, too, perform to type when I prepare for holiday and so can only admit that it’s my personality which ruins the build-up for me. Why does the fridge have to be cleaned out if I haven’t managed it before 11pm and the alarm is set to go off five hours later in order to get us to our early flight? Why do I need to sweep the floor, too late to hoover, before we leave – frightened the local mouse contingent will choose our house for their annual vacation and party while we’re away? And the towels. They don’t really need to be clean and dry. I could wash them after holiday, yes, even with all that extra post-holiday laundry.
After all, what did my children wear on holiday? A third of what we packed. Will I learn for next time? Goodness, what kind of a mother do you take me for?