The Little Darlings
One of the big things about this trip is the chance to spend a lot of time together as a family. Of course, being together 24/7 with the kids isn't always the idyllic picnic of ones dreams, even on a Caribbean island paradise.
The other day was a case in point. It generally went pretty well, nice breakfast, decent couple of school lessons, ten minutes motoring to a different anchorage ("I don't want to go sailing, Daddy" "But we're not, we're just moving to a great beach with good snorkeling" "I don't want to go to a beach" "You always say that and then you love it" "No I don't") And so on.
But move we do, without much additional complaint and we have head off to the beach. Gesa and Issie swim from the boat, a long but interesting snorkel trip, whilst Max and I go in the dinghy. As usual, the kids love being on the beach and the earlier trauma of having to stop whatever interesting thing they were doing is quickly forgotten. But now they are really having fun and all too aware that returning to the boat means dinner, stories, bed. Much less fun.
We tell them that they have five more minutes before we leave. Issie, turning six tomorrow, can deal with this a bit better then Max. They are getting a little fractious, and Max is goading Issie by repeatedly stepping where she is trying to dig. It escalates rapidly but Issie displays surprising maturity by merely stomping off to sit on the dockside and calm down. Max is angry that he doesn't have Issie to tease and when Gesa reminds him that he only has five minutes he flips; shouts, screams and starts to hit her. OK, if that's the way it is then we're leaving now.
The whole beach is observing our outstanding parenting example as the screaming and violent Max is manhandled into the dinghy and told to put his lifejacket on. Refusing, he is zipped and clipped into it and sits in the bottom of the dinghy lashing out at anyone within reach and screaming that he doesn't need his lifejacket. He's also still full of beach sand as our normal trick of waggling our legs in the sea before getting in the dinghy has been bypassed in the rush to get him away.
At this point, as Max is by far the loudest sound in the entire anchorage and my shins are suffering from repeated blows, I'm pretty tempted to just launch him over the side of the dinghy. But I restrain myself. I bring the dinghy alongside the boat, cut the engine and hear a big splash. Gesa has launched him over the side. A spluttering and shocked Max is bobbing alongside us and she hauls him back out. She has, at a stroke, proven that the lifejacket is a good idea, stopped the screaming and hitting and, for bonus points, cleaned off all the beach sand. Max is stunned into silence.
Washed down, toweled off and in nice dry clothes, Max is given a time-out to calm down, after which he does apologise and then says, in a faint, plaintive voice 'but you didn't have to throw me in the water Mummy'. Well, maybe not but it certainly worked didn't it.
Issie has different and similarly effective ways of winding us up. Right now, talking back is a favourite. It's hard to give an instruction, request or point of discipline without getting a smartass response, or about as smart as a six year old can get. She reached a new peak recently when Max had been driving us half crazy anyway, Gesa was frazzled and Issie is spinning out bedtime. She must have been asked to brush her teeth or choose a story or something, and picks a particularly poor time to come back with 'yeah, but Max did...' or something like that. Gesa snaps and says 'can you not just learn to keep your freaking mouth shut sometimes'. We don't swear much, and almost never in front of the kids, so even this version of the 'f' word silences Issie for a bit.
Yet it all goes in, doesn't it. A couple of days later, we're relaxing, the kids are playing and Max keeps pressing a button on an electronic toy bus of his. It gets a bit annoying at the seventeenth repetition but we are trying to ignore it when Issie just says "Max, can you not keep that freaking bus quiet." I suppress a chuckle and pause from my book to see how Gesa deals with this one. Not bad, the proper explanation of how sometimes we use words we shouldn't and they are not to be repeated. She knows this - two years ago in Cambridge I remember her saying 'but why did you say 'shit' mummy?' after Gesa had dropped something on her toe. Now, however, the six year old brain is a little more sophisticated so she wants to know what 'freaking' means. I hear Gesa, to her credit, explaining how it's a version of another word that is used to describe sex, where a man and a women make love. Issie knows that bit of 'where a baby comes from' so says 'but isn't that a good thing, Mummy?'. Oh, the complex world of language and social acceptability.
It's only now that we realise just how much time our kids spent in the care of someone else. School, playdates, weekend classes, baby-sitters. Back in Cambridge, we spent a great deal of time not being with our kids, and that's important for one's sanity. Here, there's very few times when we're not together as all four of us, and we make a special effort to sometimes let one adult have an hour or two of quiet. I usually get that in the evenings, staying up later than Gesa, then try to take the kids away for a bit during the daytime. Still, it's very different and has much sharper peaks and troughs of mood and experience. We all benefit from doing some amazing things and being together so much, but we suffer from it too at times. On balance? Ask me in ten years time.
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