Summertime… and the living should be easy, but I fear that what we can actually expect will be invigorating but much less relaxing than Gershwin.
Here is what’s likely to be going on in the mature family’s house this summer:
- Temperamental weather. Living in the British Isles, we talk the talk about barbecues and picnics, truth is, we just have them when no one else would: in light drizzle, in gale force winds which we like to call ‘a refreshing breeze’, and, on the odd occasion, when the weather is actually nice. We may invite friends over for a barbecue, but deep down we know that chances are 50:50 as to whether we will actually eat outside or just make one person stand on the patio with an umbrella whilst the rest of us are inside waiting for charred meat.
- Your eldest child will graduate from university. Hurrah! The pinnacle of their education is celebrated with new outfits, a gorgeous ceremony and lots of photos. Your child then gets a harsh shot of reality that companies are not queuing up to recruit graduates. Remember the milk round? Companies exhibiting at universities to recruit future graduates? Ah, they were the days…. No such luck for our kids. No, Cuthbert quickly realises that he will spend his summer either sending 100+ applications, or that something resembling a professional qualification via a masters degree is called for, and then apply for that. Applying for graduate jobs has also changed dramatically. Obviously, it’s all done online now, which you would think simplifies the whole process. And maybe it does for the employer. It doesn’t for Cuthbert (and the surrounding family members). Each application takes hours. Hours, I tell you. Whereas we sent a CV and a letter, meticulously editing the letter to suit each job, Cuthbert and co have to write 100 word paragraphs on numerous topics such as: Why do you want to work for us? (‘Because I owe £30,000 in student loans’ is not an answer likely to lead to success apparently) and ‘Give us an example of how you dealt with a problem in customer service’, ‘ How have you demonstrated leadership’ etc etc. Like I said, it takes hours. Do you then remember receiving rejection letters? Crushing, especially after an interview. Well, I’ll tell you what’s even more crushing. It’s not hearing anything at all. I’m very aware that we’re all terribly busy and important, but seriously, people can’t even send a rejection EMAIL after an interview? ? No one will ever convince me that that is acceptable, and I also seriously disapprove of how it teaches this next generation that those poor manners are okay in the business world. Job or further study – whichever route Cuthbert decides to take, it does not make for a chilled out summer.
- Your younger child is coming home from university. Unbelievable, how did that happen? Didn’t we only just drop Edwina off? We tend to forget that a ‘year’ at university goes from mid- to late September to May, early June. If Edwina has just finished her first year, chances are the summer will be split into working and going on some big trip (Thailand is deemed a bit passe this year, it should be Bali, really or South America). If that is the plan, for what it’s worth I would start nagging about a job at Easter, because if you live in a small town like me, those jobs are around but they get snapped up very quickly. Summer jobs are good life lessons, especially for middle class kids:
- it takes a looong time to earn £20
- waiting tables is hard work, (but also good material for your ‘customer service’ question on the online job application)
- people can be really rude, especially to service staff
- your boss probably won’t back you up like your parents might
- work in retail sees bouts of frantic activity when you think ‘we need more people’ and then slack periods where you understand why they haven’t hired anyone else
- apart from the pay, the banter with colleagues makes work bearable
- this job may work as inspiration to work really hard to get into a career that they actually enjoy
- Or Edwina has just finished her second year and she’s been really organised and is going for an internship, or starting a year in industry. These have become really popular with universities that are keen to up their employment prospects credibility. If Edwina is heading into London for this internship, prepare yourself for the fact that she will be using trains. And no one has ever suffered commuter pains like Edwina has. Not you, not your husband, not anyone who has commuted for say 15 plus years. No no, trains have definitely deteriorated right about the time Edwina tried to catch them to get herself into London. As a parent you realise how no one in your family has ever listened to your tales of commuter woe in those fifteen years when you hear brandnew outrage of cancelled trains, signal failures and missing Monday morning train staff. (Just nodding and saying ‘Yes, I know’ isn’t the hint you think is).
- Despite all these goings on you may ambitiously aim for a holiday that involves the whole family. This is now called a ‘genervacation‘. The level of interest from Edwina and Cuthbert to take part in this holiday is determined less by their love for you than by the destination. The Lake District – not so much. The Italian Lakes – more likely. Lake McKenzie in Australia – a definite. The best piece of advice I have read on the genervacation was by Nigella Lawson, who recommended renting a villa anywhere in Southern Europe as long as it was near an airport, to cut down on journey time when collecting offspring and friends. Even better, near Avignon in France which is near not one, but two high speed train stations (TGV). Sounds over the top but is actually really relevant when Edwina remembers that her induction day for work is on the penultimate day of the holiday and Cuthbert’s girlfriend’s 21st birthday party is on the arrival day and they both want to make their own way to said villa. (If you’re planning such a holiday, these will all happen, trust me.)
- As if all of these developments and plans weren’t enough kindling for your family friction then add on a healthy pinch of internal developments in the summer family reunion. The family still consists of all the same people, but some of them have undergone some life changing experiences (such as university/gap year travelling). You have the ‘I’m an adult now, so please treat me like one, but also can you make my favourite dinner?’ university child who has found some independence and is now kicking against boring, childish family rules. They’ve also been exposed to lots of different views at university and are probably finding their parents and hometown incredibly small-minded, judgmental and stuck in their ways. (Hey, at least we have freedom of speech in our house, unlike most universities, but that’s a different blog post entirely). In the other corner you have the parents who have overcome empty nest sadness and rediscovered new freedom and clean surfaces in their house, and they are a little unwilling to be hotel management for messy guest. I have no brilliant advice on this as we are still in the middle of it and have the family rows and sulks to prove it. All this is trumped by the killer combination of Mr and Mrs Fix-it as parents, and children who sometimes want to talk, sometimes don’t want to talk, and sometimes want help with something. Pure nitroglycerin. On this one, we have started trying to follow the to me very American approach of asking: “Do you want me to help with this, or do you just want to tell me about it?” So un-British, I know, but it has worked on occasion. On other occasions it was met by a disgusted snort and eyerolling which we took to mean: Thank you for your kind offering but on reflection I would rather not discuss it any further at the moment.
- And did I mention the weather? Saint Peter, if you’re reading this, take pity on us, let us be able to spill out from the confines of our claustrophobic houses into gardens and parks this year, not to mention all those barbecues the inhabitants of these fair isles keep dreaming of. So good for family life, no matter what the constellation and ages involved!