19 Jul 2018
Here’s my theory. There are three moments when holidays are perfect. The first is a month before a holiday starts, when the plans are forming, the reviews have been read and everyone is excited about what’s coming. The second is the moment during the holiday when the photo is taken of the smiling, beautiful family in freshly laundered linen with an unimaginably beautiful backdrop, while the sun is shining. This is the photo that makes its way onto Facebook. The world now knows that the holiday is perfect. The third is a month after the holiday, when we’re back in our mundane lives; the inbox and the laundry basket are full and the details of holiday imperfections have faded, leaving only the Facebook photo version.
But for the duration of the holiday, it hurts. It’s not incessant. It’s not awful. It doesn’t mean I regret having a holiday. It’s just that when I hold it up against the perfect anticipated holiday, it disappoints.
I’m tempted to believe that each particular holiday is worse than any other holiday that has ever existed for anyone else. If it’s a camping holiday, then my youngest is invariably the first one on the campsite to wake up. There’s a good reason why we moved on from the medieval practice of the sun dictating bedtimes and rising times. If it’s a holiday with a baby then he falls between the cracks of proper oversight; he often literally falls between the cracks, usually face first, on his nose and he cries. If it’s a holiday with older children then I have been known to stop the car in a lay-by so they take my warning seriously- the screaming, punching and niggling must stop now. I’m told by my friends that if it’s a holiday with a teenager, then it comes as a total shock that his bedtime is now after theirs! What happened to our precious hour of alone time with a cold drink? So there can never be a time of total rest. Is it just that my memory is terrible? I arrive on holiday expecting permanent utopian relaxation and family peace. Instead each minor irritation and peculiar habit surprises me.
God uses holidays for our good. I am convinced of it. It is the only time in the year when my whole family is forced to repeatedly spend all day everyday together. It is now clear to me that schools do not exist to educate children, they exist to ensure the children survive into adulthood, by keeping them away from their parents for most of the time. But on holiday, we see our children. And we see ourselves. And I don’t like it very much.
I have experimented with various forms of remedial repair. I have tried the early morning briefing, where I lay out exactly the sort of perfect behaviour I am expecting during the next 8 hours. I have tried threats. I have tried rewards. Once, I tried playing a game where we each had to come up with something encouraging, kind, helpful and thankful to say to the person on our right, in response to a variety of situations. The game had a number of rounds. Mary was on my right. I think it helped our marriage no end. And of course, I have tried praying with my children for our loving Father in Heaven to change our hearts.
As I talk to Mary about this, she reminds me that this holiday (like every holiday) is good for our family and good for our marriage. I am seeing more of what she experiences every day. I am spending more time with our children. My nose is out of Facebook, out of my computer and in their colouring, in their swimming, in their shouting, in their crying, in their imperfections. We are having to discuss how we pray for our children, and how we can help our children (preferably before they kill each other). On holiday, all these discussions are emergencies. They’re essential for survival. But without holidays, these conversations might never happen.
I am forced to accept that my perfect holiday actually exists only in my make-believe. In my holiday daydream, my children do not need parenting because they have matured to the point where they are basically middle aged and listening to Radio 4. My wife does not need a husband because I have answered all of her questions and satisfied all of her needs so that nothing further is required of me. This would leave me free to do what I want to do, all the time, without anyone interfering, least of all God. He reminds me that my daydream is empty and hollow. If my holidays were really like this I would experience none of the good which he is accomplishing in my reality.
I am not sure if Facebook is ready for pictures of our holiday as it really is, so we will continue to only post photographs of the one moment when everything looks perfect. But please remember, Facebook lies.