When do family holidays stop? While the children were both young we loved planning holidays every summer, always looking for something new, something a little bit different from our normal life, something we could all remember together. But eventually they do grow up, and for a while, they may hate those holidays with you. What can you do then – do you drag them with you, leave them behind, send them away, or just abandon holidays altogether for a little while?
In Duncan’s view, our family holiday at the start of the summer holidays was a washout. Boat trips, fish and chips on the pier, cream teas: none of this was good. It was the holiday his sister Julie needed, but not what he needed. Duncan is at his most anti-family at the moment, most determined to reject everything we do, plotting his escape from the cloying world of home. He is abrasive, angry, critical and argumentative. When I made up my usual photo book of the holiday, I devoted one whole page to moody shots of Duncan glowering at a slice of cheesecake, or slumped against a wall. He did not smile for two whole weeks.
Fortunately he had another holiday lined up for later on in the summer holidays: a week on Gibraltar at cadet camp. I picked him up from the airport at the end of the week, and found him in the middle of a gang of young men and women, most of them two or three years older than him, all of them tanned, loud and confident. Now this was the holiday he needed, full of activity, army discipline, noisy physical games, flirting, nicknames and practical jokes. He tried (and failed) to pick up Spanish girls, and only realised later that he had been trying to chat them up in German. He was punched by one of the apes. He got to go on board one of the visiting warships. He brought back some photos from this holiday, and in all of them he is grinning from ear to ear.
Is this then the end of the family holiday for us? We had several years without them because Julie was ill; it was an effort to organise one this year. Holidays that include Julie are inevitable for some years ahead, as she needs constant supervision. But what are we going to do with Duncan if he doesn’t want to come with us? Can we organise it so that we always go away when he has a camp to go to? I can see that being quite a challenge, trying to coordinate our departures and arrivals! But he is too young to leave at home. Next year he will be sixteen, and perhaps he will be ready to spend a few days at home on his own, but not whole weeks. He can hardly feed himself, he would be lonely, miserable. He likes to say (aggressively) that he can do without us, but he is still only a boy: he does need us really, even if he can’t see it.