Much as we love our children, it’s great to have some time away from them – and for them to have some time away from us, says Mariella Frostrup.
At nine and 10, our children are already desperate to get away from us; that is, until the moment that we give any indication of feeling likewise about them. Then, no matter how well-constructed our plans to claw out some R&R, or how casually we throw in the idea of aqua Olympics, arts and crafts or insect-gathering forays into the holiday equation, their hackles rise.
We’d all but given up hope of ever spending quality adult time together during school holidays until last summer, when we opted for the route embraced by American friends, and suggested a new skill for them to master, presented with the spin of greater independence.
We booked them on a sailing course, extolling the wonders of the freedom of the open sea. We based ourselves at a friend’s cottage on the Solent, and packed them off to Lymington every morning with a packed lunch. I admit we were in the middle of a heat wave, and the wind-whipped, rain-lashed reality of a true yachtie induction was enhanced by a near Caribbean idyll of blue skies and bright sunshine requiring lashings of sun cream. Far from groaning and feigning illness, they seemed to understand the world of possibility that steering your own little laser could bring. They felt the wind of liberation blowing in their sails and proved themselves excellent little learners.
Emboldened by this success, which left us free to idle away our days from 9am to 4pm, facilitating our most relaxing holiday in years, we’re now converts to hobbies that last into adulthood but should be mastered while young.
My childhood was of a poverty stricken 1970s variety, where leisure time simply meant keeping out from under the adults’ feet. I grew up more than capable of killing time, but a disaster when it came to the leisure accomplishments familiar to the well-heeled and privately educated. Tennis, skiing, surfing, diving, sailing, even decent swimming strokes, were all picked up late and with large helpings of humiliation. I remain the only adult on earth with the tennis serve of a toddler.
In October half term we were invited to the tiny island of Vamizi, off the coast of Mozambique, where we invested in another life-enhancing qualification for our reluctant duo.
In this ocean paradise, where schools of spinner dolphins leapt in the waves, humpback whales erupted from tranquil seas and coral reportedly flourished in near biblical quantities, we did some underwater exploration.
With only the tiniest groan from Molly, they set off each morning and afternoon for scuba-diving instruction. It wasn’t the cheapest way of keeping the children occupied, but it bought us some snooze time, and on our final day we set out on our first family dive. Tears of happiness streaked down the inside of my mask as I watched my two minnows zooming around among the tropical fish, gaping at moray eels and distant reef sharks, as comfortable in the ocean after three days as I am after three decades of practice.
With the ease and fearlessness of youth, they slipped effortlessly into their gear, bearing tanks bigger than their torsos and zoomed off like creatures from Atlantis.