November 1, 2013 6:30 pm

Half-term meltdowns and breakdowns

‘Who invented the two-week half-term? Surely I cannot be the only parent who does not view this as a positive development’
Illustration by Toby Morisonn of work tools©Toby Morisonn

At last. Cost Centre #3’s two-week half-term holiday draws to a close this weekend. Who invented the two-week half-term? Surely I cannot be the only parent who does not view this as a positive development. It might be perfect for those who want to avail themselves of off-season rates for a fortnight in Mauritius but for the rest of us it is a complete headache.

My schedule meant that I had to delegate structuring half-term to Mr M. Every now and then I asked if he had a plan and, if so, what it might be? Because in my experience, left to their own devices 14-year-old boys do not readily volunteer for much activity beyond computer gaming.

My intention had been to book CC#3 on to a course at Decoded, a company that teaches you to code in a day. Then I received his half-term school report, which conveyed, in no uncertain terms, that CC#3 would benefit from doing some academic work during his break. It was very late at night when I read his report, so #3 had already retired for the evening and I did not see him to discuss it before I set out for work the next day. I did, however, set him some homework, leaving Mr M to hand out and supervise.

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Mrs Moneypenny

Halfway through the day I received an email. “Dear Mum,” it said. “I am doing the French and reading of the grammar book. The French is a great call and it is certainly helping my vocab. The English on the other hand is not boosting me in any area. It is just going back over what I did at prep school. I appreciate you trying to help me, however this is my half-term to relax. All you really had to say was to get out of the house and off the computer. I am doing just that by going to the cinema with my friend this Thursday and so going to get out of the house. I am also going to do something with my other friend very soon. This is really what I should be doing, activities which I enjoy that get me out of the house, not MORE work placed on my lap. Help me organise some ACTIVITIES for me to do which you think (actually think about this) that I would enjoy. I will do the reading of both the French and the English just for you. Love you lots. #3 :).”

To be honest, I barely noticed this email because I was dealing with something much more urgent. I don’t really encourage communication from home during my working day as I don’t find that emails from Mr M asking me yet again if I know where the spare loo paper is sit well between key meetings. But Long-suffering Lily had run in to tell me that CC#2 had phoned because our car had broken down on the M40 while he was on his way to work.

I called him back – the tyre had blown out and he couldn’t find the jack. I suggested he call the roadside assistance service. It’s a new-ish car, and I couldn’t remember if it was covered by the manufacturer or the insurance policy. CC#2 called me back half an hour later to tell me the answer, which was neither.

Really? We have no breakdown cover on our main family car? How is that? On reflection, I know why it is. It is because I, with the least amount of time to do it, have responsibility for all three of our cars and, when the manufacturer’s assistance package ran out last year, I failed to notice. Women can’t have it all, as I know, but they have to do it all. Time to delegate.

CC#2 used his initiative and called the AA, which came within half an hour and changed the tyre for no charge, as long as he joined on the spot.

I am glad he was safe, and now know exactly what I am going to do in future school holidays for his younger brother, no matter what his school report might say. I intend to book him on to courses on bike maintenance and, later, courses on how to change a car tyre, all readily available to people of all ages. You can also watch such a procedure on YouTube. A much better use of a computer during a far too long half-term.

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mrsmoneypenny@ft.com

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