Several marketing campaigns have reminded me recently that I only have “18 summers” with each of my children before they’re fully grown (presumably the implication being that after that they will want nothing more to do with me), so I better start making the most of them.
Instead of causing me to pause, take stock and cherish the heady summer days, it’s made me feel slightly stressed, guilty and panicky. This is what the clever marketing people actually want because the panic will lead you to buy something, usually a holiday or a ticket to an overpriced family festival.
I’m five summers down with my eldest already. “What the hell have I been doing?” I wondered. Have we rolled in the sand dunes enough? Strolled through enough wildflower meadows, built enough dens and roasted enough marshmallows on the fire? HAVE WE?
Ad campaigns like 18 Summers tap into one of our biggest fears as parents - that our kids’ precious childhoods are just going to whizz by in a flash and then we’ll have missed it. We won’t have packed it full of enough magical camera moments and we’ll regret it forever. Doom! Unlike our parents’ generation, our exposure to the internet and social media means that we’re aware of everything we could be doing with our kids and end up feeling guilty if we’re not constantly taking them on pony rides at an idyllic village fete or making angels in the snow. But as a friend pointed out the other day, the highlight of her Saturday as a kid was her dad coming home from the supermarket with a baguette for lunch instead of sliced bread. My husband’s happy memories are of hot dogs in front of a film rented from the video shop after football in the park.
In actual fact, I feel we’re having a pretty great time of it and I do love a big day out, but a lot of our happy memories aren’t technicolour Insta-moments. One of my favourite moments from last summer took place on a rare day at home with no plans, the kids and I pottering around the house with nothing to do. They didn’t want to go for a walk so I suggested we ‘get lost’ outside instead. We walked around our pretty unexciting suburban neighbourhood and I let them choose which direction we went in at every turn until they genuinely thought we were lost. Our silly expedition got even better when my son, who was learning to talk, referred to absolutely everything we saw on our route as a “hedgehog”. Plants, flowers, cars, houses were all hedgehogs and my daughter was crying with laughter by the end. She still remembers it.
Its not a moment I can tick off on the list of 50 things they should have apparently done by the time they’re 11 ¾, but it makes me smile every time I think about it. Perhaps our kids’ childhoods shouldn’t be measured against a checklist of moments that someone else (usually a journalist or a marketing agency) has deemed worthy. We haven’t failed if we haven’t gone on a repertoire of exciting holidays and baked every single variety of cupcake. The most magical family moments often come when you least expect it - when you’re sitting on the bus together looking out of the window, talking rubbish on a long, hot car journey or redecorating the lounge. Time spent together enjoying each other’s company, phones down, laughing, talking and not taking life too seriously are the main ingredients we need to create those warm, fuzzy memories in summer, in winter and on every imperfect day in between.
Plus let’s face it, once our kids go on to have their own kids we’ll get to live those 18 summers… All. Over. Again.