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Column: Mama Said with Emily Martin

Velvet’s Emily Martin - working mum of Girl, aged 5, and Boy, 1 - faces down a school holiday with sick children and nothing to do

Do all parents look forward to school holidays as much as their kids do?

Being new to the school-run game, I hadn't anticipated quite how tedious getting up for school every morning would become, particularly after one of the baby’s “special” nights where he’s slept in my bed and kicked me in the eye socket so that I’ve seen a little flash of light like when you overload a plug.

Having the alarm go off at 7am and then lying there for a few minutes wondering if anyone has ever been killed by their own baby before getting up, feeling briefly lucky to still be able to see, and then getting everyone full of breakfast, in seasonal overcoats and out of the house by 8.30am is a massive drag and quite emotional.

But the hotly anticipated February half term, as bad luck would have it, was heralded on day one by both children coming straight down with sickness bugs and colds. Think less half term holiday and think more SAS Boot Camp, but with cleaning up sick and very much more washing of beds.

While it seemed other families were packing up their jolly caravans and cheerfully hitting the road with a pack of Uno cards and a Disney/90s playlist, we were cowering in our house just praying no one would be sick anymore. I’m sorry to say that I did utter the words, “Darling, if you feel sick again can you please tell mummy straight away so that she can go out?”

So, there we were, trapped in our house, white cross painted on our door, no visitors, and only me to entertain us for a week.

Mother with an ill boy - cartoon people characters illustration on white background. A young woman taking care of her kid lying in bed with a flu, checking temperature, holding a thermometer in mouth (Mother with an ill boy - cartoon people characters (7590064)
Mother with an ill boy - cartoon people characters illustration on white background. A young woman taking care of her kid lying in bed with a flu, checking temperature, holding a thermometer in mouth (Mother with an ill boy - cartoon people characters (7590064)

I'm so fortunate with Girl because she is truly amazing at amusing herself. Where other parents scramble desperately Googling "half term ideas to stop them from tearing up the house", my kid will happily play in her own little world for eight hours with nothing more interesting than her baby brother and some plastic princess figurines. In all our years together (six), I have never once heard her say she's bored. And believe me, we've had some boring days.

But I give myself full credit for this outcome, because my entertainment strategy is always to under promise and over deliver. If you say, "Hey kids, tomorrow we might go to DISNEYLAND" and then you end up taking them to the park, they'll be disappointed and you'll still have to go the park.

However, if you say, "Hey kids, tomorrow we're probably going to spend the day at home sorting out washing and hoovering Bicarbonate of Soda out of the carpet", and then you end up taking them to the PARK for half an hour, they are happy and you win.

Here’s my quick guide to home entertainment, in case you ever find yourselves ill for the holidays. It falls into six categories: outings, playdates, games, puzzles, cooking and crafts. (If you believe there are more categories that this then please, by all means, come to my house and fight me. I’m on my last nerve.)

Outdoor activities are good, because you can get them to go to, say, the supermarket to buy Vanish and they believe it's a fun outing so long as you buy them something while you're there. Or you can just get a bike out of the shed and stick it in the garden - voila!

Playdates at your own house are tricky because it involves having even more children to look after. And if your children are contagious no one will want to play. Exercise caution here.

Games and puzzles are fine, but be wary of getting drawn into them and being encouraged by little voices to get down on the damp carpet and do the cars along the floor, or the voices of the animals.

While we're at it, can we agree that toys you have to "complete" in order to put away make us really irrationally angry at the end of a long hard day? They've gone to bed and your living room is strewn with things like Tomy Hide and Squeak Eggs where you must sit on the floor and match the shapes and colours just so can you have a glass of wine without maiming your foot. See also Lego.

Crafts and cooking are terrible ideas but do show real effort. The carnage. The cleaning up. Glue, paint, glitter, playdough, water, flour, sugar, sprinkles, paste, newspaper. It’s like a horrible feverish dream. “Mummy, can we do some painting?” Six little words that strike fear into my heart. Save this one for emergencies.

OK you’re right, there is a seventh one. A hidden level. And let’s be honest, it’s the gold standard.

When no one is feeling well, or even when you are feeling well, just give yourself a break and stick the TV on. It’s OK. Nothing bad will happen. Your children will grow up the same. And if you do it enough, they might even be able to do an American accent by the age of 5, like my daughter can. Although now, when she crafts, I've occasionally overheard her say “Thanks for watching and don’t forget to click ‘subscribe’". But that’s fine. Everything is fine.


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