I know that what is in fashion today is “the utter splendour” and “the misty sincerity of pink colour” when the texts of parenthood and family are concerned, especially in summer and at the seaside.
We share lovable looks and subtly shake our heads when watching our children and how ingenious they are while making stars in the shallows. Not to mention the first swim?! And it is with your dad! Don’t push her any more, it’s enough for her! Then the dawn comes and the toddling of a baby girl in a dress and a diaper, so cute, along with a horde of other members of land homo sapiens. Older children are licking ice-creams and we are all laughing at how a lady at the beach sat today on a wasp with her right buttock. Somehow we all look happy. That is because we all are happy. Today we may send postcards. Children will draw on them instead of writing. And on the last day, for the memory, we’ll collect especially beautiful and unusual stones in order to remember this, almost perfect holiday for the whole forthcoming year.
I have no inspiration for this type of exchange.
More precisely, I’ll feel much better if I state, on time, that there is neither anything educational, nor magnificent. Just to avoid being surprised. There is not a single piece of advice on how to supply your travelling first-aid kit as well as possible, or how to cope with a tiresome ear infection. There is also nothing on how to make your child get used to swimming in the sea, on how make your husband get used to yourself, and how to make yourself get used to your period which, of course, always comes when least convenient. There is nothing marvellous, touching and “truly like that”. Because, for me, let’s make it clear, travelling to the seaside with children – cannot be called a holiday.
A holiday means lying on the sand and blinking your eyes. A lazy movement of sinful thoughts. Being bare-foot and careless. Being silent for a long time, followed by looking at each other for a long time. Interesting food and interesting encounters. Nights crickets. Sleeping.
Travelling with children – after which I say: “It was truly wonderful and we had a great time” – usually means that I managed, over the period of two weeks, to eat more than one meal while seated, that no one had a serious illness and that we didn’t mention divorce more than two times a day.
Until a few years ago, the month of June and the end of the school year would cause psychosomatic reactions in me. An approaching holiday would each time inspire me to come up with ideas – why we, despite the plans, cannot go to the seaside. Different ideas used to come to my mind – from health problems that would make it impossible for me to travel, to purely economic reasons since the times are difficult and what’s wrong with us staying in Belgrade, anyway. However, my parental consciousness would succumb every time, and every summer I would again and again submissively put my head on the block.
A head on the block means that your car is mainly always the same, and that year in year out there are more and more things to be carried. The idea of packing the things into the garbage plastic bags instead of fancy suitcases brings not only a bad image but also much more space. The calculation is clear – four children and two adults need 6 beach towels, 6 big towels for regular use and 6 small ones. I am full of hope that I will manage to stumble on a laundry service. If it doesn’t happen, I’ll be washing them by hand, using hand-wash laundry soap. What great fun. That is, more or less, already one suitcase. Toiletries, an iron, an inhaler in case somebody gets sick and a first-aid kit take another smaller suitcase. Every one of us has their own suitcase, although, obviously, the younger you are – the bigger the suitcase you have. And I, as if acting in a film, when packing has been completed, look at the unperceivable pile of suitcases and plastic bags and say the famous sentence: “There’s nothing much that I really need... a bathing suit, and nothing else.”
When we, defying all laws of physics, somehow manage to pack everything into our Renault Espace (which is on its last legs), what follows is the admiration of our neighbours, both the closest and the less close ones, who are watching us affectionately. By a twist of Fate, the major part of our neighbourhood consists of the Roma population who adore us because “look at this woman, she is ours, she gave birth to four children”. After we have waved at everyone in our street – since in summer everybody sits on low stools in front of their homes until late night hours – our journey to the seaside begins.
Once we reach Vidikovac (a suburb of Belgrade) we have already stopped since not everybody has peed. Maybe even not taken a pooh. Once we reach the motor road to the seaside, I start apologising to my husband for forgetting the book he wants to read (the one I was reading 4 months ago in the sauna. which one? that one, well, really!). The atmosphere on the car reaches the incandescence since the BlueEyed terribly wants to sleep and he is all whimpering, the SonOfTheSun says it is too draughty, and the HazelGirl is terribly hot. The Goldilocks starts taking out her personal collection from her backpack although it is way past 10:00 PM, demanding more space, louder music, and finally, she starts crying because she hasn’t brought her Tiggy. At that very moment our dog Munja (Lightning), who is crouching behind the co-driver’s seat starts to howl.
MyBelovedHusband opens his first RedBull and sighs loudly. I am focused on the road in front of us and say to myself – the same way we have managed to get to the seaside so far, we’ll do it again this time. And it happens so. Every year we somehow get to some seaside.
Our family itinerary while travelling tends to imitate ideal activities, but due to continual exceptions, we are flexible and adaptable. It is never known when somebody will pick up a fight with somebody else, when someone will spit on someone else, scratch or bite, and when MyBelovedHusband’s idea of an ideal holiday will be ruined, which will completely destroy his peace of mind, which, truthfully speaking, has never existed.
Arriving at the beach means that we need more space than other, normal, families. More space on the beach, more space in the water and more understanding of all other people who came to the same place with an almost pointless idea – to have a rest. Beside all the theories of bringing children up which I personally attested on my descendants, I regularly conclude – many things I have never managed to teach them, although I have spared no efforts.
For example, the same moment each of my children touch the sand with their feet – they start yelling. As if the heat of the sand has burned out their hearing apparatus. And it is not so because they are angry or annoyed. Shall we swim?! Resounds around my head like pealing.
The moment they touch water the assessment of the temperature of the water, the waves, the animate and inanimate worlds, making the plans for diving and jumping start – all of it above the level of allowed decibels for places where people live. Apart from splashing of the members of their family, my children enjoy the splashing of all other people who, contrary to them, do not enjoy it at all. Then comes a series of apologies, followed by a series of threats. I march in the shallows like an officer on the verge of a nervous breakdown. I don’t know if I should kill them or take photos of them. I remove the looks of other people on the beach from my body like the tattoos children find in candies, but they leave a trace on me and they tire me out. What also tires me out is that they stare at me while I look like a delirious ostrich running left to right in a region occupied by my younglings.
Of course, I take a rest and I enjoy the summer holiday. I make the best friendships with local doctors and pharmacists. I endeavour to get their mobile phone numbers as soon as possible in order to be relaxed when the midnight comes. Every afternoon I conquer the kitchen and I shine like Jamie Oliver himself! All according to the principle “less is more”. A little bit of rocket salad, a strawberry and half a baked potato. When it comes out that they are not sophisticated enough for such a type of menu, I pack them and take them to giros. There is no better detox than children who are full up and silent.
And the husband? When we are on a family vacation I see MyBelovedHusband in passing. The same day upon the arrival, he sets off on a detailed patrol in order to find out where the Internet is the best in that place. The Internet we have where we are staying is never good enough and it is necessary for him to find a faster and stronger one in order to perform his urgent matters responsibly. That’s what he is like, you know. Responsible and serious. What you can do in December, do it in July.
“Just popping out to finish something” becomes his summer mantra and those days we meet by coincidence – on stairs, in front of a shop, on the wharf. He truly looks busy. From time to time, while we are passing by each other, what hits me is an ancient emotion, as we met for the first time – at the seaside. While I am looking at this man in slippers, slowly walking away, I come to a stand for a while and I stretch that look like a chewing gum stuck to his neck on one side. And then, in a second, I bite the thread in half and I lift the shopping bags since I have no time for that. I am on a vacation, you know.
With a Buddha-like patience I crunch these summer days and I prepare mentally and physically, like a seaside ninja, for the final blow to the holiday – packing and returning home.
On our way back, everything is the same, just a little bit worse. Mu children look like a troop of wounded people, and I look like a selfless nurse dressing the wounds they got on vacation, giving them therapy and reducing fever. The anguished sighs of MyBelovedHusband I cannot even hear any more, although his dissatisfaction because of the book from the first paragraph I failed to bring still lingers between us.
If the lift in our block of flats works, after 1,000km, I am returning home with joy, because my life is patiently waiting for me in a nicely decorated living room, with the washing machine and my friend Gvozdenka who understands me.
If the lift in our block of flats doesn’t work, after these 1,000km, I will be carrying the suitcases and children in my teeth all the way to the fifth floor, moaning to myself “Just this one, and it’s all over!” O-V-E-R.
And then, the day after, soothed by the sound of the washing machine, I don’t even wince at the malicious comment of my neighbour stating that I haven’t even got any tan. While family memories from the seaside rapidly fade away in my consciousness, I clatter down the corridor in some special rhythm of mine, dignified and happy because the holiday is finally over and I am at home again.
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Illustrated by Ema Brown Owl
Author Tamara O.
Translated by Ljiljana Smudja