The highs and lows of school holidays by Noor Abdul*


School holidays are a complex time for me. As much as I love being with my daughters, I value the time when they’re at school and preschool. When they’re there, I can sink into a few hours of solitude and pursue my restorative special interests. After my cup is refilled, I’m a calmer mother. However, when they’re home all day during school holidays, then it becomes harder for me to get some time to myself.

After the exhausting experience of an interstate flight with my girls and my mother during the last school holidays, I know better now. I’m planning a calm, stay-home holiday this time around. Sure, I will miss the excitement of going on a beach holiday, or visiting friends and family who live far away. I don’t miss the anxiety that comes with new place to stay, the discomfort of a strange bed, and the massive dysregulation that hits all of us when we’re back home. The worst part of an exciting school holiday is the inevitable spike of school refusal once school holidays are over. No thank you.

This time, I’m planning for success. A good school holiday, in my books, is one where we come out the other side more rested and connected to ourselves, and one another.

My daughters absorb and reflect the energy I bring to them. My energy depends on how anxious I am. This fluctuates, from day to day. It’s taken me decades to figure out that sometimes, I just don’t have the words or awareness to express why I’m feeling anxious, angry, upset, or overwhelmed. I’ve recently learned the term for this – alexithymia.

When my husband is around, when he notices that I’m irritable, he signals that to me by asking me calmly, “What’s bothering you?” If I’m not too overwhelmed, his cue helps me pause and reflect on what’s upsetting me. Often, it’s a simple thing – I could be hungry, thirsty, or need to use the bathroom. Sometimes, it’s a lot harder, like when I’m facing an unsolvable problem, or when I’m in pain.

I’ve recently had a necessary dental procedure, one that was so uncomfortable needed a bathroom break to avoid a public meltdown. The pain in my gum and discomfort from keeping my mouth open for so long sent me into sensory overload. I needed the release valve of  crying in the privacy of the dentists’ bathroom, while I shakily sent my husband a frazzled text. And even after that was over, the apologetic dentist suggested that I take painkillers to help with my recovery.

With this in mind, I’m aware that I’m going into school holidays with dysregulation from dental pain. Awareness helps me plan ahead. I have painkillers, numbing gel, and a commitment to listen to a 10 minute meditation track after lunch every day.  My daughters get to watch their favourite cartoons every day, and I plan to use that time to nap, snack or watch my own favourite TV show. Win-win.

Even though my kids love being home with me, and I enjoy playing with them, I still need daily pockets of solitude to help me restore  my equilibrium. It’s a struggle for  me to balance meeting my own needs and meeting the needs of others around me – especially the needs of my children. I tend to give too much of myself, and then swing to the other extreme of feeling resentful and snapping at them. I know this is rooted in my childhood fear of abandonment.

Fawning^ kept me alive when I was a little Muslim autistic girl of colour, and it was unsafe for me to say no, or express what I wanted. But I’m an adult now. I want to model a more authentic and sustainable way of being for my daughters. I want to save them decades of heartache and masking by showing them that it’s good to say no, set limits, and take time to nourish themselves.

I’m getting better at telling my daughters, “I’m feeling overwhelmed right now, and I need a break.” They’re getting better at listening and giving me the space I need. We always hug and apologise when we snap. Rupture and repair. I didn’t see this growing up, and I’m so happy my daughters are.

I’m hopeful that as my daughters get older, we’ll all get better at navigating school holidays. I marvel at the treasure trove of memories that we’ve collected over the years. Our happiest memories happen when we’re out in nature – when we’re marvelling at the shells we collect at the beach, when we’re splashing in the ocean, and even during the simple pleasure of sitting in our backyard swing. Here’s to making more memories in the many school holidays to come.


^ Fawning is a an attempt to people-please at the expense of one’s own health, in order to feel loved and accepted

*Name changed for privacy.

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