Happy holidays at home - here's how
The two-thirds mark of the school holidays is when parental despair usually sets in. The excitement of the year-end trilogy of school finishing, Christmas and New Year is forgotten. The Christmas toys have been broken or abandoned, except for that one mistaken purchase you're now regretting (wrestling video game + three small suspects hopped up on testosterone and sugar x rainy days = violent carnage. "What were you thinking?" asks wife, again.)
You're beginning to feel guilty for wishing school would start sooner. Your teacher friends surely deserve a decent break. Is it cruel and unusual punishment to lock the doors to force the small suspects to fend for themselves outdoors? After how many days of this would the neighbours call CYF?
I have not yet put this experiment to the test, partly because I have learned from experience. Determined not to repeat the mistakes of past summers, I sat down in late December and assembled a list of "staycation" ideas.
The staycation has become more popular in these recessionary times of high petrol prices. The key, as I have learned the hard way, is not to assume that staying at home and doing nothing, or doing the same chores you would usually do, qualifies as a holiday.
Doing nothing - can you even imagine the luxury? - is great for parents but a disaster for short attention span kids. It has taken me 10 years to accept the fact that just because my idea of a perfect summer when I was a kid was a box full of novels, this doesn't mean the small suspects will be similarly entranced.
Hence the list, which I offer in the spirit of weary solidarity with all parents in these dog days of summer.
Ngatimoti's Firepit bike track: A pump track, a set of dirt jumps and a new community barbecue. Grease, dirt, sausages: that's the scent of summer.
Backyard fire with sparklers: I can't recommend fireworks in midsummer, but sparklers around a brazier, under the watchful eye of responsible adults, can sneak in. Pair with a game of spotlight and even putting up tents for that "camping at home" vibe.
Motueka mini-golf: 18 holes, five people, with the youngest being four, made for hours of entertainment. Part of the fun is that each hole is designed around one of the region's attractions, so you have to get the ball through Split Apple Rock, over the Buller swingbridge and through the Motueka clock tower. At the end, the ball disappears down Harwood's Hole.
Free outdoor theatre: If past years' shows are anything to go by, Body in Space's annual summer production should be side-splitting fun for the whole family.
This year, Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest gets the sped-up, jokes-added, making-theatre-fun treatment. It's on at 6.30pm at the Fairfield House meadow until January 25, with 2pm shows as well today and tomorrow. Bring a picnic and a blanket.
Explore a creek: Ingredients: Old pairs of sneakers, sticks, snacks. Method: Watch out for blackberry and slippery snot rocks. Expect a water fight to break out at some stage. You will get wet.
Day pass to Quninney's Bush: This is is verging on cheating on the staycation concept, but it qualifies, since you will not be staying the night. Ten dollars gets a carload into the camp for a day to enjoy the waterslide, an excellent swimming hole in the Motupiko River, flying foxes, a confidence course, a BMX track, a skatepark and heaps of kids - potential friends for your kids - roaming the leafy grounds.
Wild Tracks: If you are Quinney's bound, this is a great detour near Tapawera. Owner John is a classic Kiwi tinkerer who has created all kinds of terrain and obstacles for you to navigate in rugged four-wheel-drive buggies. The kids have to be passengers, of course, but where's the rule that says only children get to scream with delight during summer?
Kids must be six to ride in the buggies, but the youngest small suspect was very happy to beat his mum in a radio-controlled tank battle, navigating fun obstacles in a race to pop balloons. Huge fun, and a highlight of the holidays so far.
If you don't get through all of these in the next few weeks, don't panic. It's only 334 days until the next summer holidays begin. Start planning now.