Changing times for supervising kids on holiday - Argus Friday 3rd July 2015

Posted Monday 21st September 2015   By Ericka Waller

SO I’m in the Isle of Wight with the kids for a week. The last time I came here I was four-years old. I don’t remember it but apparently I was driven down in the back of my dad’s Talbot Sunbeam with no seatbelt, a broken sunroof and Kevin Wilson blaring out the speakers. My mum’s cigarette smoke wafted out in bursts as she laughed along to the classic “Santa Claus you...where’s my....bike” We spent a week on the beach, scaling Alum Bay Cliffs to reach the various layers of different coloured sand, naked save for our jelly shoes.

Suncream and sun hats were unheard of. My parents sat drinking cider on the sand while my brothers and I jumped over waves. Just as well nothing happened to us as neither of them could swim, or see straight to save us.

We lived off candy-floss, salty chips and giant lollies (think that photo of Rooney on his family holibobs). We were still running round the campsite at 9.30pm searching for leftover BBQ sausages to cover in Tabasco sauce and feed to the seagulls. My dad gave us 20p for every one we made sick.

Our boundary was the edge of the resort and there were two rules. No going near the swimming pool and no disturbing the adults unless someone was bleeding, badly.

Back then it was out of sight, out of mind.

Now it’s the polar opposites. I’ve seen parents carry their eight-year-olds up and down the ‘tricky’ caravan steps. I witnessed a child wearing a ‘bump cap’ in the playground, and then spotted his mum and dad on their hands and knees under the climbing frame, ready to soften the shock of the fall (on bark chip).

Doors and windows are locked up tight, even in this stifling heat, so nervous are we about child snatchers. “It’s just not worth the risk” people say. But the risk was always there. Paedophiles and criminals were not invented along with the internet.

As for swimming pools, I saw a baby covered in so many layers of SPF Lycra, arm bands, hats and rubber rings they were drowning themselves. No running, no jumping, no shouting, no singing, no inflatables, no diving, no bombing and certainly no heavy petting. No flipping point.

We were not allowed in the pool anyway, because even though my girls can swim, I was not accompanied by five Olympic diving champions, The Hoff and half his cast of Baywatch. I stupidly thought the seven lifeguards would keep an eye on us.

For the same reason we could not go down the chair lift at Alum Bay. I did not bring a troop of girl guides to facilitate the tricky decent, and the risk of travelling solo was deemed as high-risk as a base jump. I heard one woman mutter something about me “not deserving my children”.

We’ve been here four days. So far we’ve had sunburnt shoulders, two nose bleeds (one from falling out the boot of the car and one from a fist-fight over an Oreo), two stubbed toes and seven splinters. We are all still alive, in fact I’d go as far as to say we are having fun, when no one is watching.

I do let my children out of my sight. The island is only 60 miles round. They would need to be a lot further away than that for me to not be able to hear them. I don’t cover them with factor 50, nor do I helicopter round them wiping noses, bums and kissing bruises.

I let them go barefoot and bare-chested. I give them sticks and jam sandwiches. They dig in the dirt under the caravan and forage the campsite for new friends.

I am a single parent and it’s hideously expensive to take them out to arcades and amusements. I did it one day, it cost me £40 and they did not enjoy it half as much as seeing a boy be sick in the pool after going on the slide. They were not allowed on the slide themselves of course, as they were not tall enough, neither was I for that matter. It drives me mad.

I grew up in pub gardens sucking highland toffee and telling ghost stories under the slide. My brothers and I fought like cat and dog, but never let one another out of sight. We were a team and together, we were invincible.

We talked to strangers. We made friends with children from other towns, unsupervised. My childhood gave me freedom, the confidence to do things alone, yet the ability to go and ask someone if I needed help. I don’t need someone to come to the toilet with me. They never did.

These are the qualities, the gifts I want to give my daughters. I know there is a line between safe and stupid parenting, but it’s not as fine as we think.

Anyway, back to supervised colouring in the clubhouse. Someone is coming over with a disclaimer form to sign. Pencil sharpeners can be deadly in the wrong hand.

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