COMMENT: If you're trying to keep children or grandchildren entertained, sane or simply alive these school holidays, you're in good company. Tens of thousands of us in the Bay are in the same boat, wondering who ate all the chips, what's half the wardrobe doing on the floor, and how did two popcorn bowls live under a bed for weeks while no one noticed?
Holidays were easier when my teenagers were still munchkins. I could send them to an activity programme when I needed to work. Today, at ages 15 and (nearly) 14, they're too old.
It's time to get creative. In Kiwi DIY fashion, I've devised my own slightly satirical, tongue-in-cheek programme.
1) Getting into weed
With the country debating the legalisation of marijuana, it's apropos my kids gain an appreciation for weed. Actually, weeds, or weeding. Torrents of rain have weeds growing in every crevice around our home. Dandelions, clover, creeping oxalis, moss, hawkbit and many more pest plants have spread their green tentacles. While you can't get high from bending, crouching and pulling weeds, you can get a powerful head rush if you stand up quickly. This feels especially dangerous performed on an empty stomach.
2) Make slime
I saw this idea and 99 others on an Aussie mum's website. No, mate. No. Slime ranks with glitter on my list of banned substances. We still have containers of congealing homemade goo taking up space in rarely-used cupboards.
3) Code camp
A great idea for parents who dream about a mini Bill Gates creating the retirement lifestyle of which they dream. When I mention computing, coding or programming, my cherubs practically thumb their noses at me.
"That's for nerds," they say. "Nerds rule the world," I tell them. The only code happening at our house is when the kids talk strangely to annoy and confuse me.
4) Mini Putt for fun and learning
Play a round of 18 tiny holes tucked behind mega-roadworks at the Bayfair roundabout. This is a good opportunity for a lesson about multi-million dollar transportation projects expected to outlive their usefulness within a decade. Make the 19th hole the underpass. Ask children to run back and forth under the road as many times as they can within 15 minutes, explaining they probably won't be able to use this route much longer and will instead need to play chicken with traffic or use an overbridge between Concord and Spur.
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5) Floating yoga
I wanted to love a mother-daughter date that involved hanging from a fabric seat at a Mount yoga studio. Everyone seems to rate it highly. But 10 seconds after inverting, every drop of blood in my body rushed to my head and it nearly burst. Once right side up, the instructor gave me a little push and I wanted to vomit. Maybe floating yoga is good for weight loss. Miss 15 enjoyed the experience. I'm happy to drop her off and go for coffee.
6) Build an ant nursery
Buy a glass jar with a lid, fill it with sand and find a newly-mated queen ant to start a colony. Teach kids about reproduction while stalking ants. According to myrmecologists (ant experts), only special ants mate; the rest are barren females or ordinary worker ants who lack porcelain teeth, washboard abs, their own YouTube channel and sponsors. During what's called a nuptial flight, the young winged queens and males fly into the air and mate while flying or upon landing (the queen will often mate with several males). Males die after mating; breeding with the young queens during nuptial flight is their only purpose in the ant world. The takeaway is: females are naturally dominant; and sex can be deadly for males.
If you can't find a pregnant queen, try other prolific local insects: cockroaches, lice and fleas. Be sure to keep a lid on that jar.
7) Science is fun
Put three teaspoons of baking soda into a tissue. Now, put one part water and two parts vinegar into a plastic, resealable bag. Partially close the bag, leaving space to tuck in the baking soda. Completely zip the bag closed and hand it to someone half-asleep. Listen for their screams as the bag explodes.
8) Cleaning windows is fun
If the kids ever want to play computer games or hang out on Instagram again, they must earn it. Give them some glass spray and paper towels; tell them streaks are for geeks. Each shiny clean window earns more screen time.
9) MasterChef competition
Ask the children to make dinner. Best meal wins a special prize, like gloves for washing dishes and a new scrubber.
10) Trampoline park plus bonus excursion.
This is a two-part exercise. The first part happens at the trampoline park and lasts about 30 minutes. It ends when someone else's 5-year-old walks in front of your kid as he's attempting a double flip, resulting in a potentially broken arm. The second segment happens at A&E. This will solve your what-to-do-today dilemma, as it'll eat up several hours.
11) Take the dog to the beach
It might start as a forced march, but who doesn't love hitting the beach on a windswept, slightly rainy day? Make sure Fluffy gets wet and sandy, because that's a good excuse for the next activity:
12) Bathe the dog
Not in your bathtub. The kids' tub, or the laundry sink is fine. Release the hound post-bath and revel in her joy as she shakes her wet dogginess all over your sofa, carpets and beds.
13) Go to the movies
You know it'll be crowded, and you didn't want to see Avengers #56 anyways, so send your teens to the cinema alone. Not so fast - Master 13 has forgotten his student ID and gets charged adult prices. Maybe now that his upper lip is fuzzy, he can buy you beer at the store.
14) Visit a museum
Oops - we don't have one. Drive to Auckland instead. Or visit the art gallery in Tauranga to step into a virtual reality universe of alien architecture. Last resort: hit the mall, which is a never-ending exhibition highlighting the current state of consumerism in the Bay.
Other ideas: pester distant family members by surprising them with a visit; hold a family reading day; teach your kids how much of what we try to recycle will get landfilled.
These holidays are going to fly.
What are you doing these school holidays? I'd love to hear your ideas. firstname.lastname@example.org Dawn Picken also writes for the Bay of Plenty Times Weekend and tutors at Toi Ohomai. She's a former TV journalist and marketing director who lives in Papamoa with her family.