I heard somewhere this week that parenting is 90pc effort and 10pc struggle. As the children go back to school on Monday I'm reflecting over a tumultuous summer that saw us deal with illness, injury and bereavements.
Having moaned about the trashed house and the constant noise, I'll pad around the place come Monday, aching for sound. This weekend for us is the Forget Monday weekend. We will eat terrible food, watch family DVDs and do whatever the hell we like because we're all going to miss each other.
No matter how good the school, no one can like it better if home life is good. Ours is far from perfect and very good. Mick Lally told me once the trick to being a parent is to be a comrade. I have never forgotten that advice and it's stood me in good stead even when my voice can be heard in outer space, even when I have so little patience left I can't hold the temper in its strong box. I know that five minutes later I will apologise to my children.
Some people think you should never apologise to your child because you lose face. I think the opposite. They learn how to apologise. Mine have come to express themselves in such a way I wish I was them. I didn't know jack when I was their age. If you gave out to me I spilled my guts crying then hated myself for being soft.
Softness in a child, sensitivity, should be incorporated, not drummed out. Parents of some younger children worry that if they don't 'toughen them up', they won't handle school well. It's my view if you force a child to behave out of character, school will be even more stressful. No one glides through school unless they're in role play. Every child hits something that causes trouble. Last year I thought the year would never end. The boys were so unhappy and went from liking their school to hating it.
It was only by allowing them to express their worries, by not putting more onto their shoulders, that they faced a challenge I would have found difficult and they took on. Now they're still not keen on going back but one did say: "Thank you for defending me." That kind of comment gives me a strong heart on weak days. I love that my son is his own person and not some yodelling bully who was told to 'get in there and sort it'. It doesn't mean I'm not worried about his return.
That fact that he isn't, and neither is his brother, gives me the brave face I've put on, and the resolve to support them in curriculum areas they find boring or difficult. I don't know any other way of dealing with things than to give my children choices. This summer the choices were: return to the school, home educate for a term or go to another school. They both chose to go back to their old school, knowing it would mean facing the challenges they didn't cope with last time.
It's not just the parents of junior infants who suffer the sense of separation. My friend who is a mother of eight and in her 80s still cries at the memories of September and losing the tribe to the school yard.
She was not an apron-strings mammy, in fact, she was one of the few working mothers of her time who wasn't a widow. But the first week of September is still one where she recalls the relief of the silence and the terrible loneliness of it.
She told me this: "It's good preparation for when they go. I think all parents should have something nice planned for that first week. The more you do for yourself when they're small the more you do for yourself when they're gone."