Summer: long days of endless sunshine and play. Children laughing. Parents sitting with a glass of cool beer or wine. Beaches. Walks in nature. Road trips. Plane rides to the Med.
What a crock. The advertisers would have us believe it. We want to believe it. But the truth is that suddenly you are back on 24-hour duty with your kids, who don't know what to do with themselves. Doing nothing all day long is a beautiful thought. But it doesn't work for more than a week.
Three weeks into the summer holidays and I've had some phone calls from desperate friends witnessing the destruction of their routines and lives. Just this morning a friend who couldn't get through on her mobile, because someone let it fall during a game, arrived at the front door with two boys taking lumps out of one another.
"They haven't stopped fighting since they woke up. They ripped the duvet cover in half. Then the dog burst their ball so they chased her with a bucket of water and threw it over her. She was howling. The baby was howling. What about you?"
"I'm trying to get packed to go on holiday, finish off work and put together two pieces of flat-pack furniture. No one will eat anything I cook and they won't go to bed unless I threaten them with the removal of iPods. So they've hidden their iPods. The DVD shelf has collapsed after the cat jumped on it to get away from the dog who was trying to get away from the machine guns and shrieking in the back garden. If I hear Wonderland by Tinie Tempah once more I'm going to commit hari kari and, generally speaking, it's just another summer," I told her.
We finished a pot of coffee, the only way to get enough energy to cope. By that time the four lads were all planning a rap concert at the bottom of the garden. Our garden is very long and so they were very far away like the cows in Father Ted. It all felt like the summer you see on TV.
"I was supposed to finish a thesis this summer, for my part-time degree. Unless it's on diplomatic relations between an eight and a six year-old I'm not going to get anywhere near it," she told me.
I told her about my thesis which was to be done over the summer, which got done in September in 19 days with the aid of sauces in jars, packets of pasta and frozen pizzas. The boys needed a vitamin supplement but everyone got fed and everyone survived. We shared our thoughts on barbecues. We both have one, it gets rusty for 51 weeks of the year and then out of guilt we light it. The first few items are raw and the next few are cindered.
Somehow sharing my summer guilt put paid to the sense that I am never getting that Enid Blyton thing going in the longest days. We are going to build a tree house in August. Except I know it'll end up being two planks and a promise to put up more. But imperfections are where the beauty lies.
This evening I reminded myself of the thesis days when I fed them frozen things in boxes. I did the same tonight so I could spend time with them dossing, like I'm supposed to do at this time of year. Suddenly it felt like summer. I might even de-rust the barbecue.