We're about halfway through school holidays. How are you coping? We've had our moments, I'll be the first to admit. But we've also had some very special ones. For example, I've just spent the past 20 minutes helping my son learn a card trick. For a simple trick it was pretty cool and the look on his face when it worked for his father was even cooler. My daughter is playing with her Lego Friends (and, for the record, neither she nor I have any trouble with girl-focused Lego), the dog is stretched out in the shade, life is good. Well, except for the fact I'm faced with writing this column from home over the holidays.
Sometimes I think we try to do too much during the holidays. Play dates, trips away, visits to tourist attractions, activities, catch-ups. Previously I've worked on a day-on/day-off roster. If, say, we've had something on one day, the next we'd bum about home with nothing on the agenda.
But this week I have been encouraging bumming about every day, all week. Sure it would be nice to go to Wollongong to visit Aunty Liz, or maybe head to the coast for the day. But it's been even nicer not doing anything.
It's not that we've been bone idle. The dog has been walked and brushed, books have been read, slices have been made, we've seen a couple of movies and, most delightfully, we've spent lots of time just talking. There's been something we've ticked off every day, no matter how small. There has been a sense of accomplishment. (Hey, we managed to get out of bed before noon!) But you know what? If we don't quite manage to get to the Australian War Memorial or the National Museum or Questacon I don't think any of us will mind too much at all.
Should I feel guilty about sending the kids back to school with nothing to write about in that obligatory My Holidays first-week exercise? Mind you, we freeloaded off friends down the coast between Christmas and New Year and will be heading to Queensland for a week soon, so they might have something to write about.
I read somewhere that some other mother's favourite words to hear were ''I'm bored'' as it gave her licence to tell her kids it was time they worked out something to do for themselves. When mine tell me that, and I've got the electrics ban in place, it usually takes them a good half hour to work something out. War games in the pool, Lego cities, cafes is another favourite, with a decade-old can of plastic ham and pea soup still on the menu. I love watching them develop games and even at 11 and nine, when they could so easily be seduced by iThings if I let them, they still surprise me with the ideas they come up with. Nothing makes me happier than when I hear the belly laughs that come from them just being.
They're at an age, too, when I'm starting to realise more and more that I won't have them for much longer. Cuddles, reading in bed, handwritten notes, expressions of unconditional love … I fear that they'll all stop before I'm ready.
For the moment I just want to be with my children. Brushing their hair, or tending their scratches, or taking in that smell they have first thing in the morning, stroking their perfect skin, or staring at their long, dark eyelashes. Oh please don't go, we'll eat you up, we love you so, the Wild Things said.
That's how I'm feeling. And during the holidays, too. What's wrong with me? The annoying hasn't overridden the adoring. And we can't let it.
But just in case. Here are five things to do over the holidays.
1) Go for a drive: I threatened to do this the other day and the nine-year-old said, how boring, all we'll see is dry grass and trees and bushes. Yep. And we'll be forced to talk to each other, or invent games, or look at what's around us, hell, we could even sing as loud as we want and no one would notice. We might even end up somewhere interesting and enjoy our packed lunch. It's all about the journey.
2) Put on a play: And get the neighbourhood kids to join in. The kids can control everything. If they give you a part, cool. If not, be an appreciative audience member on opening night.
Some of my own best memories are of Abba concerts performed at the end of the annual two-week holiday, when every kid staying at the motel was roped in to do something.
3) Let the kids decide the menu for the week: let them choose recipes, help with the shopping, do some of the cooking. Pick a country, go for a theme, try new things. You've got to eat, after all. If you can't cope with the idea of giving up dinner, bake every day and deliver plates of goodies to elderly people in the neighbourhood.
4) Get to know your neighbourhood: make a map, find parks you didn't know where there, really get to know your local shops, what hidden treasures are there, say hi to people, this is where you live.
5) Get to know your family. See above. Come up with a list of questions to ask each other. What's your favourite ice-cream flavour, how did you first meet dad, what do you want to be when you grow up, if you could have one magic power what would it be, what do you love about mum …
School holidays are about reconnecting. About letting go, to some extent, of the ties that bind us during the school year, and reconnecting with the things that really matter. And that's family. And sometimes you can do that best by doing nothing.