I have found myself reaching for a book I bought a while ago, Buddhism for Mothers of Young Children. Oh the unbridled joy of a three month summer holiday! Yes, we are somewhere in the middle of that savage territory...and everyone's sanity must be restored. I can't believe I once entertained the idea of homeschooling. Stay present, stay present. That seems to be the mantra. I blame my frontal lobe - isn't that the place in my head that refuses to 'stay present' and is always casting back and forth in time - 'Must quickly check in on the future or back on the past, see if I match up.' Well, no hope of that. I wasn't planning on being called Mrs Poo Poo Diaper by a five year old, especially not one I was related to. So much for the pleasures of several weeks of unstructured play and spectacle parenting - where your best efforts are under close observation by those who, you naturally assume, are busy packing and unpacking their own cerebral suitcases - remembering how it was to parent three decades ago or wondering whether a child who calls his mother Poo Poo Diaper will, in a few short years, be looting in the streets of London.
Not to say we haven't had a lovely summer in parts. Who can argue with a family vacation Stateside? Days at the beach, searching for sea glass and collecting periwinkles. Camp fires on the gravelly shore and suppers of steamed shellfish. We also headed back to the UK which felt good. The children and I had our fill of rope swings and tree houses, dog-walking, egg-collecting, lifeboat love, splashing through streams, boat trips and beaches, bellies in the surf and feet in the rock pools.
Damn it, though, if it's not unsettling when you do come home, to your real home, the one you actually live in. I was a dark cloud for weeks. I thought I had on some pretty tough armour - an exciting house project here in the States, a preschool we love for Oli, a new school full of possibilities for Max. It did feel different, this year, being back in the UK. I didn't have the wistfulness I've had before, the 'what if's or 'maybe's. I wasn't looking in the local paper for derelict stone cottages on windswept clifftops.
But being homesick is such a waste of energy. And being in the midst of young children, for me, tinges my homesickness with a cloying nostalgia. The word 'nostalgia' was coined back in the fifteenth century when Swiss mercenaries fighting on the lowland French plains would pine for their native mountains. They were so afflicted that doctors considered 'nostalgia' a disease. I don't need medication but it does feel like a condition I can't shake. Even as I consciously idealise the place of my birth, I long for it. I know it is an ideal - but I remember my childhood in happy glimpses - making dens in the tall grass before the farmers cut it for hay, cupping newly-hatched chicks in my hand before school, scouring the hedges for wild strawberries, transported to the Swiss alps reading Heidi in the bow of my father's fishing boat. I realize now I cannot offer my children the same thing. Did I ever think I could replicate a childhood? Somehow I thought that giving them the same geographical backdrop would be the least I could do. Not so. I offer something else. A different family, a different country. Who is to say it is not equally as valid. We are discovering new things together rather than replicating what has gone before. The arrow of time is the first principle of physics. So I discovered, on our return flight from London when I watched - or snatched, as you do, when flying with children - a documentary about entrophy and the eventual chaos of the solar system. Happy stuff. Especially at 35,000 ft. But one thing that becomes hard to deny is that this planet of ours, with it's constant movement forward and the unique way it can support life, is just perfect. Stay present, stay present.
As for the summer holidays? Is entrophy the natural conclusion for this three month break? With yet more weeks to go before kindergarten starts, a friend tells me her five year old is getting up in his school uniform - a sure sign that it is not just parents who are searching for sense in the chaos.