I shouldn't moan, but our two weeks in Florida at Easter seems such a long time ago and I am finding it hard to work up much enthusiasm for six weeks spent tending to my children single handed. Much as I love them I find it much easier to spend time with them when it is divided into small, manageable chunks spread judiciously around plenty of time to follow my own various grown up pursuits.
We are braving the North of England for a week, but thank to its fabled summer rainstorms and chilly temperatures I hardly think this will turn out to be a bucket and spade break despite the beach being a moments walk away. Somehow a week spent in someone else's hired home just beyond Newcastle doesn't fill me with the same delicious anticipation as the prospect of a couple of sun drenched weeks eating gooey cheese and drinking cheap and robust rose in the South of France.
So as our break isn't much to write home about I am finding myself filling daily with a feeling of dread as the last week of term drains away. I am at a loss as to how to entertain children with disparate and often conflicting interest day after, sure to be rainy, day.
While the twins are usually happy enough chasing each other around the garden shrieking 'I'm gonna get you' at one another, or hoarding stacks of toys all over the house, or glued to Toy Story as it plays on an endless loop, the older children are only ever content if plugged into the Xbox. Well I say content, but actually peace only ever reigns briefly before they either argue viciously over tactics or simply go stir crazy with so much screen time.
This is usually the point where I foolishly decide I can bear no more of housebound boys and embark on some kind of ill fated expedition. Again if I were to only have a duo from my quartet of sons this is a simple enough task. The older boys are happy to go to the cinema, have mastered the art of tube travel and can be relied upon not to dash off in a crowded space never to be seen again. The same cannot be said for the twins.
My two two-year-olds are nothing short of a liability. Take your eye off them for a nanosecond and they are away. Or dripping in excrement the moment that you realise you forgot the nappies. Or screaming in bloodcurdling indignation as they scrap over toys. Or needing to be fed and watered that instant, and woe betide you if you make them wait for sustenance. In short they are not fun to take out of the house.
The strangest thing is that while the older boys are perfectly mature company when taken out on their own, when I take all four out suddenly they seem to lose all sense of reason and revert to toddlers themselves.
Say for example I were to try to negotiate an escalator with the twins, or some other similar suicide mission, one of the older children who normally can deal with moving staircases with ease will suddenly find himself tripping up and being dragged into its chomping jaws leaving me to make a split second decision about which child I would miss the most in the event of their demise. Perhaps the twins are quite right in their assessment of this particular mode of transport eyeing it warily and calling it an alligator - as if it really was in the business of snapping up little boys.
Once we have arrived at our destination things rarely improve. The instant we alight at a museum or other such form of entertainment everyone wants to dash off in a different direction and all those who are thwarted instantly start to whinge, moan and scream. If I try to force the twins to do the more grown up activities they wriggle and cry in the bondage of their pushchair, if I attempt to make the older boys do something suitable for preschoolers they are guaranteed to get too boisterous and end up distressing the poor pampered toddlers of more controlled and considerate mothers.
But it's when it comes to feeding them that I really begin to tear my hair out. They never want to eat the same thing. They all need endless help to get nourishment inside them rather than onto the floor, under their chairs or into their hair - even the nearly 8-year-old. Someone always needs to go to the loo halfway through so either we all have to troop off leaving lunch half eaten, or else I have to trust them to look after themselves, which often gets messy.
As you can imagine a day spent scaling such obstacles is about as leisurely as a dip in piranha infested waters, which is why I am counting down the moments until the summer holidays with as much trepidation as they boys are excitedly wishing them away.