I've always loved the summer holidays, both as a child when I enjoyed my own eight-week long, lazy spell away from my classroom, and as a parent when I've had the luxury of lovely, fun filled, and occasionally sun filled, days with my children, having them all to myself, without anyone else's routines or rules to stick to.
Normally by this stage in the summer, as the school bells are beginning to sound, calling all the youngsters back to their desks, my heart sinks a little, knowing we have to wait months until we have another burst of quality time together, away from my work and their studies. This year my heart hasn't so much sunk slightly as plummeted with stomach-churning speed into my shoes. And the reason? My last child, my baby girl, has started primary school.
It seems like a matter of months since I went through this scary new stage of life with my eldest child who's now 14 years old. I remember shining her little school shoes the night before, packing her tiny, unicorn covered lunch box, ready for her first day and, when the alarm went off the next morning, getting her dressed in her crisp, new school uniform which was at least one size too big to allow for growing room.
I had tied bright red ribbons, to match her uniform, into her mass of blonde curls, in the hope of restraining them and keeping her hair tidy and out of her eyes while she played with her new pals. She was immaculate as she stood, smiling by our front door, impatient to get going as we took the obligatory 'First Day' photos.
When we arrived at the school and I took her to her classroom, there were no tears and no concerns about my husband and me leaving her. Instead, she ran off to play, throwing a quick wave and a shout of "Bye!" over her shoulder. When I collected her a couple of hours later, I was relieved to see how little the new experience had taken out of her and, judging by the state she was in, she'd clearly had a busy, exciting morning. There was paint on her new jumper, her shirt tail was hanging out, she had one sock up, one sock down and both were covered in grass. And of course, her curls had exploded in every direction, leaving her hair looking as though it had never come within 100 feet of a brush. I've always said that the messier the child, the more fun they've been having, so I was pleased to see my little ragamuffin emerge from the P1 door.
It was very different a decade on with my youngest this week. The first trauma we had was convincing her to put on a skirt. My girl is a total tomboy who loves nothing more than a rough game of football or a mock battle with her big brother and my two nephews.
I have always dressed her accordingly, in long lasting and durable trousers rather than skirts and dresses - and the novelty of being poured into female attire was not a welcome one. Secondly, having been at home for six months and free of a timetable, we've slipped into later nights and, subsequently, later rising in the morning. Trying to get her, and us, adjusted to getting up and rushing to get out the door on time has not been easy. It's hard to know which of us looked more unkempt as we rushed through the school gates.
But the hardest aspect of her starting P1 has been watching her try to overcome her shyness. The biggest side-effect of having been at home for all these months and isolated from everyone bar her closest family, is that my baby has become quite nervous and timid around other children her own age.
When you think that she's spent an eighth of her short life so far locked away from her peer group, it's no wonder. I know that it's something that will improve over time but, as a parent, it has broken my heart each and every morning this week when I have to pull my big hand away from her little one and let her face this new challenge alone.