On the other hand, holidaying with kids brings with it a sense that even passing the halfway point and being on the downhill side is not unalloyed sadness: by day seven or so, part of me is thinking about how wonderful it will be to have them back in their own bedrooms, and have us back to our usual simple routine, unmolested by sights that must be seen, relations who must be visited, or late dinners with too much wine that must be eaten and drunk too soon before bedtime, leaving me with the unpleasant headache of the lightweight drinker who is woken several times a night by a demanding toddler with no idea where she is.
Which is all to say that we went away. We saw some iconic sights, met some long-neglected relatives and old friends, had some grandparental interaction, went on some long drives, and tried hard to find food Monkey would eat, with partial success. It was nice, and it's nice to be back.
I spent the first week or so being mostly the conduit uniting my parents and my children for their twice-yearly intensive immersion, trying to document the meeting of the generations for posterity and trying to keep the kids from breaking other people's china or over-loving the dog. (He was a great dog, very gentle and tolerant, but Monkey and Mabel became progressively less timid of him - which was good, except that by the end of the week Mabel was liable to adoringly poke him all over in a way that made me fear for the end of his tether. (Metaphorically. He was not tethered. Except when we went for a walk. Of course.))
Mabel and the dog, with a glass door interpolated between for safety. I kept trying to get a photo of her being affectionate, but then I'd have to drop the camera and go and separate them before she poked him in the eye.
[Aside: Maybe because I have no imagination, or else because I'm extraordinarily self-centred, I find it almost impossible to believe that other places really exist until I see them for myself. When I first visited America (Boston 1993), I found I was astounded by its very presence, as apparently my mind had placed the USA firmly in the realm of screen fiction. And yet, here it was with the clapboard siding, the picket fences, the fire hydrants in oppressive August heat, the artistic graffiti, the real live black people, the beers in the fridge - all as shown on TV. (Yes, I was under 21 (by 10 months). But I had been a perfectly legal and restrained drinker at home for two years, and didn't feel the need to comply with the laws of the country. Sorry.)
Anyway, whenever we go away I feel as if everything winds up neatly and hits the pause button on the one continent in order for us to leave, and starts on the other when we arrive. Thus, it's strange that all my cousins have aged in the almost 20 years since I (shockingly) saw them last, and now have teenagers of their own where formerly there were none.]
And then we returned. Coming back to the US is always veiled thinly (or not so thinly) by sleep-deprivation-induced depression. This time, as we drove back to the house from the metro station where we'd left the car for the bargain price of $4.25 plus two bus fares, our life over here felt two-dimensional and lacking. Our new house isn't yet a home; it's just a place with cheery colours on the wall and a lot of IKEA furniture. (Poor Mabel was confused when we said we were going home. "We going back to Maty?" she asked - Maty being her name for the aunt we stayed with at the start of our trip.) For all the tiny rootlets we've put down here over the past few years, spending all that time with family made me see a gaping hole in our day-to-day life: we have some friends, lots of acquaintances, plenty of other children the same age - but we don't have grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins. Not on a regular, drop-in-for-a-cuppa, basis. Our interactions with those people who are elderly and unavoidable - and I mean that (mostly) in the nicest way possible - are limited to twice a year, and that's not good for the kids. It's not the village we need, in the Hilary Clinton sense.
But we went to the library for storytime today, saw some friends on Sunday, got in some comestibles, and it's not so bad really. I'll get used to it. Again.