With school (almost) out for the summer, here's our alphabetised rundown of the pleasures, perils and petting zoos that await you...
A is for... Aeroplanes
Admit it, you spent your twenties staring daggers at the couple failing to placate their screeching mini-me on the long-haul flight. Now, suddenly, you are that couple: apologetic, desperate, helpless, painfully aware that everyone on board would jettison you over the Pacific if they had their way. Would it really constitute child cruelty to stow your toddler in the overhead lockers...?
B is for... Beach picnics
From carrot cake to lashings of homemade houmous, you've proudly laid your spread like an aunt from an Enid Blyton story. Unfortunately, you didn't reckon on your kids returning from a game of bat 'n' ball to kick a clod of grit over the lot (and bring a literal sense to the word 'sandwich'). Over the course of this summer alone, you will consume the equivalent of the Gobi Desert.
C is for... Camping
Ah, the simple life. No wi-fi or chip-and-pin: just your kids gambolling like wood nymphs in a New Forest sunset. Sadly, Mother Nature will turn nasty at 3am, when the temperature plunges, the ready-beds reveal slow-punctures and you're faced with the choice of either stumbling to the shower-blocks for a wee or using your child's potty by torchlight. Best stick to the back garden.
D is for... Devon
Everyone knows at least one children-won't-change-me adventurer who will spend the summer leading their toddlers on a relief mission across rebel-held Syria. For the rest of us, the default destination is Devon: a county on valium, where all foodstuffs must by law contain cream and nobody's heart rate ever rises above 60 beats per minute, even when they're playing mini-golf.
E is for... Early mornings
As an arts student, your summer lie-ins would regularly hit 2pm. As a parent, British Summer Time takes its cruel revenge, turning your bedroom into the Homebase lighting department at 5am and wreaking havoc with your kids' body-clocks so they're still playing naked Twister at midnight.
F is for... Factor 300
Getting suncream onto kids is deceptively tricky. First, there's the application: a process which feels a bit like trying to baste a runaway turkey. Then there's the moment you hit the beach, only to watch impotently as your children roll down the sand dunes and emerge looking like humanoid doughnuts.
G is for... Garden games
The TV ads sell you the utopian vision of a bronzed-and-buffed family unit playing Swingball and laughing uproariously. The reality is more likely to find you being pressure-washed with the hosepipe by tiny riot policemen, or hunched in a sub-zero paddling pool, teeth chattering and lips turning blue, like Kate Winslet on that wardrobe door in Titanic.
H is for... Homework
For two months, the book-bag has lain dormant in the corner where your child tossed it on the last day of term.
I is for... Ice cream vans
Back in the 80s, receiving a Wall's Feast was almost a ceremonial event. Now, it's a basic human right, with blissful afternoons at the park interrupted by the chimes of doom and the wheedling of your lolly-crazed tot. Your kids are definitely getting their five-a-day – but only if you count an orange Calippo.
J is for... July
School is officially out for the summer. You can tell from the optimism in the air, the laughter in the house, the smiles on their tiny faces – and the fact that it suddenly costs six times more to stay at the exact same Padstow cottage.
K is for... Kites
In the hands of the Banks family from Mary Poppins, a kite was a fluttering delight. With your kids pulling the strings on Torquay beach, it becomes a military drone, divebombing terrified American tourists, whipping the toupées off passing pensioners and finally clattering into the bonfire of a gang of teenage stoners. Let's go fly a kite? Better take a crash helmet...
L is for... Lying about their age
Oh, come on. We've all done it. Faced with an entry tariff where a tweaked date-of-birth makes a tenner's difference, it's irresistible to spin your second-centile Year 2 as a pre-schooler – and seriously embarrassing when they pipe up: "Mummy! I'm six!" The man in the Longleat ticket booth isn't angry with you, exactly. He's just very disappointed.
M is for... Music festivals
Not the proper ones, of course, where you writhe in the mud, whip your top up for Mötley Crüe, score soft drugs from a biker with a peg-leg and get a spiderweb tattooed onto your face. We're talking about the sort of tot-friendly fests where the headliner is Justin Fletcher, there's a pre-school poetry-slam and you all come home proudly clutching crochet egg-cosies.
N is for... National Trust
God bless the National Trust: a sleepy haven from the frantic pace of the modern world. Nothing bad can happen in this olde-worlde bastion of rolling fields, ha-ha walls and Victoria sponge. Until, that is, your child skims a plate of ploughman's lunch across the mausoleum-silent café, prompting a sea of silvery couples in waterproof trousers to look up and purse their lips as one.
O is for... Overpriced accommodation
Another summer, another week at a boutique South Coast cottage. It's all utterly charming, of course, from the lashings of Farrow & Ball Elephant's Breath to the welcome hamper of soda bread, hand-squelched jam and eggs still warm from the rumps of resident chickens. The only sticking-point is a weekly rental that would make the Sultan of Brunei splutter: "How much? For a week? You're kidding me, right? Bloody hell...!"
P is for... Pick your own
Today, it's just soft fruit. A decade from now, you'll only have yourself to blame when they're ram-raiding electrical goods shops.
Q is for... Questionable swimwear
The only thing worse than a grandparent in a thong is a pre-schooler wearing the kind of swimwear more usually seen in a Kid Rock video. Suddenly, your daughter's Moshi Monsters cossie just doesn't cut it: "Mu-um! Why can't I have a leopardskin diamante two-piece like that three-year-old over there...?"
R is for... Rambling
It's hard to imagine a better afternoon than plopping your child in a LittleLife backpack and hiking up the Malvern Hills in dappled sunlight. The only snag arrives when your passenger realises they can pull on your ears without fear of reprisal. By the time you get back to the car, your lobes will resemble the elongated giblets of an emo teenager who's just taken out his plugs.
S is for... Second childhoods
While childless adults have to pretend to enjoy art galleries and Gaudi's architecture on holiday, the genius of parenthood is that it legitimises all your latent infantile urges. Suddenly, you're allowed to strip to the waist, build a den and take a crocodile inflatable to the pool – without fear of anyone alerting the local constabulary.
T is for... Tog ratings
Oh, those summer nights. Even though your child is lying motionless in bed and an industrial fan is going full-tilt, they'll still work up a sweat worse than Lee Evans doing star-jumps in the Sahara.
U is for... Unpacking
It's the less hectic, but ultimately more depressing, cousin of packing. The end of the holiday. The foothills of tiny underpants. The burst bottle of suncream. The still-unopened box of Durex Extra Safe that's now sailing dangerously close to expiry (in fairness, you both knew packing that was optimistic...).
V is for... Vegetable patches
Drunk on daydreams of creating your very own River Cottage, you've decided that this summer, your kids will shun packaged goods and reap nature's bounty. The only danger is that like EU banana inspectors, they'll reject anything that isn't textbook-perfect – and compare the misshapen carrots to that time they walked in on Grandpa in the nude.
W is for... Wasps
The official line, as taught to your kids, is that you must remain stock-still and give the dastardly yellow-and-black buggers the run of your face. In practice, when a wasp touches down, you'll go batshit-crazy, flailing across the garden and knocking down patio furniture like you're fighting the invisible man.
X is for... X marks the spot
Everybody needs to connect with their inner pirate, so this summer, try a treasure hunt with a twist. First, at dead of night, sneak down to the beach with a shovel and bury a crate of ice-cold Cokes. Then, next morning, hand your kids a treasure map and set out to find the booty. Finally, be prepared to politely negotiate if a party of skinheads are sunbathing on your chosen spot.
Y is for... Your childless friends
It is a universal truth that when you trudge back from a wet week in Bognor, there will be a postcard from a footloose friend waiting on the mat: "Having an amazing time in Vegas! Spent last night hitting golf balls off the roof of Caesar's Palace, hammering cocktails and partying with Playboy Bunnies! Wish you were here!' It's officially the second-most annoying item of post ever, narrowly pipped by the Christmas newsletter.
Z is for... Petting zoos
Imagine a Kenyan safari. Now strip away all the sexy animals, the whiff of primal danger and the after-hours drinking, and you've got a British petting zoo. Bottle-feed a lamb! Ride a miniature train! Watch your child squeeze a newborn chick to death! Take a perilous ride on a tractor driven by a farmer who's clearly under the influence of scrumpy...!