There are few feelings in life quite like the emptiness felt by a parent suddenly left alone.
Children really do consume your life. My children have devoured mine for five years, making sure they chew every mouthful carefully and often dribbling bits of my previous existence all over the floor. For so long, my every waking moment at home has involved tripping over small children, being interrupted nine times per minute and having toys shoved in my face with a hearty "DAAAH!"
Now, however, my life has changed. No longer am I the only parent around. Mummy is home and, boy, is it different.
The glass that's half-empty
Yesterday I found myself alone. It's been happening all week, since my wife gave up work, but usually only for a few minutes and I was able to fill it with some small, long-neglected task. Yesterday was different - it was my first complete afternoon by myself. I had nothing much to do, so I went out to do it.
Once the initial euphoria of being alone wore off, I began to feel faintly puzzled. Five years ago, or even 10, an empty afternoon would have been easily filled with fun, culture, socialising or - best of all - alcohol. On some level, I could remember being that person but, on another, I couldn't remember how that person acted.
I found myself wandering around in a daze. After a thrilling moment in which I bought shoelaces, discussing them at some length with the bemused man behind the counter, I went to the library, to browse through the talking books. Then I realised something: I am old and boring.
When did this happen to me? How did this happen? Have my children - those appalling, slime-coated homunculi who shriek and spray their hideous scent everywhere - removed everything that was me? Did they sneak into my bedroom one night, when all right-thinking people were asleep, and insert some metal tool into my ear so they could remove my personality? I fear they did. If you think that's far-fetched, then you haven't shared a house with children. They're always up to something.
Stop carping, and carpe diem
The solution is clear: it's time to get a life. It's a truism of parenthood that children change your life forever, but nobody warns you that they change it by hitting it with a hammer and dragging it along behind a car. It's damaged but it can be repaired. As a parent, it is up to you to repair it.
Very soon, I won't be the only person feeling bereft and abandoned by their children. Here in Scotland, the school holidays end in just over a week, and the rest of the UK is only a few weeks behind. One morning, parents across the country will be sitting with blank looks on their faces, clutching mysteriously-unspilled coffee and unmolested biscuits - and wondering what to do with themselves.
Well, here's what to do. Once you get the initial celebrations out of the way, and cackle like the Wicked Witch of the West while buying all the shoelaces you could ever eat, set some goals. Lose that weight. Paint that fence. Read that book or watch that film. Get it done. If you don't do it now, when will you?
Just remember - the little nightmare will be home soon enough, clutching indecipherable homework and ranting about your carbon footprint because teacher said you were a bad person.
Our blissful hell isn't quite over yet.