The summer break breakdown

The pencil graveyard ... where lost coloured pencils go to die.
The pencil graveyard ... where lost coloured pencils go to die. 

Returning to school after the summer holidays can be a traumatic time. As the days tick down towards the end of a long spell in the bosom of the family, the mere thought of going back to the pressures of the classroom and the unpredictability of the school yard can be enough to bring on extreme mood swings, tears and even bed-wetting.

But enough about teachers. What about the kids? How do they cope with the transition?

Well, that all depends on the level of parental support they receive. In my experience, which admittedly is limited to junior-school children, it is extremely important that a parent accompany their child right up to the classroom door on that crucial first day back.

After all, an eight-year-old can't be expected to carry 12,400 new coloured pencils on their own - even if they have got 43 new pencil cases to put them in.

I find it a wonderful way of bonding with your offspring: a parent is never more appreciated than when working as a porter. Plus, you get to make sure they really are going to school and not just hanging out at some video-game parlour or Smiggle shop.

Don't worry about setting a precedent: on day two, you can safely leave your child to their own devices - by then they will have lost all their pencils except the white one (like, der! What can you do with white?) and the cyan one with the broken lead that you can never sharpen (though your child will ask you to attempt to do so every day from now until next Christmas).

What happens to missing coloured pencils, of course, is one of life's great mysteries, up there with "Where do birds go to die?", "How can the boy who was barely good enough to marry your daughter be the father of the smartest grandson in the world?" and "Why do they make balloons so hard to blow up?"

Perhaps there is a coloured pencil graveyard, where the deceased break down into a pile of rainbow-coloured, lead-contaminated mulch. Maybe an entrepreneurial child is collecting them. I suggest interrogating the one whose mother sells a lot of stuff on eBay.

Apparently it costs more than $1 million to raise a child to adulthood in Australia. In the developing world, where there are no Smiggle shops, the estimated cost is just $17,000. It's enough to make you want to move to Burundi, where perhaps kids appreciate coloured pencils a bit more, even if they don't have any.

Another one of life's mysteries is how the school holidays consistently pay no regard to the space-time continuum.

By my calculations, the current holidays began about 10 years ago. My beloved wife and I have aged appropriately, yet the children look as if they've only been at home for a matter of weeks.

I suspect some of these so-called coloured pencils may in fact be H.G. Wells-style time machines, which, come to think of it, might explain their disappearances.

Funnily enough, I sat down with the kids to watch the 1960 movie version of The Time Machine just the other day. In it, the hero (played by Rod Taylor) has to fight off hordes of long-haired, smelly creatures with pot bellies who surround him, try to hit him with sticks and generally refuse to give him a minute's peace.

It could have been a fly-on-the-wall documentary shot in our house. I might try something a bit more escapist next time.