Be careful what you wish for

Like so many others, our school run resumed this week. Last December, it was usual that I would have to sprint like an elite athlete in order to keep up with my boys. I’d get ‘those’ looks from people out for their morning walk – the kind of looks that aimed to establish whether I was actually their parent or just incredibly unfit. I would watch other families heading to the school gate, the children holding the hand of their parent or scooting alongside in perfect synchronisation. As proud as I am of my independent boys, a part of me wished they would slow down, just a little. Slow enough for a proper good morning if we passed a friendly neighbour. Slow enough to notice when youngest son pulled off and disposed of a mitten en-route. Most significantly, slow enough so the lollipop lady didn’t get so nervous when they reached her crossing. They are well trained not to attempt to cross that road without me, although they do have a tendency to stand right in the way of other innocent pedestrains.

This morning, after a scooter swap for reasons that I’m yet to understand, I got my wish. The big two willingly travelled alongside me. Only occasionally yanking at the side of the pushchair prompting a collision of wheels or wobble in the wrong direction. We were nevertheless together as a family unit, even having the odd opportunity for actual conversation. Until they began competing to talk to me – each of them had something more urgent to tell me. If their brother was talking, it only seemed logical to stop moving completely. Who knew there was a link between only being able to go forwards if you are also conversing with Mummy? From this point on, people ahead of us seemed to frequently disappear into the distance. Meanwhile my children were still discovering multiple ways to go even slower:

  • I’ve got an itch on the back of my heel.
  • I forgot my gloves.
  • I’ve found a worm.
  • Can we go up that secret passageway?
  • The wind is stopping me.
  • Move my handle up.
  • Move my handle down.
  • I’m cold.

Then we had the debate over which dipped kerb to cross the road at. This is fairly standard for us and it’s usually not the one I reach first. Shorty after that, the heel itch became something far more sinister and required sitting on a conveniently placed bench (designed for those waiting for a bus) to completely remove both shoe and sock in order to discover absolutely nothing out of the ordinary before putting them on again. Finally, with school just around the next corner I hear middle son say to the eldest “Mummy is slowing us down.” Imagine my disquiet. So I motor past with the pushchair to walk in front of them, when I hear a squawk. I turned to witness what appeared to be a scene from ‘Walking with dinosaurs’, where the dominant males are competing for territory. Concerned it could end up as a sibling battle to the death, (starting with the removal of the other one’s hat) I tried to intervene. Unfortunately this was taking place on an especially narrow stretch of path, at which point other pavement users had approached from both directions. Of course neither boy came over to me when I requested, opting instead to act out the remainder of the battle scene for their newly arrived audience, completely oblivious to Mummy’s rising embarrassment levels.

I have missed the school run so much. It took the best part of three months homeschooling to realise how much appreciation I have for these little chaotic moments because then ‘there is only one’ – for the next six hours anyway.

The Game

Some days I’m convinced that all three of my children are part of a highly tactical game. Not only have they not shared the rules with me, but I suspect that the aim of this game is to keep me moving and alert at all times. If it wasn’t for the fact that they’ve been playing this for pretty much their whole lives, I’d assume that they are simply supporting the government in encouraging me to follow the first part of their current three part slogan. Despite being completely unaware of the official rules, I have established the following:

  1. Points are awarded for converting a simple task into a chaotic one.
  2. There is no finish square. The game is ongoing.
  3. Children play as a team. Usually they tag in and tag out at select moments to lead Mummy into a false sense of security.
  4. Usually children take turns, but they regularly alter the order of play to provide maximum confusion.
  5. If at any point, Mummy appears calm and is danger of either completing a job or finishing a sentence, then immediate action must be taken by one of them.
  6. You win bonus points by throwing yourself on the floor.

This morning my children were definitely playing. I was feeling super positive when I woke up this morning. This feeling of optimism was maintained for at least the first six minutes of the day. Then youngest son played his first move: the cry and wriggle. This is where you cry and refuse to be comforted. The louder the better – this way you have more chance of waking your brothers. You don’t want milk, you don’t want to play with your toys and you don’t want cuddles. You do want to be held in a standing position, in the kitchen, with a plastic spoon. It only took an hour or so for Mummy to establish this and make her comeback.

Eldest son wasn’t hanging around though, and quickly made his move: the whine and stall. This involves taking a standard situation, such as putting your socks on then adding more drama to it than you’d expect from an Eastenders Christmas special. He played well, successfully delaying us just long enough to mean he got to take bike to school instead of walking, but not so long that he would miss any of his cherished school time. While my eldest was was having a tantrum about not wanting to wear his raincoat (on a rainy day), his siblings were being saintly. Youngest son smiled sweetly at me as if to say that he would never sulk like that (conveniently forgetting a moment earlier) and middle son was ridiculously obliging and polite, whilst simultaneously providing a running commentary about the good things he was doing in contrast to his naughty big brother.

After an extended school run, complete with mini adventure, I took middle son to his beloved playball session. Within minutes of starting, he decided to take his turn: the squawking magnet. This move is one of his personal favourites and involves getting as close to Mummy as possible (parents aren’t entitled to their own share of oxygen after all) and forgetting how to use any sort of independence. It starts simple, you simply run over to Mummy every 2 minutes or so at full speed – just to see if you can catch her off guard and knock her to the ground – a loving type of rugby tackle. Around this point, his voice goes all high pitched and instead of using standard sentences, he precedes everything he says with the term ‘Mama’, in a manner which only his baby brother would be proud of. It then progresses to Mummy needing to be within 30 cm of you at all times. This is particularly difficult when Mummy blends in amongst a group of preschoolers in much the same way as a shark would blend in amongst the goldfish in your fish bowl. It also makes running, jumping and striking a tennis ball rather tricky. Finally, he moved on to the third stage, refusal to comply with any instruction and expecting everything to be done for him – perfectly acceptable when you are 4 months old but a touch mortifying when you’re 4 years old.

Luckily for me, breaks in play are as essential in this game as they are in an extended version of monopoly. Therefore the boys are currently back to their lovely selves. One is playing beautifully on his own, one is exploring the room managing to insert only toys in his mouth and one is at school – possibly doing maths – his happy place.