Happy Families Are Made In a Multitude of Ways

Parenthood. It can be hard and fraught sometimes.

It feels that even talking about our decisions or feelings as parents suddenly means we are opening ourselves to a pile on of reckons, and answers to questions we didn’t ask. Every word open to misinterpretation. Making different choices mutated into judging other’s choices. Uttering our darkest fears seen as revealing a rotting core.

Why does it have to be this way?

I guess it is because we all have so much skin in the game, but damn, if that skin isn’t thin sometimes.

I’ve been a bit quieter here on this blog, mostly because of fear of this. That opening the door even the tiniest crack on aspects of our life means I’ll have to justify myself, or apologise for slights I don’t intend.

Talking about things can be hard. It feels risky to fess up to the time you yelled because the kids wouldn’t stop fighting and you felt completely overwhelmed. Or how you were driven bonkers by the lack of sleep and decided to sleep train, or decided to co-sleep and it worked for you. To admit to having a picky eater. Or a hopelessly messy home.

If we can’t talk about these things without treading carefully, then how do we talk about the things that are harder? Should we pick our way gingerly across the minefield? Or swallow them whole? Keep them burning a pit in our stomach for fear we, or our child, will be seen as failing.

I started reading a book recommended to me – The Highly Sensitive Person. I never finished it. I gave up about the time I read a passage stating that only half of people experience adequate parenting as a child.

Screw that.

There are some terrible parents in the world. Some children suffer terribly at the hands of their parents. Some highly successful people carry scars all their life from parents who failed them in very important ways.

But – half?

I don’t think there are any perfect parents in the world. No matter how understanding, or nurturing, or independence-building, or loving parents are, there will always be mistakes.

There is no one way to raise a child.

I refuse to believe we are all going around fucking up our children with our incompetence. Fucking up days? Weeks, even? Maybe. But the vast majority of us provide lives that are stable enough, loving enough for our children.

I think of Anna Karenina’s famous opening line

All happy families are alike but an unhappy family is unhappy after its own fashion.

It’s a fabulous sentence, and who am I to judge Tolstoy, with his bestselling classics, 14 children and a whole religious-socialist movement named after him? Yet, I think he couldn’t be more wrong.

Happy families are made in a multitude of different fashions.

We don’t need each other’s permission for the choices we make. Other people do not need your permission for the choices they make. There are happy families with happy kids whose parents are doing things you wouldn’t agree with, wouldn’t do, can’t imagine. So what?

Parenting is hard, and it is fraught, but ultimately the world is full of functional adults who work hard and look after each other, and who have people they love. Who bake cakes for friends in need, and visit their grandmothers for tea, and in turn have children that they love. Despite everything, I choose to see the best in people.

Right now, parenting can seem hard. Sometimes after an evening with my son bouncing off the walls, and tears, and slammed doors, I slump on the couch with a lump on my throat and wonder what I have done wrong. I delete nice things I’ve written because I feel like a fraud.

I’m not a fraud. I know it is not about me. I know my son’s problems are larger than my acts as a parent. I know they are also much, much smaller than him. He is my own sweet child, as complex as any. I haven’t written about it because I don’t want to hear the solutions, or the judgement. There is nothing you can offer him or me in two minutes typing that I won’t get from the professionals we see. He needs some more help at the moment and we are getting that for him.

In many aspects of his life he is thriving. He has a very blessed childhood that he enjoys. He gets a lot of positive attention and family time. He has interests we support. He is learning to read. He has two parents who love him, and a sister who only pulls his hair occasionally.

We are a happy family in our own way.

Ultimately I am only parenting my children. I answer to them. The only people who have the right to look back at the decisions we make about bedtimes and mealtimes and playtimes and judge will be my children. I don’t want to hear ‘have you tried…’ I don’t want to justify the minutiae of our life.  Nobody can create the perfect environment for their children 100% of the time.

It is clear that I’m not always going to be the kind of parent I thought I would be, or that many parenting columns tell me I should be. What I am being is the parent that my son needs. I think that this is a better parent than any that only exists on paper, or the stock photo parents who are nothing but the ghosts of our internet imaginations

Parenting is hard and fraught and it is a long, long game. My son might have some problems, and they might weigh heavily on us at times, but he’s only five. We’ve got a lot of life and growing up to do together still. I’m pretty sure one day I will turn around and see a young man, and be enormously proud of how my wee boy has turned out, and wonder what miracle it was that brought him into my life, and is this really the same young man who could never stop talking, or sit still, or go the fuck to sleep despite being eye-rollingly tired?

I am sure I am not the only parent who feels this way. Who can feel weighed down in the now. The future may be bright, but the getting there is hard. Nonetheless we carry on, finding glimmers of hope. Sun rays that burst through the clouds. Auroras that play across our night skies.

My life isn’t perfect. I never expected it to be. The choices my family makes are just our choices. We’re making the choices that enable all four of us to carry on as best we can. You might make different choices in my place. That’s okay too.

All of our families are finding their own ways to be. To hold it together and build the best worlds we can for our children. Building with little things and big things. A whole messy jumble of things.

Happiness finding its own way into our life.

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No Air

Breathing.

The background rhythm of life.

The first breath. The long awaited wail of lungs opening and the shock of air for the first time. Every parent, I think, holds their own breath until they hear it. Some parents have to wait longer than others. Too long.

Then we hardly notice it. Our lungs continue a pattern, breathe in, breathe out, breathe in, breathe out. It is the white noise of our life. If you were an astronaut in deep space, cut off from radio contact, just this noise would be left to assert you are still alive. The swish of your blood through your ears. The air moving through your nostrils as they flare.

We take it for granted. Unless of course, something goes wrong.

The first wrong thing we noticed was a cough at night.

I’m a lifelong asthmatic and I knew what it was. I was not too worried then. I knew what asthma had meant for me and I was confident we could manage it. We started MJ on steroid inhalers. They helped, but not as much as we would have expected.

We noticed more wrong things. A cough after running. A cough on cold days. Snoring. He complained of being tired, constantly. Between his coughing and a baby our nights were sleepless, leaving three of us with dark rings under our eyes.

More than a year later, the dark rings are still there.

Our son has lived the last two winters with a very real constriction in his chest. We as parents, have faced our own metaphorical one. A slow suffocation of our hopes as we try to care for a son who might be playful and cheerful and loud, but who, try as we might, is never quite well.

Sometimes we allow ourselves to think he is improving, that the most recent change to his medication has helped. Even now I think this might be the case. It is hard to hold onto the faith it will last.

Winter is fading. The grey skies are being replaced with blue. The frost coverings on the ground replaced with purple and white crocus. Hope creeps in with the advance of spring. We will get a temporary reprieve at least, without the cold air that shocks his lungs into submission. New worries arise too though, the memory of days last spring where thick white pollen blew through the air like snow. Will it trigger his asthma this year?

I think back to my childhood, with the delay in diagnosis due to me lacking a typical wheeze. For years I thought I was just an uncoordinated and unfit child, now I suspect the truth has more to do with my asthma not being as well controlled as we thought it was. My failure to keep up in PE class was due to a tightness in my chest that, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t quite beat.

I didn’t learn to swim properly until we realised chlorinated pools were one of my triggers. I remember trying to time my breathing to the rhythm of my arms. Always I would end up gasping. Not able to last from left arm, to right arm, to left arm and breathe. I would end up standing in the pool, sucking in the air, watching my peers swim ahead.

MJ is four, and his kindy has a strong emphasis on outside play, whatever the weather. He loves it, and so do we. Lately though the story has changed. He tells us he can’t run as fast, he can’t keep up with his friends, that he was too tired for games. I look at him and I see myself reflected. I see his childhood constricted. I want to set him loose but it is not within my power.

I do not torture myself asking “why’s”. Why him? Why us? Life is unfair and, in balance, I know we are very blessed. Asthma is just the hand we have been dealt. Like any parent, parents of chronically ill children just get on with it. We are all just doing our best. Living our lives. We just have an extra ball to juggle.

We all get extras ball to juggle, sooner or later.

I am not interested in speculating if there is something we could have done differently to avoid it. Asthma and allergy rates are rising, and it is right for scientists to try to understand why that is. Whether it is because we are “too clean” or whether it is exposure to antibiotics or overuse of paracetamol. But on an individual level those questions are meaningless. There is nothing we can point to other than the genes he so obviously inherited from me.

My son has asthma. There is the fact, the truth. Why? Why is meaningless.
Night time arrives. Our bedtime routine with the medicine he resents is fraught. We limp through, he lies down. We sit in the room next door and every evening we listen, on edge. At some point, inevitably, the coughing starts. Every time my heart sinks. It is as though the air leaves the room. Ventolin is a wonderful life saving medication but it is not without side effects. Nervousness. Shaking. Palpitations. Headaches. Insomnia. Would you be surprised to learn that after one, two, three or four doses of Ventolin my son struggles to settle? Too often the price for his breath has been sleep.

I love this bright, sparky, funny son so much it takes my breath away.  Sometimes when I watch him run and play he is so full of life. Other times he runs and then he stops. He just stops. When I see him standing there, when I hear him gasping, again, again, again, it is soul crushing.

We are never more vulnerable than we are in the depths of the night. Asthma visits, like the relentless Nightmare from myth. It rides us hard. My son is left winded, me with the crushing weight of failure on my chest. Failure despite the privilege of access to modern medical knowledge, a socialist health care system, and pharmaceuticals to make this stop. I throw all my balls in the air and hold his medicine to his mouth. I count each breath as we catch them. One, two, three… I feel the coughing ease. I feel his body relax. His symptoms have been kept at bay once more, the Nightmare banished. The air comes back.

We breathe deep, in the dark of his room, in the dark of the night, as he slips back into a sweeter dream. And all that I am left is the weight of a mother’s love.

 

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Just the way you are

Last week we had to take my oldest child for a check-up, and foolishly I took both kids on my own. I thought that my son knows what to expect, and his little sister is used to sitting through appointments too, it’ll be fine.

It wasn’t fine.

Actually the doctor was fine. That bit was fine. I’m a pro at doctor’s appointments. What I apparently can’t manage is taking kids to the toilet.  Trying to cram a toilet visit in was probably a bad idea, but it really looked like waiting would be a worse option. Instead of recognising my motherly wisdom my son just starts yelling
“No. I don’t need to go. Noooo”
And I kinda have to drag him in and practically pry his fingers off the doorframe. Eventually I hustled him in, with his sister toddling along and squeezing in with us. And the whole time he is yelling, and I’m trying to appear competent by remaining calm and collected and firm, not permissive, so I’m saying
“Okay, let’s just try before we see the doctor because we can’t go during our appointment.”
And I don’t know why I even bother because he is not listening, he is just yelling, and it is true he doesn’t need to go – anymore. At some point someone knocked on the door and I tried to hurry him up by pointing out people were waiting but it didn’t help. After resisting sitting on the toilet he is now resisting getting off and washing his hands. Then the toddler inexplicably decided to add to the experience by yelling ‘fart’ loudly and repeatedly. After what felt like a hellish eternity I opened the door, only to see a very tall young doctor about to knock, again.

Unfortunately, I blush very easily.

To be honest, I think I handled it fairly well. It was embarrassing, but kids are kids. The doctor was lovely and took it all in his stride. Too often though, people around you don’t react like that. Like that time when that old man shouted at my upset son on the bus. (To be fair, he was again behaving appallingly, but since he came down with a fever soon after, I think he wasn’t at his most rational. And I know my son well enough to know when yelling isn’t going to work, so I wasn’t yelling and guess what dude, you’re yelling didn’t achieve anything – did it?) Sometimes my husband says I must see the worst come out in people. Sometimes I think I’m just more observant than my husband. Or maybe I’m less competent at parenting than him. Or maybe I’m held to a different (higher) standard of parenting than him due to ingrained patriarchal values. Maybe.

And if you just took these snippets of my days when my son is behaving poorly you might think he was this dreadful, out of control child. He’s not. He has been ill a lot lately, and that does affect his behaviour, but most of the time he is lovely. So I should also tell you about how much he loves to help in the kitchen, and how he helps his father chop vegetables, Child chopping vegetablesdiligently snapping broccoli florets up and even *gasp* eating some of them. Or his limitless curiosity especially when it comes to things like outer space or dinosaurs. Or how patient he is with his sister’s silly games, especially the one where she plays ‘bump, bump’ in her chair and we all have to ‘bump, bump’ along with her, and if he doesn’t bump she yells “Wah-wah bump bump” across the table at him until he bumps. (And no, Wah-wah is not his name, it is just what she calls him. Which is very cute, but as far as legal names go it would be a bad one and what kind of mother do you think I am?)

If you took the snippets of my days when I’m not handling things well, you might think I’m not a great parent. Things don’t always go well. I get cross. I get stretched too thin, especially lately, when I’ve frequently been stuck at home with sick kids. My kids can be infuriating, and it’s exhausting. I definitely, definitely, do not love every minute.

It is never as simple as a good day, or a bad day. My children are all quicksilver. The stars can be all aligned and then along comes a new gravitational body – everything wobbles on its axis. Can I maintain a steady course or will a terminal slide into chaos ensue? Tears dry just as quickly, their eyes sparkle again, and their mother better be ready to leave her own frustrations behind, because the fun is happening, now. They create joy in the most mundane events. A cold wet downpour is a chance to spring from puddle to puddle. Games are invented seemingly out of thin air, and you are all laughing, and life is good and the minutes fly by. Then there are the quiet joys. Like the joy of seeing your four year old intent, concentrating hard on his latest art project.puddle splashing

My hours are full of books and kisses and toys and cuddles and crayon on my walls and TV and chasing and trying to buckle a pram and jumping on the bed. Life. They are full of life.

These little lives feel like they came from nowhere to take over your own. Did you know, did you really understand, how much possibility there was the first time someone handed you your baby? Getting to know your child, to learn how they interpret the world and think and feel is the ultimate privilege of parenthood.

At this age my children’s behaviour can be ridiculous, and appalling, and embarrassing.  But they are four and one. Sometimes people act as though the process of civilisation is something that should take just a couple of weeks, in between weaning and toilet training at what is considered to be the proper time. As though our children are not individuals with their own needs and impulses and fully contained personhood. Instead they are to be controlled and whipped into shape and if you just do it right they will never yell fart at you while locked in a public toilet.

A few weeks ago we had another public argument with my son. Everyone was avoiding our eyes and hurrying past us. It’s funny isn’t it, how there is never anyone stopping to tell you to enjoy “every minute” in these really unenjoyable minutes? Tears dried and noses wiped, we arrived at the pharmacy we needed to go to.  There were long queues, but oh joy, a wooden track with wheels to roll down it. I took the kids to play while my husband waited.

This toy just happened to be in the euphemistically named ‘feminine hygiene” aisle. While the kids played happily a couple approached, and stood whispering in front of the pregnancy tests. There is a lot to think about when buying pregnancy tests. For many it is the first of the arbitrary and important-seeming hurdles that really don’t matter when you look back on them, but boy did you agonise about it at the time. Does the brand matter? And how many should you buy? One might give the answer you want – expect – but will you believe it? What if it is wrong? Perhaps you should buy two just in case. Five, maybe five. Just to be sure. Or maybe this is a false alarm, but what about next month, or the next. Should you buy extra so you have them? Just in case?

They stood, heads bent together and while I tried not to listen they caught my son’s interest. He wandered over, peering around them, cluelessly butting in as only a four year old can, and while I tried to gently re-engage his interest my daughter spotted her opportunity. Gleefully she darted forward, hands mussing shelves, then with a tube of something called ‘intimate soap’ in each hand she sprinted down the exit ramp. I followed the trail of laughter, and luckily caught her before she passed the security alarms.

By the time I had returned all the feminine hygiene products to their proper place the couple were queuing hand in hand. Trepidation, love, possibility spilling out of them, an almost visible aura of hope.

My children were back to playing. These wilful little beings who have taken over our life. Who can make an afternoon or evening a tedious drag. Or make a mundane chore a hilarious adventure. Who test and defy me on a daily basis. Who embarrass and delight me in equal measure. Would I really have them any other way?

And maybe we came across as chaotic. Maybe if my children look willful and defiant that is because they are. But one day they will be adults who won’t throw themselves down to the ground in despair in supermarkets, or sob on buses because their favourite seat is taken, and one day I won’t have to worry about them accidentally shoplifting.

Until then, would I want my son to be less curious? Would I want my daughter to be less cheeky?

I’m lucky, my hopes for the future are already here, right in front of me.

I might not love every minute, but I love them. Every minute, of every day, I’m loving them.

A Good Enough Parent

Do you ever worry if your parenting is good enough?

I do. I think we all do. It would be strange not to question ourselves when the stakes are so high, when it is the most important thing we are doing. I reassure myself that other people aren’t judging me as harshly as I judge myself. Which is why I was so shocked last week, when a stranger criticised my parenting, yelling at me, and frightening my daughter, while we were walking home.

I didn’t for a second feel her behaviour was appropriate. I was, and still am, appalled. But in the face of such criticism it is hard not to question yourself, when really the only person we should be judging is the person who felt they had the right to judge me.

We don’t have a car. To move our children around this city we rely on our feet, our youngest, AJ, in a pram, although she often gets out to walk now. She is 20 months old, confident and fast, but with no ability to judge hazards. When she walks we need to walk close so we can grab her if she wanders towards the edge of a footpath. She’s little, but she’s learning.

When I collect my son from his kindy we walk along three streets, in a U shape, ending almost directly behind his kindy at our bus stop. We don’t cross any roads on this walk. Sometimes my son walks with us, chatting about his day. Sometimes he dawdles behind us, picking up sticks, or tracing letters on the signs we walk past trying to unlock their secrets. Sometimes he races ahead, a burst of energy that sees him running all the way to the bus shelter, where he sits and waits. I don’t, indeed can’t, expect him to walk with me all the time. His sister’s needs and pace varies. It is a balancing act.

He wasn’t that far ahead the other day when I saw a woman gesturing wildly at me. She was waiting at a bus shelter we walk past. She frowned as he walked past her, gesturing at me, as I trailed behind with our younger child. My son walked on, oblivious, in his own world.

As I got closer she started yelling at me, I couldn’t catch everything she was saying. Danish is my second language and I am far from fluent. I know my son is small for his age, so I told her ‘he is nearly five, and won’t walk out on the road.’

child hiding at bus stop

My daughter chose this moment to duck behind the glass shelter, making faces at me through the glass, a game I am usually happy to indulge. I went to collect her, as I wanted to move away from this woman and the brood of middle aged women hovering around her, beady eyes fixed on me. My daughter laughed and ran to the other end. As I made my way to collect her this woman stepped in front of me, bent down and scooped up my daughter.

This moment hangs in my memory. A breath caught in my throat. The woman, clutching her prize. My daughter, limp and shocked in her hands. Feet dangling in the air, staring at this unknown person who held her.

“No” I cried, as I snatched my daughter away “You can’t, that is my child” My daughter’s arms circled around my neck clutching me tight, “Mama” a frightened whisper in my ear.

Then this woman says these words

“You must look after your children.”

I was turning to collect my pram, I was stunned, I was angry and I stumbled into a linguistic trap of confusing whether I was telling her that I do, or I will, or I want to. All of which are true, by the way.

She screams in reply “So do it then.”

At which point I fell back on the time honoured tradition of swearing at someone as you walk away. Further confrontation would help no one. Least of all the child I held in my arms.

I’m still, days later, stunned and angry. Now, though, I’ve had time to pick apart her actions, my actions, my children’s actions. I have no regrets about the decisions I made as a parent leading up to that instance.

My daughter was at the back of a wide footpath. I was only a couple of paces behind her. There was no immediate danger. No one should pick up children without consent from the child and parent. My daughter has some stranger anxiety, which is developmentally normal for a child her age. It took weeks before she would be picked up by her Grandad when he visited. AJ would not have allowed this woman to pick her up if she had asked. I would not have allowed it if I had been asked. Therefore this woman should not have touched my child.

If we put that troubling aspect of the incident aside we are left with one of the more hotly contested topics of modern parenting: how much freedom to give your children, and how much of a right others have to interfere with that. There are some parents labelled as helicopters and others as free-range parents. The latter make the news when they are prosecuted for letting their child take a walk, or play in a playground, unattended. I don’t really agree with labelling parenting, but my own values are most closely aligned with the free-range movement. I believe children learn how to manage risk by experiencing risk.

MJ is headstrong and independent. Everything could be a battle if we let it be. He is also, in a way, fairly risk averse. He is thoughtful.  So I am happy if he is relaxed, and enjoying his walk, to let him make his own decisions about how fast he walks, and whether he wants company or would rather enjoy some mental downtime.

I’m not sure, at four, how I could make him walk with me if I wanted to. Am I supposed to collar him? Am I supposed to be strong enough to hold onto him and wheel a pram? I suppose I could try. Forcing him to walk beside me, clutching his arm as he pulled and frothed at the mouth to get away. Each tug tearing at our relationship, until either it or he were broken.

Would he learn more from walking next to me? How can we teach our children to be independent if we never let them make independent choices? Would he be any safer? Or would you just perceive him to be safer?

If I make MJ stay with me, stopping when I stop, walking when I walk, he won’t have better road safety skills than he does now, when he is allowed to decide for himself when to stop and when to walk, within scenarios that are both familiar and safe.

I believe this woman reacted so harshly not because she felt my son was in any real danger, but because she felt if something did happen it would be my fault for not being closer. This is ludicrous. If a car spun out of control and mounted the pavement I cannot protect my child be being there. I am no more or less at fault if I am 50m away or 50cm.

I cannot protect my child in this world. All I can do is arm my child with the right tools to protect themselves.

I’m not parenting anyone’s idea of a child. I’m not parenting the children this woman may have raised. I’m parenting the son I have, in the best way I see how. Our relationship is a two way street. Would other parents make different decisions than us? Of course. There is no correct way to raise a child. There is an infinite array of possibilities. A complex web of events that is spun every day. Every interaction a building block that has led my son and me to the path we are on now.

This woman, she doesn’t know me, or my son. She hasn’t sat stroking his hair while he tumbles into sleep. She hasn’t listened to the funny stories he tells. She hasn’t watched him draw, tongue sticking out of his mouth with deep concentration. She’s never pretended to be interested in his lists of dinosaurs and how big they are and how many claws they have. She hasn’t lain in his bed next to him, listening as he shared his innermost fears and troubles. She hasn’t watched him carefully, pedantically, slicing cucumber to eat (yes we let him use a knife). She hasn’t watched, a smile playing at her lips, as he runs and runs and runs, arms thrown wide with joy.

She has no idea of all the wonderful, amazing things he is capable of.

I do. My husband does. We aren’t perfect, but nobody is in a better position than us to decide how much freedom and responsibility to give our children.

It is too easy to criticise people who make different choices. Too easy to see things in black and white. But trying to parent a child is a million shades of grey. So if I could go back, and muster linguistic control I would say this: I want to look after my children the best I can. I will look after my children, as I see fit. I do look after my children. You just might not agree with every decision that I make.

That’s fine. I don’t need approval. I know I’m not perfect, but I am a good enough parent.

So I won’t call my son back to me. Instead I’ll tell him to run. Throw those arms wide and run.

child playing independently

There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing

How to dress your children for a Danish winter.

Undies
Singlet
Trousers
Long-sleeved t-shirt
Socks
Jersey
Snowsuit
Snow boots
Mittens
Hat

There is your list.

Dressed for winter snow
Dressed for winter snow

Oh, I’m sorry, you meant how do you get your kids dressed in all those layers and layers of clothing? My mistake.

How to dress your children for a Danish winter.

“Come hither my darlings. Let’s go exploring. Let’s go out and play.  Here let me help you.”

Your children come scampering over, eager to co-operate, knowing what fun is ahead. They already have clothes on. They get dressed promptly after breakfast. You lay their snowsuits on the floor, ready for them to step into. You know where all their mittens are. Everything is always kept in its proper place.

children-playing-snowsuits-autumn
Not just winter – we dress like this in autumn too.

You help AJ while MJ (being four years old) dresses himself. Their excitement does the get better of them briefly. MJ begins to spin in circles instead of getting his shoes on. AJ copies him.
“Ah ha ha” you say, sounding like the narrator from Maisy “What Fun!”
They fall over laughing, and remember that they are supposed to be putting shoes on. Little rascals! On go the shoes, hat, then mittens and, voila! You are ready to go out.

Sorry, sorry, that’s not right either.

How to dress your children for a Danish winter.

Oh shit. You meant to get ready ten minutes ago.

MJ is playing with Duplo. AJ has migrated from drawing on paper, to drawing on the drawing table. She’s wearing a nappy and t-shirt. You grab trousers for your daughter. She sees you coming and runs away yelling
“Chee-chi, chee-chi” Cheeky. It is adorable. Except obviously not right now.

Once you catch her and start wrestling, you ask MJ to also get ready.
“Do you need the toilet?”
“No”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes.”
“Really sure?”
“Ye-es.”
“Really, really, really sure?”
“YES!”

Oh well. You’ll just have to accept the consequences of this decision later.

AJ is wearing trousers now, and you begin on her socks.
“MJ, you need to get some socks on.”

He doesn’t go and get socks. You go and get socks. Choosing a pair from the carefully curated sock drawer. Socks in one style, two colours: navy blue and grey. The only socks he will wear. Since they are sold in mix-packs, this is an improvement on the stage where he would only wear the blue ones.  Other socks are too scruffly. I can’t tell you what scruffly means. I can only tell you what scruffly is:

Scruffly is unbearable. Scruffly is something you feel at the depths of your soul. Scruffly cannot merely be said. It must be bayed at the lightbulb, head thrown back, like a wolf howling at a moon. Scruffly must ring out for all the world to hear. And while it echoes through your house, carrying its waves of despair with it, best practice is to throw yourself prostate on the floor and kick your bare feet.

(You have considered bulk buying these socks in enough sizes to last for years as a precautionary measure in case they are discontinued. Or the apocalypse happens and you survive but can only find scruffly socks whilst looting.)

The non-scruffly socks start to go on. There is a further complication. For some unknown reason the store decided to stitch the size in the bottom of the sock. This means tense moments where MJ arranges the sock with the numbers exactly in the middle of his sole. Thanks design geniuses. We definitely needed another hurdle in our routine.

Time for snowsuits. The best way to start is sitting down on the snowsuit laid out on the floor. Helpfully that is exactly where they got dropped yesterday afternoon. Legs go in, kids stand up – sleeves next. MJ can, and usually will, get his arms and legs in. AJ’s legs go in alright, but she needs you to do her sleeves. At this point, for some inexplicable reason her arm goes floppy. She is smiling at you sweetly, but honestly, now is not the time. You insert your fingers at the opposite end, groping up the sleeve until you find her fingers and then you pull.

She’s not smiling now.

You start on the second sleeve while AJ throws herself on the floor, legs flailing. She spins around, while you tug. Congratulations! You are now the epicentre of a toddler break dancing routine. Meanwhile MJ has got his suit on and is struggling with his zip and you can feel the despair building behind you, but you almost… have… the… second… hand… Done!

You offer to help MJ and narrowly avoid a disaster of scruffly-type proportions. Never touch the snowsuit without being asked. Touching it to help without being asked will result in removal of said snowsuit and a repeat of the procedure. You restrain yourself just in time, and look on while he tugs ineffectually at the zip. You hope he doesn’t break it.
“I could just hold the bottom while you pull?”
“Ooh. Yes.” He is pleased at your bright idea. As though this isn’t the same bright idea you use every day.

MJ starts on his boots, and even though you did shake out the boots, the minute he rips the velcro a puddle of sand appears on your minimalist Danish floor. AJ obligingly balances against you while you help her foot into her shoe. She’s relaxed again. Which is a shame as you need her to step down into the boot.
“AJ can you put your foot in the boot, please?”
The foot dangles resolutely at the top.

You try pushing the boot up onto the foot. The angle isn’t exactly right and she protests. You huff and puff, until finally she puts some weight on that foot and the boot goes on. One down. One to go. The process will work exactly the same because your children never learn, and neither, apparently, do you.

You turn to MJ to help him with the boot straps. The essential bit making sure the boot and snowsuit don’t separate and let cold air, or water, in. More sand and grit flakes off onto your floor as you run your fingers along the straps, tucking them under the boots. It is a delicate process. The trick here is to remember that it is impossible to walk with boot straps that are twisted. Impossible. MJ checks them suspiciously once you are done.
“Sådan” he declares, expressing satisfaction with your job.

Well, thank fuck for that.

You throw your jacket and boots on – that’s me done. Then their hats go on. Mercifully easily. Apart from the yelling, of course. As soon as they have their mittens on you can go.

Mittens… Where are the mittens?

Ten sweaty minutes later, you have found the mittens and operation Michelin-children is complete.

You open the door. It is like releasing a cork from a bottle. All the tension dissipates, your children fizz outside.

You are no longer a harassed mother and two young kids. You are no longer contained. Now you are explorers, adventurers, treasure hunters. You can see the possibilities.

walk-cold-appropriate-clothing
Ready to explore

The air crackles with ice-crystals. As the three of you roar, you melt it with your hot breath.

Here be dragons.