The school run with three kids is never exactly easy but this morning really was something else. I actually had one of those weird out-of-body moments of looking down upon my frazzled self and my feral brood and wondering what the fuck had become of my life.
It was raining. I’m sure it is raining for about 80% of all school runs. After running late a few times recently, I was determined to make it on time today so got all kids to start the seemingly endless task of putting on shoes, jumpers and coats a whole five minutes early.
We’re currently leaving five minutes earlier than we used to anyway, to accommodate a very determined two-year old who wants to walk (whilst I push an empty pushchair, on stand-by to pin him into during any screaming tantrums he throws). It is only a five-minute walk, or ten minutes at T’s pace, so I don’t really mind him walking most of the time, although he refuses to hold my hand so it can be a bit hairy.
This morning we were ready to leave a good 15 minutes before school starts. I was feeling kinda smug that all three kids were outside the door and looking vaguely ready. OK, so T was refusing to wear a coat and M was struggling with her zip still but apart from that, we were in pretty good shape.
I wrangled the pushchair out of the garage, loaded up the bags, forced the coat onto the angry toddler and off we set. But we didn’t even make it off the drive before M started sobbing, stamping her foot and whingeing something unintelligible through snotty tears. I guessed it was her zip that was upsetting her and bent down to help but then she totally lost it.
I calmed her down enough to be able to explain what it was all about. She said that the Teaching Assistant in her class said she needs a new coat because her zip is useless, so she can’t wear this one today. This all seemed rather unlikely and I said that she must have got it wrong. Plus, I know that she has been lusting after her best mate’s gorgeous, puffy Frozen coat so suspected that she was just making something up as part of her ploy to talk me into getting her a new one. At this point she went a deep shade of red and started actually screaming. No words, just jumping up and down and screaming.
You know those terrible moments when you falter as a parent? You waver over what the hell you should do to best manage the situation and, because of that slight pause, that moment of indecision, you make things infinitely worse? Well, this was one of those moments. I knew I had to get the older two to school and I had no idea how to do it, with a screaming banshee and a rampaging toddler.
I looked away from my ballistic missile of a daughter and at her coat lying in a puddle, where it had been lobbed. I saw it from her point of view and suddenly realised that yes, it is a pretty shabby piece of red jumble sale tat. Sure, it is warm enough but it looks crappy and the zip isn’t exactly broken but it is a bit frayed at the bottom, making it tricky for tiny fingers. This was what was going though my mind in my split second, fatal pause: a good helping of motherhood guilt for making my child wear such tat.
I caved. I weighed up the options and thought maybe I had a quick fix that would stop the screaming and set us on our way. Instructing H to keep an eye on T, I ran upstairs and retrieved another second-hand coat I had on standby. Thinner and less waterproof but a bit less battered. Surely this would sort things out.
I presented M with this coat (it was pink, so I was sure I was onto a winner) but then made the ridiculous error of telling her that it didn’t have her name in yet but that I would sew a label in tonight. Well, that was a huge mistake. More intense screaming, more stamping.
I paused again, looking down at the situation from above and trying to figure out a solution. T was running off down the road, M was refusing to move. Time to attempt to undo some of the damage done by being all soft and indecisive.
There are few things I hate more as a parent than having to physically force your kid to do something but I had little choice. I grabbed the baby and stuffed him, kicking and screaming into the pushchair, using the old knee in the midriff technique. Then I bunged both coats into the bottom of the buggy, grabbed M by the hand and started dragging her up the hill to school, watched by pretty much the whole village.
I know how bloody awful it must have looked, dragging one screamer, pushing another. I am sure in my pre-kid days I would have been outraged to see a mother treating her kids like that. I honestly don’t know how else I could have better handled the situation, although I am sure there are many more adept parents than me out there who would have had much better tactics. I was stressed, desperate and out of ideas.
We eventually made it to school with both still screaming. H hurriedly grabbed his bag and legged it off to class, delighted I’m sure to be shot of his horrific family for a few hours. I spotted M’s Teaching Assistant in the classroom and dragged M in, still yelling and coatless. Mrs. TA was not my favourite person at this point, I can tell you. It turns out she did say something the day before about maybe needing a new coat but there was a good dose of four-year old misinterpretation in there. I knew M would listen to Mrs TA more than she would to me so I let her explain that M had the wrong end of the stick. It did the trick and the screaming stopped at last.
So, M eventually went in with the thin, pink coat. I actually wanted to sit down on the playground train and sob at this point, perhaps setting fire to the red coat beside me to keep myself warm.
But I didn’t. I rounded up Terrible T, who was pushing his train and crawling through puddles, and headed back out of the playground, a shadow of my former self, trying not to make eye contact with all the infinitely better parents.
You get a bit of a false sense of security as a seasoned parent of multiple kids sometimes, a feeling that you can handle anything the little shits throw at you. Then you have a morning like that and remember that you are still totally winging it, entirely at the mercy of their moods. That you don’t know how to do it now, you just guess right more often than you used to. It is a grounding experience. One that I plan to drown with a large glass of wine this evening.
Anyone want a puffy red coat with a dodgy zip? I have one going begging.