Leaving the House With Small Children Without Losing Your Mind

Photo: Clara Cristofaro
Photo: Clara Cristofaro

Leaving the house with kids can be very hard work. Such hard work that it is often tempting to just not do it. I can’t get away with staying home anymore; my kids need to be run like dogs and if we don’t leave the house in the morning, that morning will end with me getting tied up and scribbled on with Sharpie or with a guitar being smashed over someone’s head, ’70s-rock-band-style. Some days are better than others; success depends on moods, moons, weather, sleep, etc.  Where we’re going is also important, but not as important as you might think.  You would think that children would be more eager and cooperative if they knew they were going someplace fun. I still fall for this occasionally but it is Not So. Children are eager and cooperative when it suits them and not a second earlier and definitely not for the reasons you are grasping at so desperately.

I should qualify: children Fresco’s age, ie: pre-Two, are pretty malleable and if you say Let’s Go Outside! he will get you his boots, your boots, your coat, your purse, your keys, and then complain that you haven’t left yet.  After Two, like the day after he turns Two, I am planning to dress him in his sleep and carry him under one of my arms like a bazooka.

Children Trombone’s age (3.5)  love to thwart.  Because they can. You can say to Trombone, we are going to the guitar factory which is full of M&Ms and guitars and you will get to play four thousand different guitars and eat M&Ms until you are just shy of puking. OK? Shall we go? And he will say, wow that sounds like fun, I just have to finish playing this elaborate game that no one understands, which involves pretend-play, intricate choreography and at *least* 10 minutes more of pondering on my part.  I will join you momentarily, ie: in one hour.

So I have one child who needs an hour’s work to get him out of the house.  And I have another child who needs to have words spelled around him because he will throw himself at the front door if he hears the word “out.”  Which brings me back to the first child, who can’t spell yet.  What do I do?

#1. Plan ahead.

Hours ahead. If you intend to be somewhere by 9:30 am, start preparing at 7 am.  This morning I decided we were going to Motoring Munchkins, which is a gym program at the nearby Queens Park Arenex.  It is a gymnasium full of gymnastics equipment, plastic toy structures for climbing, balls, hoops, sticks, ride-em cars, etc. There is also a trampoline.  Mostly it is for the kind of run-crazy-like-a-crazy-running-thing exercise that children need to make them sleep all afternoon so their mothers can document it in their blogs.  We don’t go very often because it is at least as much work for me as it is fun for them, though the scales are starting to tip in this department.  At 7:30 am I whispered to Trombone, a little later we will go to the gym, OK?  And Trombone said, Yeah!  OK! and promptly forgot.

An hour later, I said, OK, time to start getting dressed. Why? Because we’re going to the GYM!
Half an hour after that, I said, OK, time to get shoes on. Why?  The GYM, of course!
Half an hour after that, we were on our way.  Motoring Munchkins starts at 9:30. There were already quite a few people there when we arrived at 9:45.  I am not the only clever monkey in this city, clearly.

#2. Do not let your resolve fade.

It is easy to let the children become distracted by things in the house because it occupies them and keeps them quiet (until they start fighting over the things they are distracted by) but the pause is too short and not worth it because within 10 minutes you will have to re-motivate not only them, but you.  This morning as I was staring at the children laying waste to the living room when what I had asked them to do was put their boots on, something they can each do just fine if it’s bathtime or suppertime, I said it out loud to myself:  “Be resolved. Make this happen.”  They both looked at me. “Boots.” I said, “Focus.”  I may or may not have actually tapped my forehead when I said this.  Like a guru.

#3: Snacks.

Don’t forget them.  You can get by without a spare diaper, probably (depending on the age of your baby)(and depending on who you ask)(ie: my better half, Saint Aardvark) but snacks are important.  Best arranged while the children are looking elsewhere, otherwise they will want to eat them while you are still at home, even if they just finished a nice, lingering breakfast five minutes ago.  If they eat the snacks at home, this will of course result in a) them being harder to motivate and b) no snacks later, when you need them for bribery in the store to stop them from making That Noise while you try to choose a cereal, or to get them out of the gym before somebody loses a body part.  Make sure, if you have two children, that the snacks are identical in attractiveness.  Meaning: if child A loves cheese but child B doesn’t, it’s okay if you don’t have enough cheese for both of them but if you have OMG SQUEE dried cranberries BEST SNACK EVAR enough for only one, woe betide you.

That’s it.  That’s all you need * for a successful trip out of the house.  Planning ahead, resolve, and snacks**.

* Coffee. Also. Beforehand. It helps with the resolve.
** Don’t forget snacks for you.  Or you’ll have to sneak something out of the vending machine and then you’ll have to a) share or b) explain why you get a vending machine treat and they don’t.

This morning, it worked.  It all came together and we had an enjoyable time running around the gym like crazy people.  An hour is about as long as we can tolerate Motoring Munchkins.  I’m unsure if everyone is like this or if we are especially delicate flowers but after an hour, Fresco starts wandering out into the lobby to bother the drinking fountain and Trombone starts staring off into space and I start feeling the ache in my eyeballs that means I’ve been scanning a room of screaming kids that all look like mine for just a few minutes too long.  So we go.  I see people there who have their snacks and then go back to playing; which makes sense, it does cost money to drop in ($3.25 for the first child, $1.00 per additional; cheaper if you buy a pass) but we just can’t handle it.  After an hour inside with the screaming and frenzy, the fresh air felt like sweet, scented oil on my skin.  As we walked back to the grocery store through Queen’s Park, the trees moist and green above us, the kids quietly eating their snacks, I thought: easy.  This is so easy. Why do I ever have bad days?

Until the dried cranberries ran out.