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.

13 Replies to “Leaving the House With Small Children Without Losing Your Mind”

  1. I go through the same rigamarole to get out the door. And Motoring Munchkins: I hear it's very fun for the kids, but I still haven't taken mine because I'm too afraid of the crowds! Also, Wesley is between Trombone and Fresco, so half the time he runs for his boots and Prince Philip hat (which he wears everywhere we go!) and brings me my shoes and the rest of the time he drags his feet. I can never tell which it'll be, so we're late half the time and early the rest of the time. Plus there's always the poop explosions from Nora, which always seem to happen just as I think we're ready to go catch our bus …

  2. I suggest giving MM a try before Nora can crawl because if she's still small & docile enough to wear in the carrier, it's way easier. There were quite a few months where we couldn't go b/c Fresco could crawl and he kept licking the ground and it was just…not OK.

  3. Oh man, Clara, I actually laughed out loud at this, like snort snort, har har har chortle chortle, because I was just saying to Bree this morning that it's never simple to get out of the house! At our house lately, the big challenge is the pre-going out diaper change, which usually results in me chasing Kale running around going "Naky? Naky?" because apparently all this child needs is to be naky and have some fruit leather. Then the boots, and the jacket, which he will allow me to put on willingly, as he's still at the age when boots and jacket = outside = fun fun fun.

    I too find MM too much sometimes – my head often hurts afterwards… and as a result, we don't go often. There are other (free) options in the city that I don't feel overwhelmed while I am there. I also find there are many parents who are under the impression that they may release the hounds at the door, and then ignore them with their face in a book while their precious child steals toys / hits other kids / and generally makes a jerk of themselves.

    That said, Briana, I'm game for a MM date!

  4. Ahh, Motoring Munchkins; it's kind of like a great big piece of maple fudge, the first two bites are great fun but after that it gets to be a bit much. I haven't been for a few years as my first two kids are now 6 and 7 and my little one is only 9 months. He would probably enjoy licking the hockey balls or sucking on a hockey stick, but I fear he might lose a finger by being run over by one of those kids in a plasmacar (how do they get going so fast?!). Not enough play enjoyment to outweigh the risks at this point. Plus, my kids ALWAYS came home with a cold the next day.

    Clara, I don't know if your kids are old enough to keep track of who gets more snack yet – if not, it's coming soon – I used to bring a separate container for each of them so they could see they got the same amount and there were no accusations of hoarding.

    Also, have you checked out StrongStart (we go to the one at McBride sometimes)? My little one enjoys sucking on the bristle blocks they have without fear of losing a digit. They even have free snacks, so all you need is planning and resolve (they have coffee for parents).

  5. I remember, … getting out the door with little ones can be challenging especially when there are time constraints on the day, then definitely, all the prep is necessary. Matching specific music to a specific 'task' often helps to achieve a routine objective — it's a subtle enough clue that it's time to 'get ready' … or have lunch, or a tub, etc., but the challenge for mom is to be structured and consistent about it without appearing to be so. Bear in mind, from a very early age, children are (or quickly become) really smart about strategies like that! You don't want them to interpret the music as a "trick" to get them to comply but rather as a helpful reminder about what needs to happen.

    **On occasion**, if and when you have some time to spare before you cross the threshold of the front door (lol!), in addition to adding music to the mix, make the routine game-like. Be silly about things, make the kind of mistakes kids make (like putting on two unmatched shoes) and then, with great drama, discover the fashion faux-pas in front of the kids and go back and fix the 'mistake' – it won't be long before you have some semblance of cooperation from them and oftentimes they will be all too willing to help you fix your mistake! At the very least you will have captured (or re-captured, as the case may be) their attention because nothing is funnier than when Mom makes a goof! It's a great way to re-direct focus to the task at hand.

    Ideally, these strategies will help you achieve some measure of success and getting out the door will become a little more manageable – worked for me … sometimes. At least I had fun … sometimes!

    Good luck moms!

    Oh, and one more tidbit to share: New Westminster Family Place!! Try it, you'll like it!

  6. Too true about the colds. That’s another consideration when we decide to go although both boys are at a “washing hands in a public washroom is SO EXCITING!” stage right now.

    I love StrongStart too. I take Fresco there when Trombone is at preschool.

  7. I’ve been going to the McBride StrongStart some days too. Maybe we should plan to go on the same day sometime? I’m looking into starting Wesley in preschool soon, but he loooooves StrongStart. It’s just a bit of a trek from the West End by bus to get there! He loved Family Place too, but it’s even more awkward to bus to, and they turn people away when they reach a certain number. I’m just not willing to put all the effort into getting out of the house and take two buses only to face a brokenhearted little boy and a long road home. I really wish there was more to do in the West End close to home. I hear they’re opening a Strong Start at Connaught soon, which is cool!

  8. So funny! ‘Woe betide’ should be used in more social situations. I will see to that.

    One of my big challenges is my own impatience. When hearding my cats out the door for a long established and prepared for destination, I can’t get my mind off the clock. We will be LATE. LATE! Do you know what late means PEOPLE! And then B and W and S and even little N look at me as if to say “what are you, a big white time bunny”?

    I suppose I am.

  9. Will, I know. A lifetime of punctuality cannot just be tossed away because of the little people! For me it’s the illusion of control. I control the time. Yes I do.

    and Briana – when you involve buses it’s a whole other ballgame. Yikes.

  10. Oh my this is soooo funny!
    i can’t tell you all how many times I have flopped on to the sofa and exclaimed in exasperation “this is all just too hard, people!!” And by people I mean my own little monsters, who make leaving the house such an trial that even the Super Nanny would just make a cup of tea, click on Sid the Science kid, and call it a day! Simon,3, lately has taken to wailing in complaint at the interuption of having to get ready to go outside, and Matty, 5 and autistic, has to do everything his own way, which means always, not doing it my way. And it usually involves a bribe and a threat to get it done. Now, after checking my blood pressure and taking a few deep breaths, we can get down to the business of just having fun??

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