Lately leaving the house seems like such a Herculean task I have, on occasion, not been able to do it. There is nowhere to go, sure (oh GOD let’s not get into that), but with three small children you have to ‘go’ somewhere, even if it is standing on your own doorstep, even if it is pacing your backyard, or in our case, tramping resolutely in laps around the square where we live. Or around the small playing field, which is also square, behind our house.
Today I couldn’t do it. Not because I’m depressed, no; nothing like that. No, it is because it’s too hard to get everybody’s socks and shoes on. I’ve written here before about trying to find matching socks but it’s not even that. It’s so much more than that. It is one son screaming and screeching on the floor because the material in his trousers isn’t fluffy enough, while the other soulfully opines about how the heel of this particular sock will not sit well in his shoe and therefore another must be found. It is the youngest, sticking out his sweet bottom lip in a sulky look of toddler defiance and yelling I’M NOT DOEING ANYWHEH that would be pure comedy if I did not have the other two wallowing in their doleful duet of despair over their socks and shoes and the impossibility of them ever being the right combination at the right time.
It’s not just the socks and shoes. It’s their coats too. The eldest won’t wear one, not even in the rain or freezing cold. He wants to be seen without a jacket because he has noted an older kid in the street mooching in just a sweater, which to him is the epitome of cool. The middle one will only wear a fluffy coat but the rules change on this hourly, so he might mean a flat fluffy one or a more puffy fluffy one or by fluffy he may actually mean velvety. The youngest will do as they do, so he will wriggle out of the coat I have sausage-wrapped him into, always as I have turned my back to fiddle with yet another sock, shoe or shoelace and always at my breaking point, the volcanic apex forty-five minutes into the whole operation when my mind has simultaneously contracted and expanded in wonder at how, how, it can take nearly an hour to leave the house for an outing that no matter how long we stretch it out for, will only take fifteen minutes.
I will do this dance most days because we must all get out. Yet on occasion, I opt for peace. Barefoot in the house, skidding down the stairs, rolling on the floor in their jam-stained T-shirts in the deep and dusky winter I watch them as I sigh and potter contentedly around the house, not a sock to be seen in sight.