Most often, Mabel does not feel like putting on a coat when we set out. Quite often, she doesn't want shoes and socks either. This is okay in September, or even October, and we've had a very mild November, but nowadays it's pretty chilly and shoes would really help, I think. The biggest concession I can get from her is usually to hide her bare tootsies under a blanket so passing motorists won't call Child Protective Services. It's very considerate, really.
On a good day, she'll eat a snack or play with some toys all the way there. I can't really let her out to meander or we'll be late. So apart from the nagging feeling that I'm giving my child pneumonia, this is really the easy part. Half a mile later we get to the school.
Mabel attempts to hop out, and I take my moment to swoop in and deliver a shoe ultimatum. She acquiesces, and then, finally shod, she's off to climb a tree or run up and down on a bench in some dangerous fashion, leading younger, more impressionable friends into temptation as they too wait for their big siblings to exit the hallowed doors of learning. I chat to some other mothers for a brief moment of relative peace.
The doors open and Dash is released as if on a spring - he runs down the ramp to hug me, and his sister, if she's in our orbit. How sweet, I think they all think. And then we set off, homeward bound.
I am hampered immediately - it's a conspiracy, like when someone in an Italian railway station distracts you by rustling a newspaper in front of your face while their accomplice runs off with your luggage - by Dash pulling his folder out of his backpack to show me some wonderful worksheet he completed or drawing he coloured in, while Mabel sprints towards the road as fast as her little marathon-runner's-daughter legs can carry her. Luckily, so far she has always stopped at the kerb, and the nice crossing guard would probably catch her even if she didn't. I wave Dash and his pages away and run after her, catching up just in time to stop her crossing the road, and turn right instead. We wend our way along the path, Mabel running ahead and Dash insisting on plonking himself in the stroller.
"Get. Out. You're five and a half. Why are you in the stroller?"
"Did you bring snacks? Where's my water? Did you not bring my water? Why does Mabel have water?"
"It's the middle of winter. You don't need water. You're not going to die of thirst before we get home. Didn't you just have a snack after recess?"
"I didn't like my snack at recess. I'm thirsty."
"How was school?" Trying to reclaim the cheerful, interested-Mommy ground.
"What did you do today?"
Listen to that, he's fourteen already.
We may or may not stop at the playground at this point, depending on the weather and how clothed and shod Mabel is, but it usually becomes clear that Dash wants to sit in the stroller because he can't hold his need to go to the bathroom once he starts walking, so I soon pry her out of the baby swing and we set off again. I try to put her in the stroller, but she rebels. He tries to sit on the front part, where there is no proper seat and his five-year-old legs now trail along the ground. (I believe I described this a year or so ago. He hasn't got any shorter since.) I rebel. They both run like crazy towards the second road-crossing of our daily odyssey.
Yesterday, around this point, as I slogged along pushing my giant child like a young rajah travelling in state, in the wake of my smaller, overtired, hopped up on, I dunno, air or something, speck-in-the-distance one, Dash hummed a little ditty of his own composing. The lyrics went, "Dash is the best one in his family-y-y..." I restrained myself, with great difficulty.
Then we turn the corner and have to navigate a fine line between the house whose owners are going to sue me one day for letting my children walk on their wall, off which they will no doubt one day fall, before I sue them for having a wall that children like to walk on; and the house a little further on on the other side of the street where the children like to steal the ornamental stones and bring them home. At some point I lose patience and stuff Mabel into the stroller, clicking the straps to keep her there. The day she figures out how to unclick herself, I'm toast.
Finally we turn onto our court, and I unleash the beast. I mean, Mabel. They both run haphazardly towards the house and, just when I think we can finally go in and be in a somewhat controlled environment again, they swerve off course and head for the scooters and bikes instead of the door. "Noooooo," I lament. "No, we are not staying out. We have to go in... oh, all right, just for five minutes..." And they're specks in the distance again.