I promised myself that this year would be our year. I promised myself that I would search within the mother I am now to find the adventurer I was; the woman who condensed all of her life into a tiny suitcase, picked up a sleeping bag in Covent Garden, and disappeared over the Channel with a stranger she had found on a facebook page – drove through the wind and the rain and the snow to the warmer climes of a Greek island, and then stayed put for months until she herself was ready to return. I promised myself that I would wrap my fingers around that woman’s ankles and that I would drag her, breech and screaming, into her new life as a mother and that I would make her be our guide – because I have little boys now who are ravenous for the world, and little girls who are learning to run and already love to taste the leaves on the ground and to bury themselves in the fronds of fern in the woods.
I want these children of mine to have the very best bits of my childhood; the taste of salt on their skin and the hardness on the soles of ones feet that come from spending all day playing outside. I want them to know staying up past midnight because they can’t bring themselves to put down their book, and waking up before sunrise because the day is simply too thrilling to waste any more of it in bed. And I want to be their Pied Piper, to hold their hands, to pick them up when they tumble and to laugh with them always.
Summer gave me confidence. This summer we took ice cream dates and shopped together, we visited the beach and splashed together, we watched the sun sink behind the trees from the train as we stayed up well past bedtime to get home. We found an easy rapport as a little three; we developed little games to play together. Balthazar told me, quite spontaneously, that I was his best friend. When I carried them, if they were tired, they would wrap their arms around my neck and blind me with kisses, their small faces nuzzling against mine.
It grew colder. I want to be the kind of mama who simply adds layers and takes them out again; back to the beach in wellies and woollen hats and gloves, through the woods in full rain gear, laughing at the funfair as the candyfloss melts to gloop and the wind draws tears from our eyes. But sometimes I just want it to be easy, so we’ve been finding local, indoor things to do as well.
I had been meaning to explore the local pools since these children of mine were born. Everyone who knows me knows that I love water; I could live my whole life in a bath and never tire of it, but my heart belongs in the wild, beautiful sea. Nonetheless, in the absence of sunshine I am prepared to capitulate. My children spent their summer in and out of the fierce, undulating British water, screaming as the waves hit them but setting their teeth and pressing closer, deeper, their little hands reaching out for mine. I have promised myself that next summer, we will go somewhere warmer. And I want them to be at home in the water as much as on land. In part because all children should know how to swim, just in case – but also because it’s something I love, and I want to share everything I love with the people I love best.
So I ordered some Peppa Pig arm bands in order to comply with the 1:2 ratio ‘with appropriate flotation devices’. These boys are all about Peppa and don’t mind in the least that the arm bands are pink, though they will indignantly correct people that ‘I not a girl! I a boy!’. And for the past two weekends, I have taken them to the pool.
(Eltham Pool, FYI, is perfect for littles. It’s only small, with a beach-like entrance and the deepest part of the children’s pool is only 0.9 metres. The boys love the big floats left out for play.)
They love it so much, and so do I. They can barely contain themselves as we queue to buy a ticket, hugging and twirling each other in circles to the mixed amusement and irritation of the others in the queue. They pass under the barrier and are already in the changing rooms by the time that I have caught them up, stripping themselves naked impatiently but ineffectually, until they are a tangle of jumpers half over their heads and leggings trailing, caught on shoes.
When I blow up their arm bands, they cheer. “Yell DONE, Mummy!” My boys are so proud of my minor achievements.
Balthazar has discovered already that he can float independently and is quite happy bobbing about in the water, where Lysander prefers to have a hand on mum at all times. They like to jump in from the side, Lysander holding my hands and Balthazar hurling himself into the air, plunging into the water with a violent splash. The other parents laugh at us, and remark on their confidence. I am water-smudged and laughing, hair everywhere, flushed with pride.
Hours later, I suggest that they might welcome cake and a babyccino in the little café; they disperse in multiple different directions, further into the water. And chasing them is such a fun game that it easily eats another thirty minutes or so. They tell me that I am not a fish, and squeal when I catch them and bite their chins. They trust me absolutely when we are in the water. I hold out my arms, and feel the privilege even as they clamber onto my back and wrap their little arms around my neck, simultaneously drowning and half-strangling me with their enthusiasm. I am a fish, and they are perplexed when I duck under the water and away, startled and amused to find a mummy beneath them and biting their kicking toes.
We never leave before closing time. They are perpetually reluctant, giggling and attempting to swim away even as I have hold of their arms. And there is always the risk that they will unclip the straps holding up my swimming costume – again – but they are always good for a laugh, these sons of mine. And I think that when they are grown, I will treasure these memories, even the flapping-boobs-in-the-kiddy-pool ones.
What else might three-year-olds enjoy? We are having so much fun making every weekend count!