Toddler Activities: Tuesday, at FML O’clock.

In the cooler months of September – May, Matthew likes going to something called “tot skate” every Tuesday at noon. I’m stoked about this one in particular. We haven’t been to tot skate in almost six months, and this time Scarlett is two. This time, she’ll get her very own pair of teeny-tiny skates!

Moments like these, I love having the number of children I do. Sometimes Spencer and I trade looks with each other that say, ‘seriously, I love you, but why the @#$% did we have so many kids?’ There are plenty of upsides though. For one, every time you turn around, there’s a new development to celebrate. Something so bleeping cute it makes you forget for a little while that so many things about raising them is a bigger pain in the ass than you bargained for.

Mary’s as grateful as anyone for activities that break up the monotony of our school day. But getting out of the house at the time these “tot” activities are when you have a middle-schooler with you is weighed down by one big, whopping flaw. It usually means pulling into the neighborhood around the same time school buses are dropping off everyone else – and then sheepishly having to remind your poor sap of a student that they still have, like, have a day’s worth of crap to do.

Their 10-12 o’clock start times aren’t great, but I owe these things to Matt and Scarlett. Striving to make it work, I figure there’s a little fresh air, exercise and socialization involved in it for all of us. (If nothing else, Mary gets a cookie at the snack break and lolly at the end. Hook, line and sinker.) I pack a folder of worksheets for her to complete while I skate with the kids, and I deem this crisis averted.

We get there, successfully strap wheels to the feet of both small kids, and make our delightfully unsteady path to the floor.

Then I make the rookie (novice, DUMBASS) mistake of presenting it to her as an option. “Here you go,” I say. “I packed a few activities for you to do if you want.” (… if you want. Did I just @#$%^&* say ‘if you want’?)

She opts out. It’s a real shocker.

Okayy. Hiccup #1.

It’s a capricious situation that can go one of two ways. Opting out of a confrontation with an audience when I have kids on wheels to worry about, I caution her that choosing not to complete them now would be a pretty big waste of time. It is, however, her choice. It’s quiet here, I tell her. There are comfortable tables at which to work. By the time we get home, it’ll be close to two and even if she completes the folder, we have other assignments to start after lunch. She’s nonplussed. So, that’s that. Not begrudgingly, we move on, tag teaming her brother and sister on skates. It’s hilariously fun.

Matthew’s wheels are WAY too loose, so much that even when he stands entirely still with the rest of his class, they’re maniacally wandering in opposite directions. His arms are flailing willy-nilly 99% of the time, making a show of how hopelessly out of control he is. He falls in a thousand ways, laughing all the time. Unaffected, as if he seriously can’t feel any of it – he gets up, watching the instructor with a studious scrutiny between jerks, spasms and hard crash landings. Unlike the sofa-acrobatics we’re used to at home, this I get to laugh at and cheer for. I’m having a blast.

Scarlett is too! There’s a tantrum in the beginning, but that’s over and she’s totally into it now. When the big kids race from one end of the rink to another, practicing their brake technique with a game of red-light, green-light, she clops her feet around like a newborn foul, oblivious to the fact that she could never keep up. I’m tell you, if cuteness could kill.

It’s all going too well. The universe catches on straightaway and runs interference.

Matthew says something that Mary thinks might have been an insult to a woman standing nearby. She tells me, in front of the person she thinks he may have insulted, about the transgression. I nod, giving her a look, but Matthew shouts protest. He did not!, he starts to interrupt, but Mary won’t stop talking, so he gets increasingly flustered by the millisecond. MARY! NO I DIDN’T! YOU HEARD ME WRONG! MARY!! STOP TALKING!! In fractions of time too small to react, he’s pulling at her clothes, humiliated at the false accusation. She hits him back. I believe that she heard him wrong, but at this point, he’s in trouble for putting his hands on her and shouting.

I’m calm. After correcting Matthew, I mention quietly to Mary that to avoid him reacting out of embarrassment, maybe next time she can tell me in private. I’m not scolding her at all, but I manage to piss her off. I always baby Matthew, she sasses. I say that it’s because he’s four, but (this burns me up because there’s no way for me to dispute it until he actually turns 12 and she throws it at me all the time) when he turns 12, I’ll still let him get away with everything. 

This is one accusation that, even coming from a 12-year-old, gets under my skin. Matthew spends half his life in the time-out corner, being reprimanded for screwing up. But if there’s ever a time I get the luxury of showing him a little patience and understanding of the fact that he’s four, suddenly, I’m playing favorites. It’s childish of me, but I feel like it’s unfair.

As if on cue, Scarlett throws a tantrum. FML. Raising three kids is impossible to do with any degree of skill. It shouldn’t matter, but the fact that there’s an audience makes it all seem somehow harder.

Quite honestly, I think to myself collecting the baby, Mary got away with acting like a four-year-old until she was at least 9 and half; if she’s seeking fairness, I’d have to give up correcting him almost ever. I debate telling her that. Then I DO tell her that. But then I breathe, remembering that perceptions of injustice come with the age, and I explain to her why I reacted that way. She understands and genuinely apologizes. I do too. Then Matthew.

Exhausted and ready to go, we leave with our lollipops. Everyone says they had fun. If there’s one thing you can be sure of with these guys, they won’t blow smoke up your rear. If they say they had fun, you know it’s the truth.

All things considered, I’m really proud of them. Matthew showed a remarkable perseverance. Scarlett took on a new challenge for the first time with gusto, actually following instruction from the teacher a good year and a half before Matthew ever would have. And Mary was not only a big help, she patiently allowed her brother and sister to enjoy themselves for an hour and a half, never once making a big deal about how boring it could have been if she wanted to see it that way. She showed a lot of consideration, and that made me proudest of all.

I took them out to Wendy’s for lunch as a treat. Mary and I studied together over chili and fries, while Scarlett and Matthew pushed the boundaries of controlled chaos, bringing attention to our table that seemed to make more people giggle in our direction than get pissed. In moments like these, even when I’m not sure I can follow it up with a decent justification, I still love having the number of kids that I do.

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