Nature has stolen 20 minutes of my overloaded day with its surprising autumn nip necessitating the need for coat combat.
The season has brought great gusts of Mammy huffing and puffing as I dress my two reluctant children in layers of warm clothing. Head upside-down I try to zip the hoodie on the nine-month-old, who flips onto his tummy with glee like an excited monkey. He pulls the oversized woolly hat from his head and waves like a magician at the end of a performance.
The pre-schooler and I long for summer days, slipping on shorts and crocs and running into the garden. The bite in the air has made him succumb to socks. Co-operation has been cajoled with a new bright blue hoodie (his first favourite colour of four, don’t you know). I’m hoping the extra few minutes it takes the “big boy” to put it on himself (as I try and sometimes fail to resist just zipping it up) will pay off some magical day when I only have myself to dress. As for the coat. It goes on, it comes off, until we settle on it open and hanging off his shoulders, like a teenage rebel in quilted blue.
It almost makes me want to stay inside where the kids can roam happily in their vests and there’s lots of time for horseplay and the baby making himself giggle by wibbling his finger on his lip.
Thankfully, children are pressure cookers with two settings – a slow release valve or a great tantrum explosion. So on Sunday afternoon we wrestle our wriggling octopuses and set off for the woods.
The newly fallen leaves, not yet soggy from rain, are at their most perfect for feet crunching. Within minutes, we are jumping from one pile of orange and yellow joy to the next. Then my son acquires a very long stick (and I ignore its likely provenance as a saliva-covered dog chew-thing) and he is a digger as he thrashes it up and down (and I steer his antics from the legs of passing walkers).
The fresh air brings the chats, as my pre-schooler follows threads of logic with question after question, taking us to unexpected places (the previous day we’d gone from talking about Mammy and Daddy having different baby slings to the whys of male and female anatomy). He’s harder to fob off than even the most persistent utilities salesperson..
“Why do leaves turn brown? Why do they fall off the trees? Do they go back on the trees? But why?”
"They go into the ground to help fertilise it." I can see where this is headed. My mind flashes back to childhood and one of my first stark realisations of what death was from a book my sister had called The Fall of Freddie the Leaf.
But before I collapse onto a pile of leaves, banging my fists and crying “The leaves are dead and one day we’ll all become food for worms”, I’m saved by a dog off his lead coming too close.
We arrive home as it’s twilight. “Who put the light there?” asks the oldest, pointing up to the rusting street lamp as though it has just been installed. I realise when you’re three you go through much of the year without ever seeing the outside in the dark. The inevitable breadcrumb trail of logic begins and before we know it we’re talking about the council paying for lights using the taxes Mammy and Daddy pay from work.
Autumn’s arrival has started to settle with me as we come in the door of our house and discover another benefit of the season for parents of littlies. Hunger is back. The hot summer involved lots of coaxing the pre-schooler to “just eat something”. But hungry children in cold weather are like starved wolves as their quick tea of sausages and eggs disappears as fast as it was made.
Putting the kids to bed is nicer too. I always loved the long, warm summer evenings but shorter, colder days work as a parent. Blocking the sun’s rays in the kids’ bedroom at 7.15pm all summer felt like fakery. Instead of fearing the baby will overheat, I can follow my instincts to keep him warm with snuggly babygros and heavier bedding. By the time all are asleep and the clear-up done, it’s pitch dark outside. Unlike summer, I can tell myself that I’m not missing out, as I settle in for another cosy evening on the couch.