A few years ago, my youngest went through a stage of pretending to be a dog. I thought it was sweet at first. I humoured her, pretending her dinner was dog food, asking to shake her ‘paw’ etc. Then it came back to bite me on the arse when we were in the middle of the shopping centre and she insisted on crawling in and out of shops on all fours and barking. I had to shout ‘WALK ON YOUR HIND LEGS’ just to get her to stand up. Unsurprisingly we got a few odd looks, and I was tempted to claim that actually this was all perfectly normal because we were raising her not so much without gender, as without species.

This is not the first time my children have embarrassed me whilst shopping. There was the time that my then toddler was in her pushchair and wanted out. She was struggling with the straps, and then grabbed hold of a passer-by’s arm and pleaded ‘help me lady, please help, I need to go home’, making me look at best heartless and at worst, a kidnapper.

Fast forward a few years and the same child saw a woman across the Tesco car park who looked a bit like me. She made an instant bee-line for this complete stranger calling out to her ‘you’re my mummy, wait for me mummy!’ Wtf? It turned out she’d recently seen the film Tangled and so naturally assumed that I was an evil witch who had stolen her as a baby but that she’d finally spotted the real deal. I’m sure it happens to everyone.

However, they’re a bit older now and I can tell you that shopping has finally become an easier experience. If easy means soul-destroying. Food shopping is by far the worst. Within seconds of arrival at the supermarket, World War Three becomes an alarming possibility as the kids fight it out over the trolley. There’s no point in me suggesting they both push it, because that just means watching them turn purple with the effort of inflicting as much damage as possible using only their elbows. I could tell them to take it in turns, but then I’d have to walk round the entire supermarket counting to 60 on a loop and forgetting what I came in for just so that they have equal trolley time.

It’s therefore a given that after a few hissed threats, I will step in and say ‘I’M pushing it’. That doesn’t work either though, because as soon as I turn my back to pick up the first item, one of them will decide that carrying food is merely a trolley’s secondary use, and it can be much better employed as a giant roller skate. I always hear the crash before I see it.

And what visit to the supermarket is complete without Finger Russian Roulette? Will they get it stuck in one of the airholes in some plastic packaging and rip the entire thing open in an attempt to break free? Plunge it into a random piece of fruit? Poke their sibling in the eye? The possibilities are endless.

At some point, usually when I’ve just finished ordering one of them to get out from behind the loo rolls because a) she’ll break the shelf and b) I will kill her, I spot the Best Mother In The World. She is walking beside her three immaculate and perfectly behaved children, teaching them about food groups whilst simultaneously getting them to practise Maths by working out the total cost of 3 packets of quinoa. My kids on the other hand will be smeared in the remains of the Nobbly Bobbly ice cream I had to bribe them with and arguing over who can stick their finger furthest up their nose without making it bleed. ‘Never mind’ I tell myself through gritted teeth, my kids have spirit, personality, they will forge their own paths, be individuals etc. etc. The fact that the aforementioned spirit is currently making my ears bleed, is neither here nor there.

By the time we actually make it to the tills, I don’t even care that they’ve disappeared into the photo booth and will only come out on the 28th request, because I’m too preoccupied thinking about the sweet release of death.

Once home, I resolve to only do online shopping from now on. Then when one of them gets the urge to ask in ringing tones why that man is wearing a dress, or whether I’ve just farted, we’ll be in the comfort of our own home. But then I remember that the last time I did that, I forgot to complete the order and Mr Tesco showed up with just a bag of apples and charged me a fiver for the privilege.

At least I can take solace in the fact that these experiences are precisely why wine was invented.

And in the meantime, Bring on Bedtime!

Swimming Lessons

Tuesdays are a black mark in the weekly calendar as far as I’m concerned.  Tuesday is Swimming Day.

I always thought that teaching children to swim would be a bit like a montage in a film.  I pictured scenes of laughter and splashing, gentle encouragement when the child falters, and finally, with the Chariots of Fire theme tune playing stirringly in the background, huge celebrations and air-punching when she finally manages her first width.  Job done.

The reality is somewhat different.  I realised that of course I can’t teach my kids to swim.  For a start I can only do breast stroke.  I have also carefully cultivated my own unique style involving my head and face remaining out of the water at all times. Works for me, but apparently they teach them differently these days.

We therefore signed them up for group lessons at the local pool.  The companies that run these lessons actually have two main areas of expertise.  1. Teaching kids to swim. 2. Making the process last until the child is 35 years old or your bank account is empty, whichever comes first.

So every Tuesday we all troop into the changing rooms with the usual sense of dread.  I have become proficient in the art of hopelessly digging around for the locker change I carefully took out of my purse earlier, whilst calling out ‘What are you DOING in there?’, ‘Unless you’re actually throwing up, you’re getting in that pool’ and my personal favourite ‘Yes I will make you go in naked.  Look for it again’.

Then it’s lesson time and I get to sit and relax in my jeans and jumper in the subtropical climate of the spectator area.  During the lesson my time can be broken down as follows:  3% watching actual swimming, 7% entertaining my older daughter whose lesson doesn’t start for another half an hour, 10% waving and nodding encouragingly at my younger daughter in the pool, and 80% trying to find a suitable mime for ‘For God’s sake pay attention to the bloody teacher will you?’

When the lessons are over, it’s time for them to get dry and dressed. Or rather, wave a towel about in the air in front of their body, then pull a dry school dress up a wet body inch by painful inch, until they are bright red in the face and don’t even have the strength to tell me I’m the worst mother in the world because I won’t let them have anything from the vending machine.

Finally, with or without knickers, we all make our way back to the car.  But I have to remember that one day it will all be worth it.  One day they will be accomplished swimmers.  One day, I will be able to take them ‘fun swimming’ and actually get to sit in the café with the other grown-ups, while they spend 90 minutes pushing each other in.  Which of course is the whole point.