Column: Mama Said by Emily Martin
The weather’s warming up and Emily Martin can’t wait to open the doors and release the children
Winter seems to have lasted forever this time. I know we always say that, but this winter really does feel like it’s lasted forEVER. I’m writing this on what feels like the 46th of January. It’s been cold and grey for months. Damp, no leaves, no sunshine and, so far, not a single flake of snow has fallen in Cambridgeshire when snow, aside from Christmas, is the only thing that winter has to offer to childhood.
I yearn for the day I know is soon coming when I can open that door and poof! Off they’ll run into the dandelions. The children have been in the living room for months now with the same toys, the TV and each other. It doesn’t help that at the time of writing all four members of my family are recovering from various stages of Norovirus. If ever we wanted to get out of our house and far away from each other, it’s now.
But there’s no escape. It’s dark at 5pm. The sledge purchased optimistically from a car-boot sale in October is still sitting in the garage. There’s ice on the trampoline. The slide is permanently soaked and we’re trapped here in the living room, all smelling faintly of bleach.
There is one major difference between children playing indoors and children playing outdoors and I’ve identified over these dark months that it’s how much you have to be involved.
Indoor activities are very labour intensive for you in terms of preparation and cleaning. And they involve a lot of mess, sometimes irreversible. Getting out the paints or making cakes is fun but end up with you scrubbing the floor on hands and knees and cursing the makers of paint.
My children’s current “game” is taking all the cushions off the sofa and making a castle which is fine because clearing up is really just cushions, but it doesn’t FEEL fine at the time, it feels like I’m being ransacked by psychopathic monkeys.
Another stressful game they play is called Potato, where they run around the house after each other and shout “POTATO”.
Boy has become obsessed with a push-along trolley which he has to take everywhere and hold at all times (in the car, in the buggy, in the bath) and the sound it makes rolling up and down the hard floor hallway, and the shout of “POTATO”, will always be my sound of winter 2020.
When we get the paints out he will secretly go off with a green paintstick to a quiet corner, like a fox sneaking a chicken away, and then he’ll quietly just paint the carpet until you find him and go, “Oh NO, NAUGHTY” and he’ll look up like, “What?”
But in the spring, the OUTSIDE activities become possible. If you have a garden or even just a small yard, you can just open the door and off they go. They’ll amuse themselves for hours kicking balls and searching for bugs, bikes, scooters, throwing water around. And all you have to do is occasionally call out of the door, “Do you want a drink?” and remind them to not come in if they’re soaking wet. And that’s it!
You can keep the house all lovely and tidy while they trash the garden, but who cares? And the best thing about it all is they tire themselves out and crawl into bed at the end of the day, happy and exhausted, with lovely memories of bird’s nests and forts made of sticks scudding across their dreams.
I long for the outdoor games to begin. Father Christmas bought my children a ten-foot trampoline. The old fool what on Earth was he thinking, when he saw us so carefully organising the garden vista from the kitchen window last year? And now our garden looks like a gym. Anyway, I can cope with the grief at my lost garden because I’m hoping a lot of the playtime will be localised within this miniature amphitheatre. Bouncing, crumbs from their picnics, castle-making with outside cushions, all neatly in a ten-foot circle.
For now though, it’s freezing outside and we’re in the living room as usual. Whilst I’ve been writing,my eye has been drawn to a new lurid patch of green paint on my lovely cream carpet. Maybe they’re just trying to cheer me up so I think the green shoots of spring have come to the carpet inside? That’s what I tell myself as I scrub.
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