Signing Littleboy 1 up for swimming lessons recently, I believed I had found the perfect solution to the darkening winter afternoons, when going out to the playground is no longer an option and restless Littleboys maraud around my house hell-bent on destruction. Little did I know that this would turn out to be my most fraught half hour of the week.
The problem is not so much Littleboy 1 - who loves swimming - but his brother, who has to come with us - or, rather, the combination of the two.
Timing our arrival at the changing room is the first hurdle. Get there too early, say more than 10 minutes before the lesson starts, and the Littleboys get bored and start disrupting the previous lesson. But get there too late, and there will be no changing room in which to store our stuff.
The first week, I totally misjudged changing room etiquette. We got there early and changed, but it seemed selfish to leave our bags in the changing rooms, knowing that during the lesson the next lot of people would be turning up. I therefore removed all our stuff and took it with us to the poolside. When the lesson was finished, we arrived back at the changing rooms to find that all our fellow pupils – who had arrived later than us - had taken them over with piles of stuff and I ended up changing two wriggling, shivering children in the corridor, with our people tripping over our bags on the way in and out. Now, my strategy is to get there early enough to nab a booth, and leave our bags piled neatly in the corner so as to stake our claim without preventing anyone else from using it after us.
Although Littleboy 2 is not having a lesson, I have realised that to all intents and purposes, he needs to change into a swimsuit too – otherwise, as I discovered the first week, his clothes end up soaked and stinking of chlorine from the wet poolside.
Once by the pool, he refuses any form of entertainment that I might provide during the half hour lesson– I’ve tried numerous books and toys. Instead, he prefers to grab whatever he can find on the side of the pool and chuck it into the water. This can range from the semi-legitimate – little plastic toys provided by the swim school – to the not so legitimate (the swimming floats and teacher’s towel).
I spend the entire half hour chasing him up and down the poolside, trying to ensure that he avoids either falling in the pool or majorly pissing off the instructors by distracting both his brother and the other pupils. Not like the other Nappy Valley mummies, of which there seem to be two types. One type sits there serenely reading Grazia and not taking any notice of their offspring in the pool. (On reflection, I think some of these are nannies). The other kind act as if their kids are Mark Phelps competing for Olympic Gold – roaring “Well done, Harry” every time the child so much as splashes. Only one other person brings a small sibling, and they are incredibly well-behaved. Nevertheless, I try to give Littleboy 1 as much encouragement as I can muster, given that half the time I am hauling his brother away from the edge.
Once the lesson’s over, it’s back to the crowded changing room to dress, a point at which, for some reason, the Littleboys become incredibly manic – running off around the room half dressed, shouting loudly and bumping into other people’s mummies while soaking wet. It's like trying to control a pair of small, wet, wriggly, overexcited seal pups. Most of the fellow pupils in contrast are good little girls (whose mummies, I can tell, are looking at me in horror and thinking ‘thank God I don’t have boys’).
By the time we reach the car again, I am haggard, exhausted, red-faced from the overheated poolside, stinking of chlorine and usually screeching at my children. I know that only real answer to my woes would be to leave Littleboy 2 behind – and indeed, I have a kind friend who has offered to take him when she can, but I can’t impose on her every week. Or alternatively, start taking Valium.....