Autumn is the season of damp melancholy and romance. A stew of westerly storms and impractically large woollen garments that marks the descent into winter and, on the up side, afternoons spent wrapped around your lover in front of an open fire.
Unless of course you have children too small to go to school, in which case there's no upside – it's the gateway to seven months of wet play hell.
If you're peering anxiously up at the gathering autumnal cloud and wondering how you're going to fill the great empty warehouse of time opening up before you without going bankrupt or insane there is help at hand. And it comes in the form of this step-by-step guide to surviving winter with the kids.
Step one – embrace bad weather
The summer of 2014 was pretty decent. This makes the shift to winter even harder on the soul. But refusing to step outside just because the Met Office has issued a few flood warnings is a mistake. Taking your chances with a downpour is surely preferable to spending eight hours in a room with a three year old.
If your child is put off by biblical rainstorms just remind him what Peppa Pig would do in the same situation. She'd be out there jumping in muddy puddles quicker than you can say, "I fancy a bag of pork scratchings".
If you're a bit reticent console yourself with the knowledge that an hour or two tramping around nature getting saturated and feigning enthusiasm gives you the guilt-free right to stay indoors for the rest of the day and keep your child quiet with inappropriate food. It's also a helluva lot cheaper than going to soft play. Again.
Step two – do something you can enjoy
No, don't go to the pub, but do find a form of play that isn't excruciatingly boring. Pretending to be a prince, princess, doctor, fireman or animal, usually a cat, will keep small children amused for hours. But adults who aren't aspiring children's TV presenters find this kind of role play wears thin very quickly.
It's far more rewarding to do something that works on a variety of skill levels. Activities such as jewellery making, painting and play-doh modelling allow you to create complex and beautiful art – a bust of your partner or a recreation of the Palace of Westminster perhaps – while your child sculpts some poo. Everybody's happy and it might even lead to a rewarding new hobby.
Step three – don't resort to TV too early
Grandparents often hark back to the days when only one household on the street owned a TV and entire neighbourhoods crowded around it to watch the Queen doing something or other twice a year. On the way home children frolicked right down the middle of the road on wooden hobby horses while parents gossiped, "Did you see the dust on her mantelpiece? She might have a TV but she's no better than us". All was well.
Maybe it was a better, more innocent, time. After all you can't play on the street these days (those speed bumps get in the way. Oh and the cars) and kids just won't entertain themselves for hours with a yo yo. Instead everybody has a TV. And possibly a smart phone. And maybe some kind of tablet device. And once the glorious afternoon nap has been dropped plugging your child into one of them is the only way to get some peace until bedtime.
There's nothing wrong with that. But use precious screen time carefully. Don't give it up in the morning when everybody's in a vaguely good mood. Wait until you can't stand the sight of each other. If you can cling on until 3pm before getting the DVDs out you know you're on the home straight: film, dinner, bath, books, bed, gin.
Step four – trash somebody else's home
There's nothing that offends the pre-school child more than a tidy room. The sight of a floor that isn't covered in paper, Lego, semi-naked dolls, befriended stray animals and bits of lunch literally burns their eyes. That's why they're so good at making a mess and you spend most of winter clearing up after them.
Why not ease the burden by trashing somebody else's house? Anybody with a child of similar age to yours is fair game, even if you barely know them. The key is to avoid reciprocating the play date in your home. You may have to get creative here – perhaps you have a dangerous dog or an asbestos problem.
Or, if you don't want to face awkward questions when you're caught walking your chihuahua, find a local play group you can all go along to instead. These are often run at Sure Start Children's Centres, cost next to nothing and involve a small snack. You can locate the nearest one to you on the DirectGov site. Obviously these are being ruthlessly cut back since in times of austerity children shouldn't really be playing they should be developing their entrepreneurial skills. So go while you can.
Step five – move bedtime forward
As days shorten you can fool youngsters that it's actually the middle of the night at 5pm. This means you can have them in bed by 6.30pm and they'll still feel like they've been allowed to stay up a bit. They might wake up a bit earlier, but by this point you won't care.
If none of this works move to the tropics.
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