A Maths Problem

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If Mother has two hands, two feet and four children.

Each child has two legs and two hands and one child is ensconced in a pushchair.

If the walk from school takes approximately 40 days and 40 nights how many tantrums into the journey will it take for Mother to surrender and drop down dead in the street.

Show your working out.

I strain my eyes everyday trying to catch someone out, another Mum must have the same torturous experience getting their children to come home with them. I cannot be alone in this.

That walk home however feels extremely lonely.

Look at the children, rosy cheeked and happy, holding their Mum’s hand and merrily skipping home at the side of her. I bet they get home and she has milk and cookies waiting on the table. I bet they can smell the welcoming aroma of dinner peacefully cooking in the oven.

She’ll say, ‘Off you pop upstairs and then we’ll do some reading’. ‘OK Mummy!’, the children will chime. After they have changed into fresh smelling, soft, pastel colored clothes they will scramble into the rocking chair with Mum (biggest child on the rug at her feet, probably) and she will read their favorite tales in hushed tones, breathing in the talcum powder scent from their expertly braided hair.

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Meanwhile over at the house from hell.

The walk home takes so long we are overtaken by high school students that have a 20 minute bus journey back to the village. The journey has several stages, for all involved. To start all children will run wildly through the school grounds, darting around parents and grandparents and knocking over toddlers as they go. I remain calm, patient, and wait, hopefully near the gates so that I can grab any wayward road dashers by the hood of their coat as they pass. Then once we are all gathered at the gates I begin, ‘Hold the pram, everyone hold on, listen to me, everyone ready, here’s the road, everyone hold on’. The key is to not stop talking, any break in focus can mean a shift in their attention and it doesn’t bear thinking about.

If the busy road is crossed without mishap, the next 10 steps can be fairly pleasant. I will usually now ask about their day, there will have been an event at school they both want to tell me about. Screaming starts, maybe some fisty cuffs. Someone might get bitten. I intervene with ‘Hey hey hey, come on now, take turns to tell it’.

Too late. As it is always my fault the two eldest will now go on the rampage, in the road, into gardens/houses of strangers, behind wheelie bins. They will crush snails, throw stones and grab the tails of passing cats.

One of the most coveted prizes in any large family, is attention. So stands to reason while my attention has been on The Kray Twins in front, my littlest girl will have taken to lying flat on her back in the street. She will not be moved, people will step over her, walk around her, and still she will remain. I can point out any number of ‘strangers’ but the girl knows no fear. She will stare those strangers out from her horizontal position.

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This is where it hots up. I lose my cool. I can feel all eyes on me, even the helpful passers by who only mean well make me itch. I can feel the word ‘failure’ stamped onto my forehead and it’s uncomfortable for everyone.

I can spend ten minutes trying various different tactics, bribery, threats. Lies mainly. When this fails I begin the physical approach.

Carrying a 3 year old and pushing a buggy while loaded up with backpacks, artwork, soft toys and someones discarded shoes is no easy task. Everyday though, I do it. Head down and eyes on the prize (the front door) I march. Screaming child writhing around in my grasp, piercing volume as she yells, ‘You’re hurting me, ouch, my arms, my tummy.. YOU’RE KILLING ME MUMMYYYYY’. I’m too far gone to care who hears or what they must think.

By the time we reach the front door I’m a sweating, shaking, shadow of a woman. I toss in the children, the buggy and my sanity then quickly backtrack, retracing my steps collecting all the belongings we lost on the treacherous journey. This gives me enough breathing space to return to manic cheerful Mummy.

I hit soprano notes as I smile and request ‘Shoes, coats and bags away’, then just as cheerfully collect them from the hallway and front room and put them away myself.

The next hour passes in a blur of, ‘I’m hungry!’ and squabbling and crying.

I have to keep in mind, they are 4 years old (at most) and so drained from school. I also think the fact that they have had to toe the line in school all day plays a part, they need to rebel and I understand that. Plus they have probably missed me and its hard when you want to get to Mum and tell her about your day but have others vying for attention too.

By 4:30 there can be an air of calm and tranquility and its this part of the day I love. I try to get dinner ready before this time zone so I can just be with them. Nattering or watching a film, its our cosy time.

Then I have to face feeding them the food they have been so desperate for and trying to convince them they need to get to bed, but that’s a story for another day!

The original question was actually a trick question.


Nat Halfpenny

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