One thing I’ve learned after having five kids – expect the unexpected.
Today we went to a Christmas Market. In the small town centre, there were perhaps twenty stalls, with local craftspeople selling their wares. Amongst the crowds, there were people giving away balloons and Santa hats; and Father Christmas himself made an appearance with a basket of sweets, accompanied by a snowman, and for some reason Winne the Pooh, a penguin and Kung Fu Panda.
When we first saw these magical characters, I was standing at a stall counting out small change to pay for a snowman doorstop Lily had convinced me was essential to her future happiness. Seeing me, with Robbie and Evie in a pushchair, Tim and Joe on either side and Lily clutching her newfound knitted friend, the volunteers in their fancy dress clearly felt they’d found the jackpot of opportunities to please little ones at Christmas time.
With its wings held wide, the penguin began to jog towards us. Evie, recoiling in horror, screamed and fell over with fear. Joe hid behind my legs, Timmy’s hand stiffened in mine. Only Lily ran forward, entranced.
The rest of our time at the market was spent trying to keep track of Lily who – now deeply in love with the penguin and/or the rest of the miscellaneous random dressed up folk – who kept scouring the crowd and diving forward for another cuddle. Ray had Evie and Robbie in the pushchair, but both the boys wanted to hold my hands, pulling me in different directions as things caught their eye.
For some reason, the road (which is often closed for the standard market) wasn’t blocked off, so cars made their way cautiously along the road, as the penguin, Santa, Winnie, the snowman and Kung Fu Panda strolled obliviously along the narrow pavements on either side of the market, often crossing the road, and I was terrified that one of the kids would forget themselves in their desire to have a pair of snowman arms wrapped around them, break free and run in front of the traffic (both cars and – bizarrely at one point – a troupe of horses) to get to them.
Next, helium-filled balloons were given out by several locals – Joe promptly received, then let go of two and, as we finally gave up and left, we saw at least thirty in the sky as other kids followed suit. Much of the rest of the afternoon was spent dealing with the situation that occurs when only ¾ of your children have balloons, but all of them want one.
So rather than being – as I had naively hoped - a charming stroll with the children, buying treats and last minute Christmas presents, the visit to the market turned out to be a desperate struggle to keep children out of the road and shouting at Lily to leave the damn penguin alone.
That said, other unexpected things happened today too.
While I was helping him with his coat, little Joe suddenly said -out of the blue – “I love you; I love you; I love you” and showered me with kisses.
And that one moment made everything else worthwhile.