How we survived the winter holidays
With a two teens and a pre-teen, Janine Dunlop is at her wits end to find something that they all enjoy.

It’s day umpteen of the winter holidays and my kids’ eyes are glazed from all the YouTube cat videos they’ve been watching and the online games they’ve been playing. I’ve begged, pleaded, and yes, yelled at them to get out of their rooms and Do Something.

I try baking and getting them involved. The sum total of their involvement is licking the spoon afterwards and vacuuming up the results in less than a day. I try hauling out the Monopoly set. It ends in violence and tears.

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Not for the first time, I question my sanity. Why did I have three kids, all three years apart? What, exactly, was I thinking? Trying to get them simultaneously involved and interested in an activity is like trying to get to the front of the Home Affairs queue before lunchtime. Not. Gonna. Happen.

I google “cheap things to do with your kids”. Did that last week. That was a waste of money. Hated that. Nope, that won’t work. What? That’s not cheap! I call out options to the kids. I get a few nopes, and some non-committal shrugs.

I decide that getting them out of the house is the priority, so we do the grocery shopping together (What? I’m trying, okay?). In the car, Kid1 listens to music on his phone, pausing every now and then to mumble monosyllabic responses to my lame attempts at engaging him, Kid2 sends voice notes to her cousin, and Kid3 stares out of the window listlessly. We shop for a total of 45 minutes. Out of guilt, I buy them each a milkshake. Their joy lasts exactly as long as it takes to finish the sugary liquid – approximately three minutes.

Back home, they disappear into their rooms.

I remind myself that I’m not responsible for their happiness. That being bored fosters creativity. I knit, I clean, I cook. I forget they’re there. They emerge from their rooms when the smell of a baked something or other penetrates the online haze they’re in.

Desperate, I go back to googling. I come across an outing possibility (the Science Centre – Fun AND Educational – win-win!) and steel myself. I’ve decided to play The Dictator. They’ll get in the car, they’ll go with me to a Fun Destination and they’ll enjoy it, dammit. Kid3 (bless him) declares himself excited about the Fun Destination. Kids1 and 2 are indifferent.

They almost come to blows over who gets to ride shotgun. The losers punch and tease each other in the back of the car. Reminding myself that we’re off to have Fun, I resist the urge to turn around and go home to read my book.

We’ve arrived at the Fun Destination. I hand over my month’s Fun budget. And then something unexpected happens. They all start to enjoy it. Kid1 wanders over to read an exhibit, Kid2 gets stuck into solving a puzzle, and Kid3 hits things that make a noise.

Approximately 90 minutes later, we’re still there. No one has looked at their phone. No one has asked for sugar-laced “food”. No one has punched anyone else.

I drive them home triumphantly. As they disappear into their rooms to stare at screens, I realise that I might just have missed my calling as a despot. Deciding for them what is Fun and what isn’t was definitely the way to go during the holidays.

Thank goodness they’re over.

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