Monthly Archives: August 2013

Welcome to Hell…

There is nothing I like to do more than spend a morning in a soft play centre. Sorry, let me rephrase that slightly. I would rather fry up my own excrement with a stranger’s toe nails and eat it for breakfast rather than spend a morning in a soft play centre. And yet, totting it all up quickly in my head (by which I mean screwing up my face with mental exertion and then reaching for the calculator), I reckon I have probably spent well over seventy hours in the past year in one of these places. Three solid days. Just think what I could have been doing instead? Sleeping springs immediately to mind, but then, when doesn’t it?

But, here we are again, on a slightly damp Friday  morning. We have the choice of about three of them all within striking distance of where we live, because we are just lucky like that – but it scarcely matters which McPlay Centre we end up in. A hideous, primary coloured, vinyl-clad landscape, infected with a rash of noisy children. A handful of tables piled high with jackets, bags, half chewed snacks and coffee cups. A floor mosaiced with odd shoes, empty wrappers and numerous other tripping hazards. A fatigue of parents, trying to block out the noise and finish their tea before their offspring returns to the table in tears, or sockless, or with a large red lump on their forehead.

We manage to secure a table, even if it is the one with rickety benches either side that tip up the moment that the weight isn’t absolutely distributed evenly at either end. It’s less like seating and more like the Slatted See Saw of Death. We settle down, having flicked the plastic table cloth free of crumbs (wiping tables is apparently against company policy) and I trap – sorry, seat, my one year old in a high chair so that I can at least have a quick coffee before I have to escort him into the pit of despair that goes by the name of the baby play area.

Ten minutes in, and the noise level is already escalating. Myself and three friends foolishly attempt to have a normal, grown up conversation, but what with the noise, the constant interruption of the waitress asking if we had ordered a round of coffees three minutes after she had dumped our round of drinks on the table, and keeping hot beverages out of the reach of my son’s Mr Tickle-like arms, we soon give up and stare glumly at each other. I look up at the wall as I drain the last gritty dregs of my coffee and stare at a painting of a donkey sporting what can only be described as a gorilla’s arse. With a red ‘x’ daubed over the poo hole and an evil looking crow holding the mutant donkey’s tail between its pointy beak. I am equally fascinated and terrified by this little animal tableau. It’s like a glimpse of a dystopian farmyard future where a genetic experiment on Eeyeore and King Kong goes horrifyingly wrong and only crows and Tom Cruise can save the day. (Tom Cruise obviously plays the gorilla’s arse).

I can put off the moment no longer, so I haul B from his high chair and we enter the pit of despair. I gingerly pick my way between a seething mass of toddlers and babies to find the one remaining patch of free floor on which I can plonk my son, and kneel down beside him. He points to the vinyl horse and I sit him on it, rocking him back and forth, until he points to get off. At which juncture, he points to get on again. I duly oblige, but am barely two lines to a quietly-sung ‘horsey horsey don’t you stop’ when he points to get off again. With a tut, I lift him off. And he points to get on again. He seems inordinately pleased with this game. I, however, am building up quite a sweat heaving my son on and off the horse and am less enamoured with it as a way to spend ten minutes of my life, so after another three dismounts, I pick up the bloody horse, shove it behind me and give him a plastic ball to lick.

It is then that I notice I am being used as a handy aid by passing toddlers. Sweaty hands land unannounced on my shoulder as they unsteadily walk past, fingers grab my sleeve to prevent an awkward topple, feet plant themselves on my calves as if they were convenient stepping stones. At this point, most of my energy and will power is concentrated on not picking them all up by the hair and flinging them in the ball pit. I never thought I was that bothered about the concept of personal space. Turns out I quite like not being trampled on by a succession of red-faced, sweaty, slack-jawed kids. Who knew?

B decides he wants to climb up the upholstered steps to get onto the slide, so we toddle over. Taking up over half the width of the steps is a woman holding a baby, overseeing a toddler stood nearby.

B and I pause at the foot of the steps, waiting for her to gather up her thighs and get out the bloody way.

“Oh, am I in your way?” she asks me, surprised that out of the three hundred and eight children currently crammed into a ten foot square play area, one wants to use the slide.

“A bit, ” I reply.

This was obviously slightly advanced in terms of vocabulary for the Stair Buddha to comprehend, because instead of getting up, like absolutely everyone else in that situation would have done, she continues to sit there. I fear if I say anything else, the moment I open my mouth a great big fist will pop out and whack her straight in the face, so I manoeuvre B around her and up the steps as best I can. So up and down the slide we go, each time struggling to get past the Stair Buddha. Not even the ambient noise of a billion screaming children can drown out the sound of my teething grinding together.

As B and I tack slowly across the pit of despair to reach the stairs again, a mum enters with a baby car seat slung over her arm in which slumbers a baby. She puts said baby down on one side of the passageway and sits down on the other, leaving approximately three inches of vacant thoroughfare for anyone who has the audacity to want to move around. We approach the gap and B, realising that it is going to be somewhat tricky to squeeze through the available space, starts to turn sideways. I step forward to help him.

“Mind my baby!” she yells at me. Mind your baby? Mind your bloody baby? What, you mean the baby that you have left in the middle of the walkway in the most crowded play area humankind has ever seen? Are you and the Stair Buddha in sodding cahoots? Oh no, that’s right. YOU ARE JUST SHARING A BRAIN CELL. I want to swear. I want to swear so loudly that the entire play centre comes to a halt. A word so heinous that mothers sob involuntarily and rush to cover their children’s ears. A profanity so odious that it blisters the wall paint, fat-arsed donkey and all. So what do I do? I tut under my breath in the only way that a British, middle class up-bringing allows and move away.

Once more around the slide and I am beginning to numb from the brain out. A girl with long curly hair and a hideous diamante tee shirt is insisting on screaming so loud that I have to check that my ears aren’t bleeding. We reach the stairs, at the same time as three other toddlers, which given there is only about twenty centimetres of stairs available to us, means they get a princely five centimetres of stair width each. This is not going to end well. One of the bigger toddlers decides that force is his only option, and starts to push his way through the bottleneck.

Stair Buddha suddenly comes to life, reaching out, roughly grabbing the Pusher by the arm and pulling him back with some force. “Don’t push!” she shouts at him. Now, this is a very high risk strategy – and I should know. I have weighed up the pros and cons of intervening with a strategic grab on many occasions with other people’s kids, but you just don’t do it. Because you can never quite be sure that mum is not watching on. And to my utter glee, there she is, Angry Mum, right behind me, witness to the entire thing.

 A slanging match ensues and I could only just stop myself from chanting “Fight! Fight!” at the top of my voice to help matters along. I was willing Angry Mum to slap the Stair Buddha, on behalf of her, her son and all those who had spent the last forty minutes squeezing past her and her nasty patterned leggings on the stairs. What this day could really do with, I mused, was a great big punch up in the ball pit. Now that would be worth the ticket price and make this whole shitty  morning worthwhile. But alas, no. After some verbal handbags, the next best thing happened. Stair Buddha got up. The world momentarily stopped turning on its axis as she did so, until she walked off, in a huff. In my head, I cheered loudly. At least, I think it was in my head.

And so another trip to the soft play centre comes to an end. I drive home, with the image of a gorilla’s arse with an x-rated poo hole burnt onto my retinas. It seemed, after two hours in that hell hole, somehow highly appropriate.


Momentarily distracted by Twitter

B is heading, with his wobbly gait and frequent pauses to look at something fascinating that has caught his attention on the floor, toward seventeen months. Wait. I mean nearly a year and a half. I used to get so bloody annoyed when parents would quote their toddler’s age in months. What is that all about? It’s just extra maths forced upon you, that’s what it is. And let’s face it, I don’t tell people I am five hundred and eight months old. Mind you, put it like that and it’s no bloody wonder I look so god-damn, black eye-bagged, saggy-jowled tired.

So anyway,  B is nearly a year and a half. That amazing, joy-filled age when your child really starts to gain some independence, a personality begins to blossom, they engage with the world in new ways and provide you with unalloyed delight at every turn. Hang on. Sorry, it must be the fatigue. I was momentarily possessed by the spirit of an Annabel Karmel / Super Nanny mash up. What I meant to say is that it is an age that brings a whole new level of pain, irritation and cluelessness. For both of us…

Crying

Listen mummy, it is obvious why I am crying. Any fool could work it out. Here I am, lying on the floor, face down, wailing every last atom of oxygen from my lungs. Why are you looking at me with that quizzical face? If you really loved me, you’d know what was wrong.

Oh god, he’s crying again. Why is he crying? Did he fall when I was momentarily distracted by Twitter? I didn’t hear the sound of flesh hitting floorboards. Mind you, I may have been singing loudly at the time. Is it a teething cry? A hungry cry? Can he not just bloody give me a clue? A little sign, maybe. You know, point to the thing that is making him cry? No, no…  don’t point at me…

Throwing stuff

Life has been pretty dull up to now. But then I discovered I could throw stuff, and I haven’t stopped since. There is nothing that I won’t try to throw. Yesterday, I attempted to throw a pillow. It wasn’t my finest hour, I ended up on my back being swallowed up by an aggressive item of bedding, but I gave it a go. My favourite thing of all though? Chucking stuff into water. Toilet or bath, whatever is wetter – there is nothing quite as funny as the sound of that splash as whatever I have thrown hits the surface. Mummy seems to find it less amusing, strangely.

Throwing the remote control into the bath was not at all bloody funny, despite the squeals of delight from B. He won’t find it quite so funny when we can’t change channel and he has to watch In the Shite Garden every night until he is ten. Mind you, marginally less hilarious was throwing one of E’s toys into a toilet full of warm wee, although I give him begrudging respect for being able to do so within a four second window between me getting off the toilet and quickly closing the lid, having spotted him loitering with intent moments earlier. But this throwing thing has to stop.  In fact, come here. I am going to sellotape your arms to your torso.

Communicating

Surely, I can make this no clearer, mummy. I am pointing, finger outstretched, towards the blue car. I am even making repeated noises that any idiot would know is the word ‘car’. I am pointing at the car, saying the word car and staring at the car. So why is mummy looking at me with that idiotic frown on her face and not giving me the CAR?

B knows what he wants. He is just crap at telling anyone else. Pointing is all well and good, but I find he lacks a little finesse in the pointing stakes. It is all very clever mastering the art of straightening your forefinger, but a lack of fine motor control means he is less pointing, more air scribbling. He could be pointing at the ball, the fire engine or the bloody book, how am I supposed to know? And grunting at me is not helping much. I pick up each toy in turn and offer it to him, which provokes a shake of the head with renewed arm waving and louder grunting. We could be here some time. Finally, I offer him the car, which he takes. Right. The car. Why didn’t you bloody say so in the first place?

Eating stuff

Mmm, this is crunchy. Oh, and this one is quite soft. Wait, this is one is a bit… hairy. It is amazing the range of snacks that I can find on the floor. I would rather not be interrupted by mummy, who when she spots me having an unauthorised chew, will chase me round the table and try and fish the tasty morsel from my mouth. I mean, please. I don’t know where her hands have been.  And I don’t want to state the flipping obvious, but we wouldn’t have this problem if she just swept up once in a while, would we?

Oh bugger, what’s he eating now? I just need to get him to open his mouth… I find a headlock facilitates this process nicely. B seems to have developed a vice-like closure on his lips in his desperation to keep chewing whatever dried up, dusty morsel he is snacking on, so I resort to ferocious tickling to make him open his mouth. Oh look, it’s a hard black thing… it could be an insect… or something that dropped from someone’s shoe… or a fossilised pea… do you know what? I think I would rather not know. I put B down on the floor, he leans over, picks something small and shrivelled from the floor and pops it into his mouth. Now, I know what that was. It was my will to live.


A shallow sympathy puddle

That perennial unwelcome house guest, sickness, comes to stay once more. Honestly, you would think it would have got the message the last time it visited, what with all that barely-disguised tutting, sighing and eye-rolling I did. But no, here it is again, banging loudly on the front door, dumping its belongings in the hallway for everyone to trip over and leaving a bad smell in the bathroom.

This time, it is E that cops it. One evening, he starts to complain he is feeling unwell and a cursory touch of his forehead is quite a surprise: he is, indeed, running a temperature. I would have put a tenner on the fact that the complaint of illness was solely down to the fact that cleaning teeth and bedtime were imminent and he hadn’t finished watching this particular episode of Scooby Doo, but it turns out that mother definitely doesn’t know best. Well, not this mother, anyway. I shall have to employ a more competent mother to make judgement calls about my son in the future, I think.

One dose of Calpol later and he is in bed, insisting – despite the ambient temperature of his bedroom being somewhere between tropical and naked flame and him seemingly ignoring the fact that you could fry up a couple of chipolatas on his forehead – that he has his duvet pulled all the way up to his chin. We have a mini tug-of-war with his bedclothes, as I try to explain that he really needs to not cover himself with 10 togs of heat as it will make him feel worse, whilst he pulls it up even further just to prove the point that he is going to win this battle. I persevere for a while, as I really do not want his internal organs simmering in their own juices, but I soon realise that I am engaged in one of the most common parental past times there is: wasting oxygen. So I leave him, just two eyes and a forehead visible over his bedding.

He is still running a temperature the next morning, which is most concerning: I have a huge to-do list of work that I really need to get done. I decide that it is just a viral thing (don’t panic, I am a fully trained medical practitioner: I have a qualification from the university of Google, you know), ergo, there is no problem sending him to nursery. And then stupidly, when he asks for his morning milk, I oblige without a second thought, no doubt as I am too busy attempting to extricate a five day old pea from B’s mouth, or trying to stop him from sticking his finger in the electrical socket. Approximately three minutes later, there is a shout from the lounge: “Mummy, I am going to be sick!”

Now, I am not known for my swiftness of foot. But like parents everywhere, when they see a child a) teetering on tip toes on the back of the sofa shouting ‘look at me!’, or b) reaching up to the cooker just as you spot that you have left a tempting pan handle within reach or c) threatening to ruin your upholstery with vomit, I can give Usain Bolt a run for his money. The god of warp speed shone his faster-than-light on me and within the space of ten seconds, I had scooped up E under my arm to deposit him in the bathroom, realised that M was in there, changed direction toward the kitchen sink, remembered that E cannot reach the sink unaided, grabbed his stool mid-run from under the table, plonked it in front of the sink, dumped E on it and angled his head sink-wards just as the milky contents of his stomach came rushing out to play.  There are not many moments of unalloyed triumph in parenting, I find. But this was one of them. I allowed myself a little smile of victory on behalf of my sofa as I watched my son wretch so hard I thought his oesophagus may put in an appearance at any moment. That smile was soon gone from my face though, as firstly, E grabbed my hand and wiped his sick-smeared mouth on my forearm, and secondly, I realised that there was no way I could send this boy to nursery now. Bugger. I picture my to-do list, gathering dust,  beside a mountain of paperwork, a pile of urgent bills and a stack of notes I need to look at, under which somewhere, perhaps, is my desk.

So I do what any caring parent would do with a sick child: pull another chair up to my desk, plonk E on it, find an old episode of Scooby Doo on the iPad and tell him not to say a word as mummy has some work to do. The one flaw in my plan is the instruction ‘don’t say a word’. It’s a bit like sprinkling chocolate buttons over his lap and asking him not to eat them. It just ain’t gonna happen.

“Mummy, look at this bit, Scooby and Shaggy are trapped.”

“Oh yes,” I say trying hard not to lose the thread of what I am typing.

“No, look, mummy.”

“I am.” I angle my head a little toward the iPad, but don’t take my eyes off my screen.

“You’re not looking mummy!” he protests.

“I am,” I lie.

“No. Look.”

With a sigh, I look. And by the time I look back to the screen, my thread has been well and truly lost in the dark recesses of my brain and I have to start that line again. This is going to be a long, long morning.

“Mummy, can I draw on this?” He waves a brand new pack of Post It notes in front of my nose. Usually, Post Its are not for E. Gone are the days when I can use Post It notes with gay abandon: I work for myself, so have long given up the ultimate employee perk of an all-you-can-eat stationery cupboard.  But today, in a desperate attempt to get my work finished, I acquiesce. Ten minutes later, we are bobbing on a small ocean of bright yellow paper squares, curling slightly at the corners, each one bearing a small scribble, or a single letter, or a hastily drawn shape. Finally, after half the aforementioned Post Its are stapled together until my stapler jams, my ruler gets posted down the back of my desk never to be seen again and a large proportion of the pages of my notebook have curiously been crumpled, ripped or folded, I finish the urgent client document and skim read it before there is nothing salvageable left in my office. I don’t see any obvious accidental inclusions of ‘Scooby snack’ or ‘jinkers’ in the text,  so I hastily email it off.

It is at this juncture that the Calpol is starting to wear off, and E wants to lie on the sofa and feel sorry for himself. I oblige, installing a blanket under him to protect my sofa from any further outbursts of a vomity kind and a sick bowl by his side.

“Stroke my head, mummy,” he says. I do so for a while, until my arm aches.

“Cuddle me, mummy.”

“Can I lie on you, mummy?”

“Can I have some more water, mummy?”

“Can I have a little bit of toast, mummy?”

“Can you stroke my head again, mummy?”

And so it goes on. The demands of a slightly ill child. Each one met with marginally less sympathy than the last by his tired, slightly mean-spirited mother. The trouble is, I have very small sympathy reserves. Whilst some people worry themselves about the nationwide power generation crisis, foretelling of power shortages in two years time, I am more concerned about my own sympathy shortage. by my calculations, if E keeps on getting ill, I will have totally depleted my sympathy reserves by 2015. Some parents seem to have unlimited supplies of the stuff. There is no end to the sympathy they can shower on their offspring. My mum for one. No matter how ill, how whingey or how irritating I was, she turned on her sympathy tap and out it poured, embalming me in the warm, comforting glow of her care. I don’t really seem to have a sympathy tap. I have more of a… shallow sympathy puddle.  I don’t embalm my son in sympathy, more that I begrudgingly flick a few drops in his general direction. I want to be more sympathetic, I really do, but I get a bit… bored.

“Do you want to play Guess Who?” I ask, hoping that we can break the monotony of Mr Bloom’s Nursery. Watching a load of talking vegetables is making my remaining IQ leak from an unspecified orifice. But E only shakes his head in that slightly piteous ‘mummy, how can you be so crass as to suggest a board game, I am ill, you know’ kind of way that makes me want to tickle him to see how ill he really is. But I don’t, and turn my attention back to a gurning cauliflower making inane comments instead. Two seconds later and I have to find something else to do before I hurl the remote control at the screen, so I decide to do something constructive and will myself some more sympathy. It can’t be that hard, surely? I concentrate hard on feeling sympathetic. I look at E, lying forlornly on the sofa.

With effort, I reach out and pat his ankle. Well, look at me, with my sympathetic patting. I’m like a modern day Mother bloody Theresa, me.


WARNING: CONVERSATIONAL CRIME SCENE. DO NOT ENTER

CONVERSATIONAL CRIME SCENE

It is August, so of course, talk with a four year old turns to Christmas.

“Does Santa visit every house in the world in one night?” he asks.

“Yes, he does.” The best strategy here, I think, is to say as little as possible and hope he loses interest. There can be  no good that comes of talk of Santa, this much I know.

“Wow. How does he do that?”

“Well, I think he is probably… magic.”

“He must be.” A pause.

“So how does he get round all the houses?”

“On his sleigh – you remember, with the reindeer?”

“Oh yes.” Another pause. “Who makes his sleigh then?”

“Err… his elves.” Please don’t ask me anything else. I haven’t even had a cup of coffee yet.
“Are elves real?”

This is E’s current preoccupation. I am guessing that child psychologists would say that it is a stage in a child’s development crucial to expanding his comprehension of the world around him. For me, it is turning out to be a minefield of half-truths and incessant questioning: yes, the CBeebies presenter is real, but no, that kitchen is a pretend one. Yes, that child in the advert is real, but I am guessing that space rocket he is sitting on that has just looped the loop over the moon is pretend.

So, back to the issue in hand: the realness or otherwise of elves. “No,” I reply, coming over all peculiar and telling the truth.

I wince and tighten my grip on the steering wheel a little more, as I can see the next question rolling, unstoppable, towards me. I feel like bloody Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark being pursued by a giant stone boulder. Except I’m not wearing a hat, I look shit in khaki and couldn’t forward roll my way out of trouble if my life depended on it.

“Is Santa real?” Boom. There it is. Do I want to rip the heart out of Christmas for a four year old? Do I?

“Do you think he is real?” This is what is technically known as the Chicken’s Way Out.

“Yes,” he states emphatically.

“Then he is real,” I say.

There is silence for a moment, and then the ground starts to crumble from beneath my conversational feet as I realise the sodding great error I have just made. Santa = Real. Elves = pretend. There is gaping hole in my logic the size of a small country. I hum to myself, wondering if he will spot it.

“But how is Santa real and elves are not?” he asks. Of course he will bloody spot it.

I let out a little laugh. You know, one of those laughs that involuntarily escapes when you are so deep in the shit that it is either a) laugh, b) come clean and tell the truth or c) or eat your own limbs. I eye up my right arm for chewing potential. I’m not sure I could finish a whole one. “Well,”, I say. “I would think that Santa’s elves are real, but… other elves… are… not…” I have the decency to cringe as this pathetic excuse of an explanation whimpers out of my mouth and dribbles down my chin.

“Who will deliver the presents when Santa is dead?” And so we seamlessly move onto the next conversational pool of piranhas: mortality. I tell you, this drive to nursery is just one big barrel of fun this morning.

“Santa doesn’t die,” I explain as the lights turn green and we start to move tantalisingly ever more closer to the end of this hideous journey.

“Why?”

“Because… Santa is magic.” Magic. That old chestnut again. With its stable mate Myths. I can see why our ancient elders were so into their magic and their myths. Because quite frankly, when trying to get your head around unwieldy concepts like how the sun goes up and down, it is a damn sight easier to explain it with ‘some bloke in a chariot gives it a tow’ rather than try and figure out the truth of the matter.

Finally, we pull into the car park.

“When I die, mummy, will you born another baby to take my place?”

Well, this is turning out to be a really cheery morning’s chat, this is.

“I don’t think I will still be here when you die, darling.” I hear the sound of piranha teething gnashing around my ankles. Ooh, pass me that large can of worms, will you, I don’t think I am quite up to my neck in shit yet. And while you’re at it, you might as well slide over that Pandora’s box.

“When is grandma and dad-dad going to die?”

Right. It is not yet eight o clock, I have not had any hot liquid involving caffeine nor my breakfast, and I got up at 5.30am. I am officially declaring this conversation closed. I get out of the car and shut my door.

My son, however, has other ideas. As soon as I open his door, he asks: “Older people die before young people, don’t they?” Now I know that the experts all say that you should not perpetuate the fallacy that it is only old people that die, in case your offspring has to deal with the death of someone who is not old, at which point they will lose all faith in you as a parent and sayer-of-truths. But I have just told him that Santa is real and elves are pretend, so I am about to be arrested by the Parent Police. I have very little left to lose.

“That’s right, darling.”

“CAAAAR!” exclaims B. Well, perhaps not ‘car’. It is difficult to tell with someone who has only mastered ‘uh oh’ and ‘daddy’ in the word stakes. But it was a close enough approximation that E shouts: “Mummy, he just said car!”

I smile gleefully. Not because my youngest has just pointed in the vague direction of a vehicle and named it. I have a sneaking suspicion that he would have said that word whether he was pointing at the sky, a cat or his own willy. But because I have been saved from the conversation by a one year old.

We head towards nursery, and I wrap crime scene tape around that conversation, in a vain attempt to stop me ever entering it again.